Thursday, October 24

An annual inconvenient truth


The biggest surprise about the Auditor General’s report is the outpouring of outrage and disbelief over what it revealed.

How can we be surprised about something that happens every year?

As for outrage if we have been truly horrified by the wanton wastage of government funds, project delays and abuse of power exposed in this annual report surely something would have been done about them after all these years.

The AG report in the past had merely set off a round of chest beating and wrist wringing over the litany of abuses of power and ineptness of the civil service.

This was usually followed by pledges to bring those responsible for the draining of the national coffers to justice, calls for improvement in the process of procurement of equipment in government services and other rhetoric.

After a few months the clamour to right the wrongs reported by the Auditor General would die down before the next report came along to set off another storm of protest.

Some of the abuses were so brazen that they would have been funny if not for the seriousness of the issue.

Imagine buying a clock at several thousand times its value and justifying it by saying the cost included servicing.

Moreover the clocks were bought through open tender and so the whole process is above board.

The trouble is open tender may not be that ‘open’ sometimes – five companies under one group can tender for a project and fix the prices among themselves while keeping out others not in the cartel.

And then there is the suggestion that the police firearms reported lost in the report were lost at sea and so the harm was minimized since the guns did not fall into hands of gangsters.

These two cases are the lesser of the list of abuses exposed in the report but they epitomised the ineptitude and irregularities in the government departments scrutinized by the Auditor General.

Now that we are once again confronted with another damming indictment of the people entrusted to run the machinery of the government what are we going to do about it?

Are we going to sit back and let it happen again?

To be fair something was done about the 2011 report – two cases were brought to court and five government officers hauled up to face the disciplinary board.

Only two court cases and five disciplinary hearings in the face of so much dirt exposed in the report cannot be considered a serious effort in putting a stop to this deplorable situation but that was a start.

This year perhaps because of the power of the media and social network in revving up the heat for action against the culprits of this widespread wastage and abuse the MACC are investigating 15 cases highlighted in the report.

Is this the first blast of the wind of change the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has been promising?

I am not holding my breath over the final outcome of these probes because chances are they would end up with insufficient evidence to proceed.

Already some wise guy has suggested some of the government officers involved in the cases brought up by the AG were not corrupt, they were just plain stupid!

You can’t charge someone for being stupid he quipped.

Perhaps those charged in court now have new plea to make – stupidity and they would be let off with a slap on the wrist with orders to attend more courses and seminars to learn to become wiser.

Interestingly Youth Minister Khairy Jamaluddin was among the first to react to AG report pledging to get to the bottom of the case of the government footing the bill for K-pop concerts organised by his ministry instead of sponsors as promised.

But he can afford to shout

from the top of the roof about the case because the incident happened before he took over the ministry.

His stance obviously put his immediate predecessor Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek in a bad light prompting the erstwhile Youth Minister to insist that the bills were paid by sponsors.

This looks like a sum zero contradiction between the two ministers because someone is lying and so I predict this issue will be settled the ‘Malaysian’ way.

What is the ‘Malaysian’ way? It is both sides keeping quiet over the argument in the interest of party and country and soon Malaysians will forget about it and so no one will have to lose face over it.

And the latest to chime into the raging debate over the consequences of the AG report is our venerable former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad.

His is the boldest call so far – ministers should be held accountable for the wrongs in their ministry reported by the Auditor General.

He said in Japan the transport minister resigned when a plane crashed but in Malaysia if a plane crashed it’s not the minister’s business.

I wonder how he could run the country if that measure was implemented during his long tenure as Prime Minister.

Despite the irony of his call I fully support his stand but that is just firing blanks into the air.

If a Malaysian minister ever resigned over any scandal in his ministry I will eat my hat!