Brompton bikes, before the real story gets erased


Today newspaper’s story about the prosecution of the officer behind NParks’ Brompton folding bikes purchase merely hinted at the origins to the case. It said that there had been “questions over whether the agency got value for its purchases.” By comparison, the news story carried more words about National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan ordering an audit last year, and how the ministry “said it had uncovered some discrepancies suggesting the possibility of bias in the procurement”.

pic_201310_17The story (dated 28 September 2013) is screen-captured at right.

Reading it, I became concerned that the real history of the case was being erased in preference to a new version that gave more credit to Khaw’s alertness and intervention and to the ministry’s internal rigour, than was deserved. 

Memories can be short. Just the other day, I overheard two university students chatting. One mentioned T T Durai. The other asked, “Who’s that?” The first then said something about him being the central figure in the National Kidney Foundation corruption case. The second was still none the wiser. “What case is that?” she asked.

With that incident in mind, I feel it is important to create a concise record — “concise” is relative, of course, and it’s 2,900 words here — of what happened in the Brompton bikes case before it is quietly erased. The case is a salutary example of the positive effect of digital media and crowd intelligence. It is important to have this record at hand when the ruling party next boasts about their wonderful record of good governance or when it next demonises social media and its freedoms.


The National Parks Board (NParks) wanted bicycles for its officers so that they could patrol our city parks. They wanted foldable bikes so that its officers could transport them on our metro system. A tender was called on Wednesday 25 January 2012, which happened to be the third day after Chinese New Year (Monday, 23 January) and when many businesses remained shut. It closed just six days later (actually, only 3 working days), on Monday 30 January 2012. These details, however, didn’t emerge until a little later in the controversy.

pic_201310_01The decision to purchase the bikes came to public attention with a news report in the Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao on 22 June 2012, which reported that NParks had purchased 26 UK-made Brompton bikes at $2,200 each from a company called BikeHop. This report was highlighted on Hardwarezone (see thumbnail image at right) and a lively discussion quickly followed. Much of that discussion focussed on why NParks needed such high-end bikes, and why foldable bikes made in Taiwan, said to be cheaper, were not purchased instead.

It is possible that similar discussion took place on other forums — the Zaobao report alludes to this. Within Hardwarezone itself, there is a brief mention (in a subsequent post) of a parallel discussion on the Channel NewsAsia forum, but I have not been able to find it.

pic_201310_02Within 14 hours of the first post on Hardwarezone, another member of the forum raised the question of the bidding process. “I would really like to see the competitive bidding process, if there is one,” wrote snap99. Interesting, isn’t it?  The purchase decision had been slowly winding its way within NParks over five months, and nobody seemed to have raised a similar question.

pic_201310_03pic_201310_04More discussion on the process ensued, with participant kiatkiat asking what happened to the ‘three quotations’ rule? This suggests that at some point, it was disclosed that there had been only one quotation. pic_201310_05

Late evening, 26 June 2012, a message from DigiNEXX, the official distributor of Bromptons was re-posted onto Hardwarezone. It had originally been posted on the lovescyclingsg Facebook fan page. I believe DigiNEXX has since renamed itself Mighty Velo.

pic_201310_06pThis message pointed out that sellers of folding bikes would not normally anticipate a government purchase — how often after all, does the government buy such equipment? They can’t be expected to spend time looking at the government tender portal GeBiz on a regular basis. It stands to reason therefore, that if a government agency wanted to purchase something unusual like this, the agency should have sent a message out to various distributors in advance alerting them to an upcoming tender.

Sounds like common sense and good practice to me. Yet, it hadn’t been done.

The message also flagged the issue of NParks buying from a party (BikeHop) that is not the official distributor of Bromptons in Singapore. Immediately one wonders about after-sales servicing and support — again, a question that didn’t appear to have been raised within NParks itself.

pic_201310_08More rumblings followed, over the strange fact that there was only one bid.

pic_201310_09In the early hours of 27 June, Hardwarezone member SIM37_ posted a series of images, since deleted. I can’t now know what those images were, but perhaps they were the relevant screenshots from the GeBiz procurement portal. If anyone has these images now, could you share them with me?

This is exactly why I am concerned. Sources can be so easily erased. It is important to archive the real story before it’s too late.

