Sunday, July 15, 2012

National Parks Board's suspicious tender procedure and outcome


The New Paper, July 7, 2012 (source)

Kartini Omar-Hor, General Manager (Parks)

While he has no quarrel with the choice of the S$2,200 Brompton bike for its staff, National Parks Board (NParks) may have got a better price if there had been more participation in the bike deal.
Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said this in a blog post yesterday.
Some Singaporeans, including netizens, have questioned if the bicycles were too expensive. NParks bought 26 of them (total cost: $57,200) after a tender issued in January.
"I have asked MND (Ministry of National Development) staff to discuss this case with our agencies, to see if there are lessons which we can draw from this case.
"In all purchases we should always satisfy the criteria of 'value for money' when public funds are involved."
The New Paper reported last Friday that only one vendor - bicycle shop BikeHop - responded to NParks' tender. BikeHop had offered the Brompton bicycles and another brand that costs more.
NParks bought the Brompton bicycles after it "made some research, tested the equipment and after noting that the Brompton bid price was lower than the listed retail price of the same model".
Mr Khaw said NParks bought the right equipment.
He said: "Cyclists who are familiar with foldable bikes assured me that a Brompton bike, while costing more upfront, is durable and requires less maintenance, especially if heavy usage is anticipated.
"Its unique folding mechanism also makes it easy to carry and store. This is a useful feature for the female staff.
"I have accepted NParks' explanation."
He also said providing staff with bikes "was thought to be a simple and effective way to raise staff productivity".
He wrote: " enables the officer to cover more ground and do more inspections within the same time."
Officers from the Park Connector Division typically cover 30 to 40km a day daily.
Officers can take the foldable bicycles on public transport, ensuring that they can "get to field sites directly and individually", he said.
This saves the need for an office van to transport them and the bicycles to the various sites.

Should We Still Khaw on NParks?

Summarizing NParks' suspicious tender procedure and outcome uncovered by netizens

by A Singaporean in Australia, July 15, 2012 (source1, source2source3)

This post is a continuation of my take on NParks' Brompton Bikes Purchase.

Parks Department Director Kong Yit San had a great vision for his department ever since he took over the reins. By now, a quick check revealed that he is the Assistant CEO of NParks. A high flyer indeed. Kong's Parks Division was special. Under him, the Parks Management department flourished. When one walk through their office, you will never know you are walking through a statutory board department. It was simply superb and the first reaction you would have would be, "I don't mind working here!"

A simple glance across the department tells you what they are trying to achieve - a unique, carefree, freestyle environment never experienced by any government bodies or even other NParks' departments across the company.

Instead of straight neat rows of tables and shelves and filing cabinets, they have lounges, common tables. You can literally work anywhere. A few thread mills or stationary bicycles in the middle of the department, and other fun things. You know - google or facebook style in a much toned down manner (after all it is Singapore). Parks dept staff are not required to report in to the office if they don't need to as long as they finish their work and record it via the laptop they are provided. Parks Department is very proud of their office. That's perfectly fine. In fact, they should be applauded by making a the first radical move to soften the working environment of civil service.

Well, in the past they decorated their offices with very beautiful dried plants arrangements, terrariums and really beautiful things from nature all done by staff themselves. Collectively over the years, many offices in NParks has became breathtakingly beautiful. While I'm not against their vision of a freestyle office (Singapore badly needs some of these really), seems like Kong is getting a bit carried away. It is brilliant to allow staff to express but we have to keep the dollars in check. If luxuries were donated or contributed by staff, by all means you could place a pool table or even a portable swimming pool in the middle of the board room. Don't think anyone minds having a board meeting in swimwear. The line is crossed when they started spending big on luxuries, because our question here is 'what's next?'

Forget about the amount of money spent on Brompton bikes. What's two grand to the government right? If S$600,000 is a peanut in the eyes of the elites in Singapore, S$2,200 is the peanut dust you use on muah chee or peanut ice kachang. Forget about it.

An online investigation by indignant netizens who were displeased with Mr Khaw Boon Wan's casual statement about NParks' little luxury buy suggested that Mr Khaw may have more answering to do than just brushing it away. I'll summarise the findings.

The beginning

The above was the tender notice, drawn out on the 19th January 2012. That was just before Chinese New Year.

