On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Let’s book the culprits

So, can Malaysian taxpayers see some arrests this week or the subsequent weeks now that the holidays are over?  

It has been reported that the officials being investigated were from at least two ministries said to have bought equipment that were “overly priced”, causing the government losses of millions of ringgit.  

Malaysians would certainly like to see the culprits hauled to court as we are fed up with the mismanagement of public funds.  

We taxpayers would certainly like to know the person or persons responsible for using our money to pay RM224 for a RM32 set of screwdrivers.  

Let’s also see the faces of those who approved RM1,146 for a set of pens costing RM160 and RM5,700 for a car jack worth RM50, as outlined in the 2006 A-G’s report.  

The Government also paid RM8.36mil more than the market price to buy items, including technical books, for the National Youth Skills Institutes.  

Two helicopters worth RM117.76mil purchased by the police air wing could not be used as they did not meet specifications, yet another RM15.4mil was spent to train pilots to fly these helicopters.  

The Customs Department under-utilised its RM290mil information technology system but was planning to spend another RM451.30mil on a new system.  

Trail of abuse 

Surely there must be a trail that reveals misdeeds that the ACA can track and book these culprits.  

It has been reported that the ACA probe would be centred on three aspects. One was whether government officers had received bribes from parties in the private sector.  

The agency was also investigating if anyone had made false claims and also if those who had been recorded as having received money had actually received it.  

The investigation, it was reported, would also ascertain if the number of items supplied to the government department or agency concerned matched the numbers ordered.  

We understand and appreciate the necessity of the ACA to cover their tracks to ensure a solid case against the offenders but we hope there will be quick action against those responsible.  

It would also be meaningless if only the ikan bilis or small fries are arrested in this exercise. The ministries should at least apologise for these fiascos if the senior officials who once headed these ministries have been transferred to other agencies or bodies.  

The refusal to take responsibility seems to be an ugly culture of some of our senior officers, who prefer to maintain their silence in the hope that such controversies would blow over once the media lose interest.  

Not many senior officials have resigned for their failures, unlike those in Japan, despite Malaysia having adopted the Look East policy for over 20 years. It doesn’t help that among civil servants, some perceive that their political masters are not clean and had probably made more on the take.  

But Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has sent word down that civil servants who waste public funds should be punished and, if there are elements of corruption, they should be charged.  

He has told his listeners, including editors, that he encouraged media reports highlighting such abuses and wanted action taken.  

It has been a double-edged sword for Pak Lah as such openness has caused much uneasiness among the powerful and influential, who are not used to such scrutiny from the top. While there have been similar A-G reports in the past, the standard practice of leaving it to the ACA to probe has shown little, if any, results.  

Dented image 

The opposition has also used the A-G reports to hit out at the leadership and, as a result, has dented the leadership’s image. Certainly there would be a political price, especially in urban areas, during the elections.  

But without doubt, Pak Lah is determined to go after those who do not practise good governance in government.  

For a start, the ministries and agencies must improve their internal audit systems of checks and balances. They must learn to have more efficient controls on financial expenditures as they need to realise that the A-G would eventually catch up on them.  

A strong message from the leadership that those who foul up would be punished should help inculcate such a working culture. Certainly there should be preventive action but the public rightly wants to see punitive action too.  

It is no good merely transferring offenders, particularly those suspected of graft, to another section or other agencies.  

A few years back, a complaint was made against a Customs officer who asked for money without issuing a receipt and, although the case was highlighted by the media, the person was merely transferred to another desk.  

Malaysians want to see action and offenders penalised. That’s surely fair.