Within a week, public suspected due diligence not exercised

pic_201310_10By 30 June, the interested public was reaching a conclusion. “Due diligence apparently was not exercised,” wrote Kiwi8. He also references a story on The New Paper (dated 29 June) which, today, is not easily available to the public. It’ll take a determined researcher to dig it up. (Is it even possible? The last time I looked, The New Paper’s online version carried only abridged versions of its print stories.) There is however a New Paper story archived on AsiaOne, bylined Benson Ang and dated 1 July 2012. I don’t know if this is the same article being referred to, although the date is different.

pic_201310_11The same day, Algieba hammered home the point that NParks ended up not buying from the official distributor and may therefore have shortchanged itself with respect to warranties.

Minister compelled to address the issue

Khaw Boon Wan was finally roused to address the issue on 4 July 2012. In a blogpost, he wrote:

Second: how was the particular brand, Brompton, chosen? NParks clarified that it had no particular brand in mind. It was open to considering all brands. Hence, the quotation on the Government website adopted general specifications to ensure that as many dealers as possible could come in.

Unfortunately, at the close of the quotation, only one vendor responded with two options, offering Brompton and another brand (at a higher price). NParks 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, proceeded with the procurement.

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.

It looks like NParks has bought the right equipment. However, it also looks like NParks might have gotten a better deal if there was greater participation in this quotation. I have asked MND 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.

You’d notice that his reaction was to defend NParks and its purchase of the bikes. He did concede however that “greater participation” among vendors would have been better — but then again, could he have argued with a straight face the opposite? That one bidder is good enough? Khaw said he would ask his ministry staff to “discuss this case” with the agencies involved and to draw “lessons” from it. Very mild words.

NParks defends itself, saying it had “adhered to procedures”

Up to this point, Straits Times had not breathed a word about the controversy. Only after Khaw’s blogpost was published did the Straits Times report on the matter (5 July 2012, Khaw okay with NParks’ purchase of $2,200 bikes, by Jennani Durai).

This is very typical of this newspaper — it waits to be sure that the government is prepared to live with airing an issue before the newspaper will cover it, and even then, leads the story with the government’s point of view (as you can see from the headline used), not the criticism, which is mentioned almost as an afterthought.

Following this story, Straits Times carried two letters to the editor, on 7 July 2012, to which the CEO of NParks Poon Hong Yuen replied, as published in the newspaper on 14 July 2012.

We thank the writers for last Saturday’s feedback (‘Seeking clarity over $2,200-bike purchase’ by Mr Tan Buck Yam; and ‘Shocked by $2,200 price tag’ by Mr Thong Kok Kheong and ‘Target price should have been less than $1,000’ by Mr Wong Kah Khoon, both on Forum Online).

Poon Hong Yuen

Poon Hong Yuen

As a public agency, we are aware of our duty to ensure value for money when public funds are involved. We acknowledge that we could have handled this purchase better.

Upon closing of the quotation, we received two offers from one vendor, both of which met our specifications. We chose the cheaper model of bicycle offered as the price quoted was lower than the retail price, and within our estimated budget.

In hindsight, we could have set a longer quotation period, and considered recalling the quotation when only one vendor made a bid.

All three writers asked why foldable bicycles were needed.

Productivity enhancement was a major consideration as our officers’ workload has increased significantly. For example, we have increased tree inspection frequency by at least 30 per cent due to adverse weather patterns, and opened up another 50km of park connectors in the past two years.

We had to find ways to boost productivity as an alternative to hiring more people.

Our staff used to take public transport and walk to various locations to inspect roadside trees and park connectors.

As an alternative, we introduced non-foldable bicycles, but we needed a van to ferry these around.

With foldable bicycles, staff can use public transport to reach various locations, and cycle within their work sites, halving inspection times and delivering $600 of savings per month per officer.

We believe it is important to equip our staff with the right tools to perform their work well. As our staff cycle 30km to 40km daily, sometimes over rough terrain, we require good foldable bicycles that are compact, lightweight and durable.

To ensure that the appropriate equipment is procured, we also tested foldable bikes of different sizes and makes on public transport.

Prevailing government procurement guidelines require agencies to put up purchases up to $70,000 through an open invitation-to-quote process via GeBIZ, which is open to all vendors. This process is more transparent than notifying a few vendors to quote, as suggested by Mr Tan.

We adhered to the procedures by putting up specifications on GeBIZ over a six-day period, including four working days. We did not indicate any brands in our quotation.

We will work with the Ministry of National Development to draw lessons from this purchase.

Poon Hong Yuen
Chief Executive Officer
National Parks Board (NParks)

He too stoutly defended the procurement process and outcome.