The above depicts the NParks sent the tender to GEBIZ at the end of the working day on 25th January 2012, 4.40pm which happened to be the 3rd Day of Chinese New Year. The closing date of bidding was set on 30th January 2012. A quick calculation suggested that the tender was online for only 5 days.

28th and 29th of January happened to be a Saturday and Sunday.

That leaves any potential bidders 3 working days to respond. Provided a potential bid checks his GEBIZ the first minute of work on the 3rd day of Chinese New Year.

Let's ask ourselves a question here. If you are doing renovation for your own house, would you give yourself 5 days during Chinese New Year to get all quotations, close your tender and award the only quotation that you received? No. You would want maximum exposure so that you can get more bidders and get your renovation done in the lowest cost you possibly could at the expected quality.

Can Mr Khaw explain why NParks performed their tender in such an irrational manner?

Not surprisingly, another investigation after public outcry suggested that no local bike companies might have known about this tender. I quote the source from Diginexx FB account, released on June 26

In response to fervent online forum chatter in reference to the 26 Bromptons ordered by National Parks Board: almost all local bike companies do not follow Gebiz tenders as one would not expect government agencies to want to buy high-end bicycles for group use.

As the commodity indicated in the tender specs: a folding bike with 16 inch wheels is not a common commodity like tissue paper and pens, it would be fair to assume that Procurement/Purchasing would want to seek out the various players in the industry to ask them to consider bidding for their bulk purchase tenders, thus doing their due diligence.

NParks is aware that Diginexx is the authorized distributor that offers the 5-year warranty on the frame and 2-year warranty on parts. If it was really intended for local bike companies to tender for this bulk purchase, NParks would have been able to find through the various bids that there are likely cheaper alternatives to the Brompton and/or be able to receive a competitive price quote from Diginexx so that NParks can buy and save public money in the process.

In this case, no local bike companies was aware of this tender, and there was only one bidder.

And even if NParks had really specifically wanted just the Brompton for their usage, the model in question is a M6L.

A M6L retails at S$2250 per bike at Diginexx which will cover the 5-year frame warranty and 2-year warranty on parts.

In comparison, buying a total of 26 M6L Bromptons at $2200 per bike is unfortunately not a fair deal for NParks especially when the bikes come from a non-authorised reseller, which do not and cannot offer the official five-year frame warranty and two-year parts warranty.

Did NParks want Brompton?

NParks DID have a brompton workshop with the authorized dealers, the proof can be found in on 4 Sep 2011 which can be seen in diginexx's photo page on facebook. I quote:

Forty-six Diginexx's Brompton riders visited Hort Park on Sunday 4 September and spent an afternoon hanging out with fellow B riders, having fun learning how to change their tubes, tyres and degrease their bike chains. The sturdy stand pump owned by Yih Yng was a saviour to many! Many thanks to Bernard Lim of the National Park Board for the kind use of the Multi-Purpose Hall, thank you very much to our helpful elves, David, Steven, YM, Tommy, Gary, Danny and Patrick, Noelle, Joyce and Fabian! Photos credits to Danny, Fabian, Noelle and Patrick! Thank you for a great afternoon of camaraderie and friendship!

There was no doubt NParks knows Brompton very well and were impressed enough by it. Let's take a look at their tender specifications:

The questionable items can be identified by any layman.

Item 2.3:
The primary focuses of a foldable bicycle is the weight and the dimensions of the bicycle in its folded state. From a quick search from the official website of Brompton Bike, all their bikes ONLY came with 16" wheels. Source: [FAQs | Brompton Bicycle] Is this a coincidence or is there any reason why the foldable bike must have a 16" wheel for their job? Specifically 16". Why?

Item 2.7:
There are many competitors who can provide a lighter bicycle than the Brompton model that NParks eventually purchased. Setting a minimum weight did not make any sense here. If light weight is a plus point, shouldn't the specifications read as "Weigh less than 13kg" instead? Why?

Item 2.8:
By stating the need for a 6 speed bicycle, NParks had ruled out a lot of competitors to Brompton. The question here is why did NParks need specifically 6 speeds for their patrol bicycles? Is there a need to have 6 speed for their job. We need an explanation here.

The winning bidder

The tender was eventually award to a company named BikeHop. Who is BikeHop?

