Er Dr Lee Bee Wah
Nee Soon GRC
To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development in light of the recent case of unauthorised withdrawal of funds from the Child Development Account (CDA)
(a) what is the Ministry doing to tighten control over the CDA;
(b) how will the Ministry assist parents to trace the transaction records if past bank statements are not available;
(c) whether all affected parents have been notified of the unauthorised withdrawals from their CDA accounts;
(d) how often are CDA accounts audited; and
(e) whether these accounts are subject to audit by the Auditor-General's Office.
Mdm Speaker, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has several levels of checks and controls in the use of funds from the Child Development Accounts (CDA).
Firstly, parents need to authorise approved institutions, such as childcare centres and kindergartens, to make deductions from their child’s CDA by signing an authorisation form.
Secondly, the approved institution has to also ensure proper procedures are followed before the deductions are made. This includes obtaining parents’ authorisation and making sure all records are properly kept.
Thirdly, CDA banks are required to provide parents with monthly statements with details of the deductions from their child’s CDAs.
Finally, MSF regularly conducts checks on approved CDA institutions to ensure that the procedures are followed and deductions are in order.
It is through all these checks that a recent MSF audit showed unauthorised withdrawals from the CDAs of several children at Sweetlands childcare centres. In the interest of the parents, we may revoke the status of the persons authorised to carry out CDA deductions at Sweetlands.
The matter has now been referred to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) for investigation. While the investigations are being carried out, all the Sweetlands centres can continue to operate as there is no issue regarding the safety or well-being of the children studying in the childcare centre.
MSF is closely monitoring the CDA deductions and the childcare subsidies claims that are made by Sweetlands centres. We have also kept parents of the children who are studying in Sweetlands childcare centres abreast of all these developments. We have also advised them to check the validity of their CDA deductions. Parents who have not kept the statements can request for these statements from their respective CDA banks.
The Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) audits Government financial statements and carries out test checks of selected grants given by the Government. The controls of the Government's matching grants to CDAs are subjected to the AGO's audit. However, the subsequent use of these monies in the individual CDAs of account holders are personal in nature and do not come under the ambit of the AGO's audit.
MSF takes a very, very serious view of any breaches of the use of CDA funds. We will continue to carry out and improve the various levels of checks and controls in addition to the four levels of checks and controls that I have mentioned earlier, and to remind approved institutions to comply strictly with the terms and conditions as well as the statutory requirements. We will also not hesitate to take disciplinary actions or enforce penalties where needed to safeguard the interests of the parents and the children.