At about the same time, there was an article in The Online Citizen on the subject. Unfortunately, it is now irretrievable. I get an “Error 404” when I try. This is how frustrating it is — it’s only a little more than a year, and historical information is already lost. [Update, 4 October 2013: a reader left a comment to say that the article is still accessible. Indeed, it is now. I think The Online Citizen restored it after I posted this.]

Ripping away the cover

pic_201310_14The same day that the Straits Times published Poon Hong Yuen’s press reply, an intrepid sleuth ripped away the cover of the case. Singaporean1st published on Hardwarezone his lengthy investigative report, which for the first time pointed out that two employees of NParks were among a circle of friends around BikeHop owner Lawrence Lim. In case this detailed post is later taken down, I am archiving a screen capture of it here (click thumbnail at right).

I believe it was the first time anyone linked the case to NParks Assistant Director Bernard Lim. It even provided a photo of him:


With this superb investigative report in the public domain, what is there left for the ministry to do?

Government owns up

Eleven days later, the ministry owned up. As can be seen from a news story archived on AsiaOne, dated 25 July 2012:

Brompton bikes purchase reported to CPIB

The purchase of 26 foldable Brompton bikes by the National Parks Board (NParks) has been reported to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

The Straits Times reported that the Ministry of National Development (MND) confirmed to the paper that it reported the matter to the CPIB.

The officer in charge of the deal, assistant director of the Park Connector Network Mr Bernard Lim, has been suspended until further notice.

The ministry also said Mr Khaw Boon Wan had told a ministry internal audit team to work with NParks to review the purchase of the bicycles.

The amount spent of the purchase raised some eyebrows, with many Singaporeans questioning if the Brompton bikes, costing $2,200 each, were too expensive.

NParks had bought the foldable British-brand bikes for its officers to use on patrols.

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan had earlier defended the purchase of the bicycles but called for an audit to be carried out last month to review the purchase to ascertain NParks’ justification and to see if its procurement process could be improved.

The audit found that “the reasons for purchasing the foldable bikes to enhance work productivity of NParks field staff were valid”, but “it had also uncovered some discrepancies which, although inconclusive by themselves, suggested the possibility of bias in the procurement.”

There’s a subtle bit of revisionist history here. Look carefully, and you’ll notice the first use of the word “audit”. In the penultimate paragraph, the Straits Times wrote that Khaw “had earlier . . . called for an audit to be carried out”. But if you looked back at Khaw’s blogpost, he didn’t say anything quite like that. He blogged that he had “asked MND staff to discuss this case with our agencies, to see if there are lessons which we can draw . . .” That doesn’t sound like the same thing.

CEO Poon of NParks, in his letter to Straits Times, 14 July 2012, likewise made no mention of any audit in progress.

On Bernard Lim being suspended, Channel NewsAsia reported thus :

pic_201310_16A slightly different text version of the Channel NewsAsia report (dated 25 July 2012) was posted on the SPUG forum. Although a hyperlink was provided in the SPUG post, it no longer leads to the CNA report. So the best I can do is to archive a screen capture of the SPUG post (at left).

So there you have it. Bernard Lim Yong Soon, 42, is now facing trial.

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau could not find evidence of corruption, news reports say. So what he’s charged with is that of providing false information to public officials. Presumably, he allegedly lied when he was asked about his relationship with Lawrence Lim of BikeHop.

Lawrence Lim too may be charged, if he has not been already. Today newspaper’s story (28 September 2013) says that Bernard “also faces another charge of abetting Bikehop Singapore Director Lawrence Lim Chun How to lie about their friendship to the [ministry’s] internal auditors”. If Bernard is charged with abetment, one would expect Lawrence to be charged with lying.

Empowering the public is essential for good governance

It is important not to forget that this case was blown open only because net-savvy Singaporeans went digging — a fact that the government and its loyal mainstream media will want to bury as soon as possible. They will want to take credit for uncovering wrongdoing when it is not theirs to take.

pic_201310_19Consider this: Bernard Lim, as an assistant director, isn’t very high up in NParks’ heirarchy. Assistant directors are Tier 4c officers, as can be seen from NParks’ organisation chart. Despite there being several layers of superiors who could have asked pointed questions (and, for that matter, colleagues and junior staff who could have blown the whistle), NParks themselves did not sense anything wrong with the deal in the five months they worked on it. Nor did the Ministry of National Development, which had oversight of this agency. The complacency is obvious.

