'Over-estimation of demand' led to excess fitness trackers, waste of S$5.39 million: HPB

HPB said it has taken immediate steps to remediate the lapses.

Syahindah Ishak | July 22, 2021, 03:28 PM

The excess fitness trackers used for the National Steps Challenge were due to an "over-estimation of demand", according to the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB).

In a statement on July 22, following the announcement by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) of its findings, HPB said that it acknowledged the observations made by AGO in its audit of government accounts for the 2020/2021 financial year.

HPB said that it takes a serious view of the findings and has taken immediate steps to remediate the lapses and strengthen its processes.

Over-estimation of demand

According to HPB, about 1.7 million Singaporeans have signed up for the National Steps Challenge across five seasons.

The number of sign-ups in the programme grew from 156,000 sign-ups in the first season to over 900,000 sign-ups in the fifth season, HPB said.

Thus, there had been excess number of fitness trackers purchased for past seasons as a result of over-estimation of demand.

Excess trackers used for replacement and exchanges

Of the 341,208 excess trackers, HPB said that 120,000 are still functional.

Close to 48,000 have been used for replacements and exchanges of faulty trackers and those with expired warranties.

The remainder will continue to be allocated to replacements and exchanges, as well as to support community partners, companies and other government agencies in their health and wellness initiatives.

HPB added: "The over-estimation of final demand arose as HPB had pre-emptively topped up its stock of fitness trackers each season based on the observed interest from the public, which manifested for example in long wait times and queues from tracker collection."

Will be more conservative

HPB also stated that it will be "more conservative" in its projections for future seasons of the National Steps Challenge.

At the onset, HPB said it will procure a number of fitness trackers based on a "modest percentage" of the previous season's demand.

Any additional purchase of trackers will be done only when excess bookings are received from participants, it added.

HPB has also enhanced its processes for central monitoring of the movement and stocks of fitness trackers. Accounting for the stocks is now performed on a daily basis. Audits and physical stock checks will also be done twice a year instead of annually.

HPB's loyalty programme

The AGO has also found lapses in HPB’s loyalty programme.

The programme rewards over 700,000 users who participate in HPB's incentive-based programmes via the Healthy 365 application.

According to AGO, the programme was observed to have "control weaknesses" in the creation, maintenance and suspension of user accounts.

Such weaknesses were also found in the manual adjustment and tracking of updates made to the Healthpoints and rewards.

In response to these findings, HPB said that it has since implemented an automated process to monitor and manage users' requests to update their Healthpoints and rewards.

Quarterly reviews will be conducted to validate the accuracy of all changes made, and by September 2021, user account suspensions will be automated, with regular reports generated for reviews.

Clean-up exercise

HPB has also conducted a clean-up exercise to block the use of unauthorised accounts, such as those registered using the NRICs of deceased persons.

HPB added that it is in the process of ascertaining the amount of overpayments for such unauthorised accounts and "will take action to claw back the rewards from those who had made improper redemptions".

Monthly checks will be done and any accounts belonging to deceased persons will be suspended.

HPB added:

"HPB takes a serious view on any fraudulent activities not in accordance with the loyalty programme's terms and conditions. For any improper redemptions detected, rewards will be clawed back from the unauthorised users.

HPB is committed to improving our processes and will review the effectiveness of the enhanced measures. We will ensure the prudent use of resources as we continue with our efforts to encourage Singaporeans to adopt healthier lifestyles."

Top images from HPB/Fb & Tiny CreatureHub/YouTube.