A-G Spot-on, IGP All at Sea

By Kee Thuan Chye

The Auditor-General’s report for 2012 is alarming. And this is so not only because it exposed huge wastage committed by government departments last year, but also because nothing seems to have changed all these many years.

Year after year, the A-G tells us of cases of improper payment; of purchases made at astronomical prices; of unreasonable project delays; of poor asset management; of non-adherence to procedures, etc, etc. But year after year, nothing is done to address the shortcomings.

It seems as if our civil service just continues to plod on, continues to waste, continues to be inefficient, continues to make corrupt transactions. And the overriding controller – i.e. the Government – just lets it be.

The Government knows from the A-G’s reports that corruption is rife in the civil service, but it probably realises it doesn’t have the moral standing to haul in the culprits. After all, the civil servants are following the example of the country’s leadership. And since the Government has also not shown itself to be accountable for a lot of things, how can we stop the rot?

Worse, our civil servants seem to have acquired a tidak apa mindset because the money that is being wasted, that it being improperly used, that is going into the pockets of some of them, is not theirs. When I was in school, we used to characterise such an attitude with the jeering taunt: “You think this is your grandfather’s money ah?” It’s still applicable here and now.

The A-G’s latest report tells us of

  • the Department of Broadcasting’s purchase of 20 wall clocks at RM3,810 each, 38 times more than the estimated RM100 each, and three A4 size scanners at RM14,670 a unit, more than 70 times the estimated price of RM200 each;

  • the Customs Department’s having to destroy RM600,000 worth of shoes it had purchased because they did not suit its officers;

  • the Melaka state government’s illegal building of its Customs and Immigration Quarantine Complex on private land, which eventually cost it an extra RM10.8 million to compensate the landowner, plus an extra RM40 million in building costs that had shot up because of the delay.

These are only a few examples. But they are enough to shock us into asking if something will ever be done to prevent misdeeds of such nature from happening again. This also makes us ask if the misdeeds of the past have been addressed.

For example, in 2011, the A-G reported that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) bought two pairs of binoculars at 2,805 per cent more than the market price, which translated into RM56,350 more than the estimated market price of RM1,940!

MACC Deputy Commissioner Shukri Abdul responded by saying there was no corruption involved, but who would pay nearly RM55,000 more for a pair of binoculars and be innocent about it?

Shukri suggested taking action on the matter. What has been the outcome of that?

We have a civil service made up of 1.4 million personnel, and yet no bright sparks have emerged from among them to clean up the rot, to change the mindset, to turn the civil service into a professional machine. That’s quite certainly because meritocracy is not part of the system. Therefore, the best people – with the best brains and the right work ethic – are not heading the department. Unlike in, say, Singapore.

And yet Prime Minister Najib Razak has been rewarding our civil servants with salary adjustments under the new Malaysian Remuneration System and two increments this year. Do they deserve these? No doubt it was to buy their votes before the last general election and to thank them after that, as well as to ensure their continued support.

To me, the highlight of the A-G’s report this time was its showing up of the failure of the police department to look after its own assets, and its inefficiency as a public agency. What turned out to be the icing on the cake was the response made by its chief, who appeared to be all at sea!

The report revealed that between 2010 and 2012, the police lost assets worth over RM1.33 million. Among them were 44 loaded firearms. And the police don’t seem to have retrieved them. Holy gunsmoke! Did these guns go to those gangsters who have been shooting people dead in the streets the last few months?

The Inspector-General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, was quick to point out that they didn’t. “The missing guns may not have fallen into the hands of criminals but they could have fallen into the sea from boats ... and the weapons could not be recovered,” he said.

What? Fallen into the sea? Reading that, I nearly fell into a nearby drain.

And how convenient, too, that the guns fell into the sea, because it explains why they couldn’t be retrieved. In which case, the public should ask to see the reports filed by the police personnel who lost those guns. From there, we should be able to see if they really did fall into the sea, and how.

Not that we don’t believe the IGP, but when he gave that explanation, he didn’t seem like a police officer. He came across like a stand-up comedian.

It’s almost as comic that Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi endorses that explanation because, he says, “sometimes, the guns [could get] lost in operations”. Yes of course they could, but how does he account for so many guns falling into the sea?

Zahid accepts the explanation without even questioning the logic behind it. Just like the civil service, Najib’s Cabinet is apparently not been founded on meritocracy.

The IGP also said, “Of the 37 missing guns, ballistic reports show that none of them have been used by criminals.”

OK, what about the remaining seven out of the 44 cited by the A-G’s report? Are the police also having trouble with simple arithmetic?

Apart from the guns, they have also lost 156 handcuffs, 26 walkie-talkies, 22 radios, six cameras, four computers, and – get a load of this – 29 vehicles!

How did they lose so many handcuffs? Would a sweep of kinky brothels help to get them back?

How did they lose the computers? Some thief came into the police station and took them away? Under the noses of the police? Or was it an inside job?

And vehicles! How do cops lose police vehicles? Thieves got into the driver’s seat while the cops were not looking and drove the vehicle away? Were the cops, say, pumping air into the vehicle’s tyres at the time? Or popping into a shop to buy cigarettes while the engine was left running? Or did it happen that while a few police vehicles were being transported on a ferry, they somehow slid into the sea?

And after losing the vehicles, what did the police do? They are the police. They are crime-busters. Did they not go after the thieves? And they couldn’t find them? They couldn’t get those vehicles back?

At this rate, what good is reporting to the police when our cars get stolen? If the cops can’t get back their own lost vehicles, can they get back ours?

The even bigger question is: If the police can’t solve the mystery of how their assets got lost and who was responsible for losing and/or stealing them, how can they be entrusted with solving crimes in society?

What does this say of our police force?

No wonder they needed the newly passed amendments to the Crime Prevention Act to make their job easier.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.