Yet within hours of the purchase being announced on Zaobao, the public noticed it smelled fishy. Within days, they spotted how strange the tender was. Within weeks, one persistent guy figured out the suspects. That’s crowd intelligence for you.

However, for every case like this one that is uncovered, how many go undetected? One can’t help but wonder.

Our government keeps boasting about good governance. What this case shows is that good governance is always a work in progress. But certain conditions make it easier to achieve because these conditions empower a wider set of scrutineers, keeping malfeasance in check: transparency, freedom of access to information and freedom of speech. Each time our government attacks any of these — and you will recall Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-jin’s sneering reference to “keyboard warriors”, late June 2013 — what they are doing is to undermine good governance, not to promote it.

So the next time they demonise the free-wheeling new media, just shout back, “Brompton bikes”.

53 Responses to “Brompton bikes, before the real story gets erased”

  1. 1 Lye Khuen Way 3 October 2013 at 07:42

    Wonderful re telling of a yet to conclude story, Sir ! Yes, the Truth be told, we sure need many HardDisk, Flash RAM to archive records of public interests.
    I do find the current statement that this Officer was not “corrupt” baffling. Maybe, as in the CPIB recent case, they do need some 4 years of digging to uncover what were not proper, no ?

    • 2 Anon cpZm 3 October 2013 at 18:48

      Definition of corrupt under CPIB is that the public office received some kickback. In this case, it could be that Bernard Lim was merely helping his friend and received nothing tangible in return. So although by everyday usage, we would consider this a corrupt act, CPIB would likely have followed a more technical definition.

  2. 3 Jack 3 October 2013 at 08:41

    Great article. can sometimes help you track down missing articles, like the Online Citizen one, which you can find here:

  3. 4 oute 3 October 2013 at 09:02

    Well, we can remove all those WP MPs, and let you and the rest be in Parliament lah.

    Why waste $16,000 a month per MP, and yet they did not dare to do anything…Maybe Mr Ngiam is correct, too much money result in being the paymaster.

    • 5 intel 3 October 2013 at 10:45

      Err. why focus on WP MPs? What about the 87 PAP MPs, one who never even attend meet the people session and many more part timers who would miss all parliamentary sessions and only attend to celebrate the old fart’s birthday?

      • 6 oute 3 October 2013 at 11:23

        Cause the 87 PAP MPs are in a groupthink, whilst the WP MPs asked for accountability, in which the people voted for them…

      • 7 intel 3 October 2013 at 13:01

        Since 87 PAP MPs form a group think, why need 87? One is enough to represent the whole group. WP MPs can’t do anything without a majority. Let them be the government then we can hold them accountable. Since PAP MPs not accountable; let them take over as opposition. No need to be accountable and can still earn $16k.

  4. 8 Culinary Trails 3 October 2013 at 09:46

    Thanks Alex. You’re really our country’s real sleuth extraordinaire. From this piece, you can see how govt agencies, ministries, ST work together to present a specific story to the public. They have forgotten that the public is no longer made up of fools & can apply common sense to any issue.

    In my opinion, these issues occur because it’s the system of GeBiz that is completely flawed. It is rigid & inflexible ( works on principle of lowest price, highest value quotes – which is inherently flawed.) yet depends on heavy human intervention & personal influence.

    I suspect that many civil servants find it a millstone round their necks so they work around it while still seeking to be compliant. If only they listened to their own people, GeBiz can be better used to manage contracts, allow public funds to be used responsibly yet support local businesses who are trying to eke out a living.

  5. 9 Ah Kok 3 October 2013 at 09:52

    The gahmen really, really don’t want stuff like this coming out on the web, because sometimes really scary things get revealed, like the Todd case. There will come a time, probably soon, when they look likely to lose an election, and they will come after sites like this big time, and Singapore will go into lock-down mode.

  6. 10 ;Annonymous 3 October 2013 at 10:23

    Thanks Alex. for taking the time and trouble to put this article up. However, you should realise that they are getting really worried about GE 2016. Hence the subtle shifts from the historical record by the MSM, Did you not notice the constant barrage of propaganda which is in substance electioneering? Forums featuring establishment figures,so-called think thank personnel, speeches, op-ed articles. Junaida Ibrahim, sister of Minister Yacob, had warned some time back that the gloves are off. You can expect this kind of stuff until the next GE which could be called earlier with the expected demise of LKY whose fund of goodwill among citizens for his part in the country’s history is being depleted in recent weeks by seemingly endless celebration.

