Anti-corruption watchdogs laud MACC for busting project tender cartel

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Anti-corruption watchdogs laud MACC for busting project tender cartel
Anti-corruption watchdogs laud MACC for busting project tender cartel

Two anti-corruption watchdogs today lauded the MACC for its success in busting a 'project tender cartel' within the government and called for stricter action against the corrupt.

Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) in a statement said the involvement of civil servants in such activities is a betrayal of the people's trust and an embarrassment to the civil service.

"The Civil Service is meant to administer and provide for the needs of the nation using our tax money; Civil Servants bear the privilege and honour of serving a cause greater than themselves to uplift society.

"It is a betrayal of our trust and an embarrassment that some members of the civil service would rather enrich criminals in exchange for some gratification, instead of helping their own countrymen and nation," said the statement.

Corruption appears to be rife within the civil service and has led to the distrust of the rakyat in government institutions and agencies, as shown by Transparency International's Corruption Barometer in 2020 where 71 percent of Malaysians believed that the government was facing major corruption issues.

TI-M further said that the contract cartel - which allegedly monopolised a total of 354 tenders from several ministries and government agencies nationwide involving projects worth a total of RM3.8 billion - robbed honest entrepreneurs of their opportunity as well as the people of quality development.

Bumiputera contractors and bumiputeras are the biggest losers, the organisation added, because honest bumiputera companies are losing out on the contracts despite the government's efforts to help the group.

"Kudos to the MACC, let there be no impunity for the rich and powerful who gain their wealth through corrupt means and for those who help them to do so."

Earlier this week, Bernama reported that the MACC has crippled a ‘project tender cartel’ with the arrest of seven individuals including its mastermind.

The syndicate is said to be in operation since 2014 and is also believed to have used more than 150 companies to submit tenders or quotations to the ministries and agencies involved.

The anti-graft agencies also seized millions of ringgit worth of assets in their operation against the cartel, including shophouses, bungalows, private helicopters and supercars, among others.

Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) also praised MACC for uncovering the syndicate, stressing the need for the civil service to take stronger actions that can act as a deterrent to government employees from getting involved in corrupt practices.

Referring to a statement by the Chief Secretary to the Government Mohd Zuki Ali who spoke about duty rotation for its staff in sensitive departments, the organisation said it may not solve the problem within the government's procurement system.

"Following the arrest of eight individuals, along with the mastermind, the Chief Secretary to the Government Mohd Zuki Ali issued a statement professing full support in the fight against wrong-doing and embezzlement and stated that the existence of the cartel was worrying.

“He also guaranteed strict action against any public servants involved, and that the Public Service Department has been ordered to rotate its staff in sensitive departments that are vulnerable in this regard.

"However, when it comes down to it, the rotating of staff is but an ad hoc measure and may not resolve the inherent vulnerabilities within the procurement system itself, without sufficient checks into tendering companies that could allow for such a travesty to continue to happen.

"Deterrents, such as the strict action mentioned by the chief secretary, should also be harsh enough that those tempted would be discouraged by the punishments themselves. Examples would include suspensions and salary cuts, among others, that would not only serve to punish the wrongdoers, but cripple their bribers as well, or make those forced into such situations be more inclined towards whistleblowing," it said in a statement.

C4 recommended that the government introduce immediate changes in its system, including publishing decisions on awarding of contracts as well as justifications behind the decisions; and an amendment in the MACC Act to give wider power to the agency to launch probes into those with suspicious and unexplained wealth.

It also suggested the government strengthen the powers of the auditor-general to check government contracts without needing consent from the Finance Minister, as required under the Audit Act 1957.

"We also question this administration on what has become of the efforts to establish a public procurement law, which was first announced by former finance minister Lim Guan Eng in Budget 2019, to prevent losses in public funds due to wastage and leakages, as well as to provide a check and balance process by allowing suppliers and the public to submit complaints.

"Strengthening the Public Accounts Committee, empowering them to be able to call on enforcement should any investigation by the committee turn up evidence of wrongdoing, to prevent abuse of power or position in avoiding consequences."