On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Same old shameful story

Every year, we recoil in shock when we read the Auditor-General’s Report and yet we hear little about punishment being meted out to those responsible for the colossal loss of billions of ringgit.

IT’S simply disgusting and shameful. Whether the colossal loss of billions of ringgit is due to negligence, slipshod decisions, incompetence, stupidity, criminal breach of trust or, worse, plain corruption, Malaysians are finding it too painful to bear.

Every year, we read of such horrible accounts and yet we hear little about punishment being meted out to those responsible.

Who can blame taxpayers if they have the perception that the Auditor-General’s reports are tabled in Parliament yearly only because it is mandated by law? Aside from the fiery debates, for a little while at least, there is really not much that can be done.

Rightly or wrongly, many of us think the recalcitrant civil servants do not have any fear of the consequences of their actions in, for example, approving the purchase of over-priced items.

How can one explain the purchase of 20 wall clocks at RM3,810 each when the actual price is only RM100 a piece?

The crappy answer given by the Informa¬≠tion, Communications and Culture Ministry was “that the board of procurement awarded contractors which provided the best value for money”.

Yes, that was the reply – “the best value for money”. And here’s the best part, the ministry also told the Auditor-General that “the ministry obtained the best technical evaluation grades board to compare prices of items offered by companies online before making its decision”.

I doubt any of us sees the need for “technical evaluation” in the purchase of 20 wall clocks. And we shudder at the thought that “having the best technical evaluation” resulted in a decision to buy those clocks at such an exorbitant price!

Seriously, the whole board needs to be sacked because what was needed was plain common sense. That, however, seems to be uncommon at that level. Well, we are told these are “branded” clocks, thus the difference in price.

But try explaining to the people how three A4-sized scanners were bought for RM14,670 per unit, which was more than 70 times the estimated price of RM200 each.

Seriously, where is that sense of responsibility, dignity, accountability and credibility? How can such blatant wastage of funds be allowed to continue year in year out?

The reports of Health Ministry staff filing dubious claims for RM550,000 to RM600,000 on tailoring and footwear must surely be a clear-cut case for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency to investigate

Audit checks had revealed that 1,014 of the ministry’s employees in 10 centres responsible for the tailoring claims had produced dubious receipts. The premises stated in the receipts simply do not exist.

Then there is the RM1.3mil in police assets lost over three years, including 136 pairs of handcuffs, 44 firearms, 27 cars, 26 walkie-talkies and 22 radios.

Let’s put this in context. There are over 100,000 policemen in our country. It is a huge machinery and the loss of these handcuffs, walkie-talkies and radios is actually a tiny figure. Policemen are humans too and the loss of such items in a rough operating environment is not unusual.

We also acknowledge that our policemen put their lives at risk daily to keep our streets and homes safe.

But the loss of firearms is serious, more so when the current spate of serious crime has been attributed to the ease in getting weapons. Surely, we do not want the criminals to be using guns that belong to the police.

What we would also like to know is how 27 cars can go missing. Hopefully, we will not only get to know the answer but also the clear-cut actions taken on those responsible.

The burning question that Malaysians continue to ask is: “Has the civil service learnt from the weaknesses highlighted by the Auditor-General?”

The Public Accounts Committee, which under parliamentary tradition is the most powerful committee in the august House, must also do more than just deliberate on the alarming findings in the Auditor-General’s reports.

In other countries, ministers and civil servants shudder when they are called up by the PAC to explain anything amiss in the money allocated to them for spending.

The Auditor-General is one institution which has stood the test of time, from the days of the late Tan Sri Ahmad Nordin Zakaria. And credit should be given to the government for not tampering with the report and releasing it as it is. Only constant, at least in the eyes of the public, is the lack of action taken against the culprits.

The MACC must be proactive and commence investigations to get to those who not only inflate the prices of purchased items but also receive kickbacks in the process. It’s plain corruption at the expense of taxpayers’ money.

All the efforts to reduce government subsidies on essential items and calls for the people to be prudent are meaningless if such blatant wastage and leakages continue unchecked.