    • 11 Thor 3 October 2013 at 13:02

      I am curious. Will PAP seek to capitalize on the old mans passing, especially if its close to a convenient date for calling snap elections, perhaps a year or too earlier than 2016? Also, how will the public respond to such a strategy?

  7. 12 John 3 October 2013 at 10:37

    This is another clear cut case of the govt manipulating the mainstream media to cover up their incompetency and complacency. Just look at the current political crisis in Taiwan. A variety of newspapers and news channels takes different angles and view about the actions of President Ma and his administration. It is up to the Taiwanese people to digest and come out with their own conclusion. Will this ever happen in Singapore with PAP in power?? No chance!!

  8. 13 Singaporean Male 3 October 2013 at 10:45

    Go to Bike Hop’s website: under construction. Go to their Facebook page: no physical address, no Likes, no photos of real people, no real people’s names posting anything. Just compare with real bike shops’ websites and Facebook pages and you can tell: so fake!

  9. 14 intel 3 October 2013 at 10:53

    Isn’t cronyism a form of corruption? Why Bernard Lim wasn’t charged? This is much worst than the law professor’s case where no public money nor grades involved. I wonder why. Singapore’s law system is totally upside down.

    • 15 yawningbread 3 October 2013 at 11:04

      I’m not sure that cronyism is an offence in Singapore. If it were . . . .

      • 16 The 3 October 2013 at 14:34

        The broader definition of corruption includes cronyism and nepotism. The problem is that it is hard to prove cronyism and nepotism.

        Nepotism is certainly an abuse of power and therefore clearly a case of corruption. No less than the World Bank included nepotism in its definition of corruption.

        /// Public office can also be abused for personal benefit even if no bribery occurs, through patronage and nepotism, the theft of state assets, or the diversion of state revenues.///

        /// Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) defines corruption in development co-operations as ‘when institutions, organisations, companies or individuals profit inappropriately from their position in the operations and thereby cause damage or loss. This includes giving and receiving bribes, extortion, favouritism and nepotism, embezzlement, fraud, conflict of interest, and illegal monetary contributions to political parties.’ ///

      • 17 patriot 3 October 2013 at 17:33

        Cronyism and Nepotism are Political Terms.
        Will they be legislated as Laws?

    • 18 intel 3 October 2013 at 12:55

      If I were the bikeshop owner, I would give one free bike as an offer of appreciation. No money trail of course. Maybe I can also give my director friend an extra egg in his char kway tiao.

    • 19 andyxianwong 3 October 2013 at 22:46

      The definition I found best is “abuse of public power for private gain”. Presumably it could be the private gain of enriching your friend, or your wife, for example.

    • 20 Anon hCv3 11 October 2013 at 18:02

      Bernard did not author any unflattering books while the professor did.

  10. 21 henry 3 October 2013 at 11:39

    I have first hand encounters of this type of technique in erasing truths. They occur in GLCs too. Think NTD and how he articulates his views.
    The same techniques used to distort, depending which way the slant suits them. The unions too are in the loop.. and they too ride the same horse.

    It does not help either when people’s memories are short. Perhaps too interested in flipping properties and finding money to pay bills:

    “As long as I earn more than what the government takes from me, I am fine”

    Its the mantra of our people:

    “… as long as…”

    that allows many injustices to perpetuate.

    We have very little ethical values and we abandon principles for:

    “as long as…”..

    – he says sorry…
    – they try…
    – the government knows…

    Thanks, for another great article!

  11. 22 ckmpd 3 October 2013 at 11:54

    Excellent article, thanks.

    We need more Singaporeans like you

  12. 23 Chanel 3 October 2013 at 14:59

    We should be used to the way the traditional local media operate by now. They will twist and turn facts to favour or even praise the ruling elite. If I recall correctly, Khaw also defended TT Durai when his alleged corruption was first mooted. Khaw later (probably feeling embarrassed) kept quiet after TT Durai was convicted.

    This is why the traditional media are often perceived to be nothing more than government mouthpieces.