Their registered address is a terrace house in a residential area at Siak Kew Ave (Potong Pasir area). It does not operate as a brick and mortar bicycle shop nor does it apparently have any links online to sell bicycles. The issue of whether they can provide actual technical/mechanical support and assistance is very questionable.

Brompton's authorised distributor and their network of dealers in Singapore offer a standard 5 year warranty on frames and 2 year on parts with only S$50.00 more than the winning bid. A deal exceeding NParks' tender requirements on maintenance by leaps and bounds. This made NParks' choice seemed even more irrational.

There are strict regulations pertaining to registering a company as a tour agency. BikeHop's youtube channel portrayed themselves as a tour agency conducting tours in Singapore and overseas.

Who exactly is BikeHop?

A bicycle shop? A tour agency? An online shop?


Besides doing the usual procedures of company registration with a key executive and directors, a tour agency must also fulfil these three important criteria.
1. Paid-up Capital – The company must have paid-up capital of at least S$100,000.
2. Email Address and TRUST – The company must have a website to operate the business. The company must also observe the “Terms and Conditions for the Use of the Travel Related Users’ System (TRUST)”. The TRUST website is a state-sanctioned website that provides relevant information, resources and advice related to the travel industry in Singapore.
I went to the TRUST website and searched for the company BikeHop and they were not listed there. Either they are not a registered tour agency or have not updated their information.
However, TRUST lists all the up to date information on all licensed travel and tour agents in Singapore, but judging from their videos and website, the company has at least been around for a year?
3. Office Space and Signboard – the company must set up a business office dedicated solely to travel agency operations. The space cannot be shared with any other type of business. An easily visible signboard that reflects the nature your business must be erected. If you are an individual freelance travel agent conducting business from home, in either an HDB flat or private accommodation, you must obtain approval from the Housing Development Board or Urban Redevelopment Authority before the STB will give you your license.
I don't seem to recall having seen any tour agency operating from the terrace house in Siak Kew Avenue and since a tour agency cannot be shared with any other type of business, the question again I ask, are they a bicycle shop or a tour agency?


Mr Khaw, please explain why did you stood up to defend NParks' questionable purchase instead of investigating it. Is this the way your colleagues and yourself account to the public?


Update, July 16, 2012  (source1, source2)

BikeHop owners
Left to right- Managing Director Lawrence Lim Chun How (,
 Willie Ong (
Willie Ong | Facebook), and Kok How Lim (Kok How Lim | Facebook)

Lawrence Lim Chun How (right)


-BikeHop is owned by Lawrence Lim (and his 2 partners).

-Lawrence Lim is friend with Mr Woon Taiwoon before January 2012. (who is very vocal about NParks having gotten 'A Good Deal' with the Brompton purchases from BikeHop).

-Woon Taiwoon is friend of both Bernard Lim and Wesley Su from NParks.

-Wesley Su is working under instructions from Bernard Lim at Nparks.

-PCN division head Mr. Bernard Lim is a friend of ALL 3 BikerHop owners; with Lawrence Lim and Willie Ong before January 2012.

-They are all friends and fans of Brompton bikes.

Now you might ask what can one prove anything even though there are solid evidences that they all knew each other before January 2012? Well, my answer to you is, i can't prove anything else beyond that. Because i am not someone who is able to conduct checks into people's email, sms, phone call logs, or even bank transactions. I'm not superman. Maybe only some people with power can.

Anyway, let's break it all down even simpler for you:

Assistant Director Mr. Bernard Lim of National Parks Board PCN,

is already a big fan of Brompton brand foldable bicycles,

and is a friend of at least 2 BikeHop bosses - Mr. Lawrence Lim and Mr. Willie Ong, BEFORE the short quotation notice was put up at Gebiz on the 25th January 2012, which concluded with NParks buying 26 Brompton bicycles from BikeHop.

Take note, these are BEFORE the procurement, not after.


My experience with school project's tender procedure 

If NParks said that the procurement adhere to guidelines, then these guidelines is all rubbish! Let me share an incident on how I was “invited” to bid in GeBiz.

