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Keeping finances in check: How she helps to strengthen financial governance
By Malavika Menon
Ms Ong Jia Qi joined the public service because she wants to bring about change in her own capacity. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

This AGO scholar runs audits to enhance public accountability and improve agencies’ processes

Since young, Ms Ong Jia Qi has always been good with numbers. That, and having an eye for detail makes her a good fit for her role as an auditor at the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO). 

The 27-year-old says she applied for the AGO Auditing Service Scholarship in 2014 because the agency’s values of independence, professionalism and integrity aligned with her own. 

Over her four-year career, Ms Ong had been part of the team auditing the financial statements of the Monetary Authority of Singapore as well as conducting audits for the education and security sector. The scholar recently wrapped up an attachment at a commercial audit firm and returned to AGO where she is now an assistant director in the Strategic Planning and Policy Department.

She shares more about her job and what it was like to take a leap into the field of accountancy.

Q. What led you to this scholarship?

After completing my A levels at Victoria Junior College in 2013, I was going through scholarship opportunities, trying to find one that would play to my strengths and give me the chance to learn something new. I chanced upon the AGO Auditing Service Scholarship which piqued my curiosity.

Previously, I had heard a few myths about auditing, such as how it’s an occupation that entails long working hours. I spoke to seniors who worked in the public sector as well as those who are in the auditing field, and they dispelled some of these myths, helping me better understand what the job really entails.

After I had been awarded the scholarship, I was often invited back to many AGO events such as the AGO Exchange, an annual event where audit groups would share key learning points and takeaways on how the audits were conducted and how the findings were uncovered.

It was interesting to see how audits came to life and how AGO plays an important part in enhancing public accountability through its audits.

The scholarship also gave me the chance to complete two internships at AGO, in 2016 and 2017, where I gained exposure to the audits of different public sector organisations.

Q. What does a day at AGO look like, and what are some challenges that you face?

Our role is to audit and report to the President and Parliament on the proper accounting and use of public resources to enhance public accountability and help strengthen the financial governance of the public service.

Our observations could include inefficient use or wastage of public funds and resources, or non-compliance with control procedures or legislation.  

We also work hard and play hard. As with all other audits, we do have our peak period and reporting deadlines to meet. However, after our peak period, there will be many events organised for staff bonding. This is something that I have always looked forward to ever since I joined full time in 2018.

“I have learnt to see the bigger scheme of things and realised that our rigorous audits have helped many agencies to improve on their processes.”

Ms Ong Jia Qi, recipient of the AGO Auditing Service Scholarship

While auditors are generally not welcomed by auditees with open arms, I have learnt to always maintain professionalism and work together with the auditee to achieve our common objective: strengthening financial governance.

Q. How was your experience at the commercial audit firm?

I would say the only difference between working at AGO and a commercial audit firm is the different profiles of the auditees and the scope of work. 

In the commercial audit firm, I worked on financial statements audit. It challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and gain exposure to a new environment with different practices and culture. The attachment also broadened my technical knowledge on auditing and accounting standards. In addition, being assigned to handle certain private sector auditees have also helped me improve my stakeholder management skills.

Having to pick up new practices, tools and procedures quickly within six months was definitely a steep learning curve at first. 

There were also many new digitalisation tools that I was exposed to, which I can possibly adopt at AGO. I have benefited a lot from the rotations as it gives me the exposure to experience both private and public sector auditing.

Besides the attachment, being part of AGO also gave me the chance to go for my first overseas work trip. A study trip to the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) in South Korea allowed me to learn more about BAI’s digital and technological transformation strategy, including their IT systems and their manpower development plans.

Q. Why do you think your work makes an impact?

Over the years, I have learnt to see the bigger scheme of things and realised that our rigorous audits have helped many agencies to improve on their processes.

I am proud to be in AGO because I know that public agencies would act upon its findings. This means that we are all working towards the common goal of strengthening financial governance together.

I had always wanted to be in public service because I want to give back to society and bring about change in my own capacity.

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