  13. 24 Bianco 3 October 2013 at 15:05

    No evidence of bribery does not necessary mean there isn’t any or no intent. From the need to purchase such high priced foldable bike to the way the procurement process has been manipulated to benefit one party isn’t it obvious that corruption is taking place ? but still they are in denial and looking the other way and trying to sweep it under the carpet. From top to bottom they are trying to cover their shit. And this is not the only case. Now the PM is saying civil servant must make declaration of visits to casino, and making it as if this alone is the main problem? As if this solves the problem? But actually the main and biggest problem is the slack in financial management and governance from the top down. The fact that the asst director can embezzle so much money is because the system allows him so or the people on top are sleeping. If the people on top is sleeping would declaring the number of times one goes to the casino solve the problem? All are just wayang to let daft sinkies think that they are doing something about it.

    • 25 yawningbread 3 October 2013 at 16:57

      There is no basis to allege any embezzlement on the part of Bernard Lim. What he may be accused of, as far as the facts seem to show, is an attempt to
      (a) narrow the choice to a type of bike he personally likes, because he himself may need to use one for his work;
      (b) help his friend’s business.
      Both, even when proved, would still be quite far from embezzlement.

      • 26 Chanel 3 October 2013 at 17:30

        There is no allegation of embezzlement because Bernard is just a convenient scapegoat. They need someone to take the fall for the gaffe

      • 27 Anon E6jb 3 October 2013 at 22:00

        He should be severely disciplined, possibly amounting to a dismissal, for knowingly
        and deliberately violating good government tender practices resulting in the favoring of a particular brand and a particular bidder.

  14. 28 BN 3 October 2013 at 15:29

    My journalist friend at SPH tells me Khaw is an especially shrewd fox, especially in how he wants the media to report on anything about him. This is perhaps why he is the only minister who make announcement via blog posts, so that MSM can pick up only the things he wrote and the angles with no chance of misquoting.

  15. 29 Here comes trouble 3 October 2013 at 16:24

    The tender system is broken. Before you bid, you might want to check with the officer if it’s just a matter of form and the vendor has been pre-selected. A lot of civil servants don’t want to deal with unknowns and have already someone in mind and are just going through the motions. It’s an utter waste of a company’s time to try to apply.

    In my opinion, MDA giving a $2 something million tender to a company that applied after the tender was closed and jigging the figures so that the company would win the tender warrants a greater investigation.

  16. 33 Duh 3 October 2013 at 17:08

    Thanks for setting the record straight and clarifying the timeline explicitly to expose the Minister’s flip-flopping role and the PAP, I mean, official mass media’s role in ‘framing’ this news to the PAP’s advantage.

    “In the early hours of 27 June, Hardwarezone member SIM37_ posted a series of images, since deleted. I can’t now know what those images were, but perhaps they were the relevant screenshots from the GeBiz procurement portal. If anyone has these images now, could you share them with me?”

    I did not save these information but I remember seeing the GeBiz screenshots that you have mentioned too and the screenshots revealed that the duration of the tender covered Chinese New Year public holidays and hence, resulted in only a few available work days for any tender to make their bid. This was the most important point made by the screenshots.

  17. 36 Manda_la 4 October 2013 at 03:17

    CEO of NParks Poon Hong Yuen: “Upon closing of the quotation,we received two offers from one vendor, both of which met our specifications. We chose the cheaper model of bicycle offered as the price quoted was lower than the retail price, and within our estimated budget.”

    $2200 was within budget?! Here we are talking about a folding bicycle to be used for daily work purposes by staff of a government agency, not a high end bike for recreation or for show purpose among well-heeled bikers.

    So just how much was the estimated budget for each bike?
    $5000? $10000???

    I remember having bought a folding bike from Giant some 3 years back for less than $70. It wasn’t a particularly good bike but it served its purpose for making short runs to the store or coffeeshop in the estate. Nevertheless between my humble $70 bike and the $2200 Brompton bike there is an enormous gap in which there must be perhaps 50 to 100 other possibilities.

    Does NParks have a fleet of BMWs, Mercs, Audis, Range Rovers for daily use?

    • 37 L 4 October 2013 at 14:19


      Brompton bikes last very very long and they are not flimsy like those you buy from giant or NTUC hypermarts. If you’re an avid cyclist, you’d know why bromptons cost so much. They’re very well designed, comfortable to ride on and the folding mechanism is top class.

      Those clunky folding bikes from giant need constant maintanence and will go out of adjustment very quickly. The latches are not meant to last long and they’re very very heavy to carry around.

      Bromptons are small when folded and can roll around. A $2k investment that can be used easily decades. I know of bromptons that have been around for more than 15+ years with minimal maintanence.

      Personally, I’m not questioning the value of the bikes, just the procurement process.