I was doing a small project for a school. The teacher asked me to do a site survey. After the site survey, the project quoted was only a few thousand dollars. Not wanting the hassle to get more vendors, the teacher verbally said my quote was OK. But he could only award the project to me through GeBiz. So the teacher told me that when the ‘tender’ was up on GeBiz, he would call me. I would just need to submit my quote – exactly the same quote we agreed. He also said that as no other vendors would be able to meet his requirement as they did not know what the details were and also the fact that no other vendors would know that such a project tender would be available in GeBiz. So true enough, I put in a bid as was told – only one vendor put in the bid and got the job.

Although the project I did was of a low value, I just want to highlight that GeBiz is fundamentally flawed! Just look at how NParks awarded the purchase where there was only one bid. 



MND details discrepancies in Brompton bicycle purchase

Channel NewsAsia, July 25, 2012 (source)

The Ministry of National Development (MND) said its internal audit team interviewed all officers involved in the procurement process of the Brompton bicycles from vendor BikeHop.

MND said this in response to queries from Channel NewsAsia on July 25, 2012.

The ministry discovered links between the suspended officer, Bernard Lim, and an owner of BikeHop in Bernard's Facebook account.

MND said the online postings reinforced what NParks had discovered.

Subsequently the audit uncovered certain significant discrepancies, which led to the decision to suspend Bernard and report the matter to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) for investigation.

MND said it was working with NParks and other agencies to consider practical ways to strengthen its procurement controls for tenders and quotations, especially where single bids are involved.

Appropriate approving authorities and proper justifications will be required to ensure that single bid awards are reasonable and justifiable.

MND is also reviewing, in consultation with the Ministry of Finance, other aspects of the procurement system like the tender/quotation duration.

The ministry was also working towards an internal procurement guide to advise officers in their purchases.

MND said it would continue efforts to ensure prudence in the use of public funds.

It was also mindful that government purchases are justified on a cost-benefit basis, the procurement process open and fair, and decisions satisfy the criteria of value for money.

MND's full response to the queries from Channel NewsAsia:

Q. What kind of discrepancies were found in the procurement process?

A. MND's internal audit team was tasked by Minister Khaw to work with NParks to examine the purchase of the bicycles and review the procurement system as a whole after a newspaper article was published on this on 22 June.

As part of the audit, all officers involved in the procurement were interviewed. On 10 Jul, NParks officers discovered links between Bernard Lim and an owner of BikeHop in Bernard's Facebook account. However Bernard's FB account was also found to have nearly 300 other "friends" including other bike suppliers and vendors as well as many other biking enthusiasts. Bernard was a known biking enthusiast. On-line postings reinforced what NParks had discovered and the continuing inquiries and audit subsequently uncovered certain significant discrepancies which led to the decision to suspend Bernard from duty and to report the matter to the CPIB for investigation

As internal investigations were ongoing last week, NParks was unable to comment on this issue earlier.

Q. In light of this case, have there been changes in SOP in NParks in dealing with purchases? What kind of specific guidelines do officers now have to follow? We do understand that NParks is looking at having longer quotation period, and recalling the quotation when only one vendor made a bid. What other checks and balances are being put in place?

A. MND is working with NParks as well as our other MND agencies to consider practical ways to strengthen our procurement controls for tenders and quotations, especially where single bids are involved. Appropriate approving authorities and proper justifications will be required to ensure that single bid awards are reasonable and justifiable. We are also reviewing, in consultation with MOF, other aspects of our procurement system like the tender/quotation duration and are working towards an internal procurement guide to advise and guide our officers in their purchases.

We will continue our efforts to ensure that prudence is always exercised in the use of public funds. We are mindful that government purchases need to be justified on a cost-benefit basis, that the procurement process must be open and fair, and that decisions taken satisfy the criteria of value for money.

Q. Does MND think the Brompton bikes are really value for money? Could the same objectives be met with cheaper and less branded bikes?

A. The purchase of high specifications foldable bikes was made on the basis of an open Gebiz tender where a single bid was received. The vendor in question bid to supply foldable bikes which met all specifications and which was within the budget. The bikes the vendor was offering was Brompton. There was no other bidder offering other bikes. If there were, these bids and the bikes offered would have been evaluated accordingly against the specifications and comparative costs, regardless whether they were "branded" or not.

1 comment:

Travel Agents In Singapore said...

thanks it is a very nice blog...