      • 38 Manda_la 5 October 2013 at 16:01

        I too wasn’t questioning the value of Bromptons. How could I who have never owned nor ridden one?

        What I have grave doubts about is why settle for such an expensive bike and not explore other cheaper, much cheaper alternatives? It’s a huge world out there and as I said before “between my humble $70 bike and the $2200 Brompton bike there is an enormous gap in which there must be perhaps 50 to 100 other possibilities.”

        If asked I would say go look for a folding bike in the range of $400 to $500. That would already be expensive, in my opinion, for a bicycle to be used for work purposes on a daily basis by a government agency using tax-payers’ money.

        I would have thought that was sufficiently clear in the general tone of my comment. If not, it was also implied in my final, slightly tongue-in-cheek, question: “Does NParks have a fleet of BMWs, Mercs, Audis, Range Rovers for daily use?”.

      • 39 Duh 8 October 2013 at 11:31


        Even if Bromptons are that good, it is not a justified purchase – are the NParks personnel professional cyclists and using them for professional cycling competitions in their work? If such an explanation of quality is feasible without consideration of what the bikes are used for, then why don’t all police patrol cars use Ferrari or some F1 race car setup? I wonder what the bill will look like if they do. You sure can justify for the speed in car chases for police patrol cars right? But do they need that level of speed? There is a good enough standard and there is an ‘overkill’ standard, procurement irregularities aside.

  18. 40 Anders 4 October 2013 at 10:13

    Don’t know if you’ve tried this, and its far from complete, but sometimes comes in handy when looking for supposedly deleted material on the web:

  19. 41 ape@kinjioleaf 4 October 2013 at 16:24

    Indeed there are two parts to this case. Frivolous spending and lapses in procurement procedures. The latter has been addressed but not the former.
    By going for the minimum tendering period, potential suppliers are not given adequate opportunities to respond. Further more, foldable bikes are not uncommon, unlike some specialised goods and services. Due diligence should be exercised by the approving officer to question why there’s only a single quote for such a common item.
    In the first place, who approves the budget-normally done even before the procurement officer proceed to call a tender? Why wasn’t any eyebrows raised when a budget of more than $2k per foldable bike (common item) was sought?

  20. 42 Mack 4 October 2013 at 18:54

    Go take a look at NPB’s annual reports. Divide the annual expenses by Singapore’s land area (just the main island). Or divide by the total land area of our national parks (which are listed in the reports), bearing in mind much of the area, such as lawns and secondary forest, doesn’t require much maintenance. Sure, there are lots of “public trees” under NPB but they largely take care of themselves. So how much does NPB spend psf or per citizen? You’ll be amazed. Bikes are just the very tip of the iceberg. You are all missing the forest for the trees.

    • 43 The 5 October 2013 at 11:58

      Analyzing and detecting these shenanigans is no stroll in the park – takes analytical and investigative people like Alex to highlight these.

  21. 44 Kesamet 5 October 2013 at 12:39

    To provide some international perspective from a country with roughly the same population multi-ethnic / lingual, compulsory military service, financial centre etc (ie Switzerland), let’s look at the procurement of their ‘Militärvelo’ (military bicycle) #12 (for 2012; the other two models date to 1905 and 1993). The 15kg vehicle costs the Swiss tax payer about 2,000 Euro each. The ‘velo’ is produced in Switzerland but some parts are from elsewhere (Italy, Taiwan). The procurement process apparently was a multi-step process with about thirty bidders. Not everyone was happy with the result in terms of costs and the winning bidder being a Swiss company, which also got an apparently separate contract for servicing the bikes. Civilian clients can purchase the same bike, but the price is even higher because it is not a bulk purchase. Sources (in German), one a leading German paper, the other the producer’s website: and

  22. 45 Roy 5 October 2013 at 16:08

    Perhaps some proportionality can be applied here, between the scandalous revelations we all delight in uncovering, and the true extent of the ‘crime’ that has taken place. For a start where does favouritism end and corruption begin? Surely the leisure biking community in a small country like Singapore must be very small, and it shouldn’t be shocking that people in the community know each other. I think it is good and natural that NPark officials do network with the community, and can derive some personal perspective on what are good solutions for the staff patrol.

    No doubt the tender should be nullified and restarted, and Bernard should be officially reprimanded for not following due process to give his friends an advantage in the bidding, but at the end of the day I don’t think his intention was to profit from it. He is an enthusiast who forgot to draw the line between work and play. The very public shaming and ending of his career I think is out of proportion. Sometimes people are guilty of acting in a very human way.

  23. 46 J. 6 October 2013 at 20:43

    I’m working as an NSF finance clerk, and I’ve seen such things happen.

    My and my colleagues are ordered to use certain suppliers – suppliers owned by friends of the senior Warrant Officers.

    If the cost is < $7000, there is absolutely no need for open tender; if < $3000, we don't even need the approval of the Division finance officer. Our Commanding Officer's approval is enough, and he's really just a rubber stamp – he has neither the time nor the knowledge to make any informed choice.

  24. 47 Kiddyfun 7 October 2013 at 03:17

    I’m surprised, among the many comments, no one had brought this up except for Manda_La.

    Khaw had 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.’

    CEO of NParks Poon Hong Yuen had said
    ‘We believe it is important to equip our staff with the right tools to perform their work well. As our staff cycle 30km to 40km daily, sometimes over rough terrain, we require good foldable bicycles that are compact, lightweight and durable. To ensure that the appropriate equipment is procured, we also tested foldable bikes of different sizes and makes on public transport.’

    I feel that the decision to use Brompton bikes is already so questionable that it defies common sense. The uncovering of ‘discrepancies’ and possibility of bias in the procurement process is secondary. I use a folding bike myself and I’m familiar with the models in the market. There is no doubt that Brompton bikes are of a high quality; they are among the lightest and have the most compact fold. However the quality of ride is subjective, depending on the manner of usage. Brompton bikes have smaller wheels, and that may not be suitable for ‘rough terrains’. Technically there are pros and cons to a Brompton bike.

    However, one thing is for certain–NParks staff certainly do not need a $2200 bike for their duties. For folding bikes, those that are sold at Giant or Carrefour are of inferior quality, so we are not talking about using those. The entry level price of a quality folding bike is about $500-$600, and these bikes are more than adequate for NParks staff to perform their tasks. There is indeed an enormous gap between $600 and $2200 in which there are so many other good options. To be honest, any bike above $1000 is an overkill for NPark staff’s usage.

    Brompton is the equivalent of BMWs in folding bikes (kind of). One certainly doesn’t need a BMW car for daily transport, durability and easy maintenance. A Toyota Vios is perfectly up to the task for a fraction of the price. I’m sure there are many NParks staff who are avid cyclists too. Ask anyone their opinions of getting a Brompton bike for a government agency, and I’m sure they’ll shoot back with a ‘Are you crazy?’ The whole idea is just downright ridiculous. Khaw Boon Wan and Poon Hong Yuen are plainly sprouting rubbish. Granted they may not be knowledgeable on folding bikes, but I’m sure many of their underlings do.

    Obviously something is seriously wrong. However instead of being upfront, they are skirting around and diverting the issue to one of ‘discrepancies and bias in the procurement process’. I can’t believe they are trying to fool everyone in such a lame manner. From now on, I can’t respect Khaw Boon Wan much for what he had said.

  25. 48 ViciousKitty 10 October 2013 at 21:59

    And errmmm….public transport has not opened up on allowing foldable bikes to be transported on them everyday. Only on weekends. Unless of course, the NParks folks are saying that the foldable bikes are transported by vans and cars…….

    • 49 yawningbread 12 October 2013 at 22:40

      That’s not correct. If you go to, it says:
      For the comfort of all passengers, your foldable bicycle can be carried onboard during the following times when our trains and buses are less crowded: Mondays to Fridays, 9.30am – 4.00pm and 8.00pm to the end of passenger service, and all day on weekends and public holidays.

      I assume a similar rule applies for SBS Transit.

  26. 50 Bryan Tan 18 October 2013 at 11:50

    Great article, Alex, and I agree with your case about how this particular scandal is a good example of poor governance.

    What I find surprising is that you’d perpetuate the exaggerated response to TCJ’s over-hyped “keyboard warrior” reference, given how those that were making a fuss about it were reading it beyond its original context.

    Ending what’s otherwise a compelling argument with unnecessary snideness only dilutes its value.

  27. 51 KAM 20 October 2013 at 04:28

    Great Summary, Alex! Well done!

  28. 52 Rats 2 November 2013 at 23:25

    Thank you for putting this on the record. It’s a great resource! Brompton bikes indeed!

  29. 53 Stuly Kan 10 November 2013 at 20:52

    Brompton bikes are steel and heavier than aluminium bikes. If they are meant for public transport,then the weight is a disadvantage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: