Auditor-General’s Report: Here we go again…

Here we go again. The latest of the 2013 Auditor-General’s Report seems to show more of the same: there is still immense wastage of public money by civil servants.

The wastage could be due to carelessness, inefficiency, incompetence, or even graft.

Every time the Auditor-General’s Report is released we all go through an agonising time. Most of us cannot understand why these things happen year in year out.

Yesterday, the government arranged for a town hall session in Angkasapuri for the media to ask questions regarding the report.

I was amazed at the reason given by Women,Family and Community Development officials who were asked about the report which said the ministry had failed to select participants for its RM1.3 billion 1Azam poverty eradication programme from the official national database of the poor.

The media reported that the officials admitted that there were participants in the project who “did not join through the eKasih system”.

Women,Family and Community Development secretary-general Datuk Sabariah Hassan was quoted in the media as saying: “But at the same time, through the programme, we “kasihkan” (poured our love) on them. In the Women’s Ministry, there are 55 assistants who are from the hard-core poor, so we chose them ourselves and we “kasihkan” them in this programme.”

I assume that the names of these 55 are not in the national poor database. If so, how is it that their names are not in the database when they are said to belong to the hard-core poor?

When the Defence Ministry Secretary-General Datuk Seri Dr Ismail Ahmad was asked about the almost RM12 million in pensions that was paid to deceased retired military personnel, he could only say that his staff “would improve”.

The Auditor-General’s Report 2013 said almost RM12 million was paid to 3,000 dead veterans. I hope somebody takes the trouble to find out where the money actually went.

This was not the first time dead people had “received” payments. In his 2012 Report, the Auditor-General said that 145 dead people in Kelantan, Sabah and Negri Sembilan had been “paid” welfare assistance.

Then there is the case of an officer at the Accountant-General’s Department who allegedly embezzled close to RM1 million and against whom police reports were lodged in March 2011. No action had been taken against him.

However, at the town hall session yesterday, Finance Ministry Secretary-General Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah said, on the advice of the Auditor-General on Sept 14 this year, the department had initiated measures to take disciplinary action against the officer.

Heads of departments must realise that if they delay action against errant staff it will only encourage others to go the same way. To be effective, punishment must be speedy.

Mohd Irwan Serigar said the department had delayed taking action because they had been waiting for police investigations to conclude. The police should act fast in all cases, regardless of who is involved, as otherwise people could accuse them of selective bias.

The Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang reported that assets worth about RM44 million went missing from the Health Ministry between 2011 and 2013. This included the theft of medicine stocks worth RM1.21 million from the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital.

Certainly there is a great need for improvement all around and department heads must crack the whip.

However, we must acknowledge that only a relatively small percentage of civil servants have wasted public money.

We should also appreciate the fact that the government actually held a town hall where department heads were called upon to explain to the media, and through them to the people. This is a great move and I congratulate the Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa for doing this.

Ali has said that 46 civil servants will be investigated following the latest report of the Auditor-General. That is to be welcomed, too.

I am also pleased to note that the Public Accounts Committee under Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed has recently been playing an active role and he has just said that the PAC would summon nine ministries and five government departments and agencies to provide clarification on issues raised by the Auditor-General. That, too, is good news.

Ali says they are serious about stopping wastage and following the advice of Ambrin. We will know if they have succeeded when the 2014 Auditor-General’s report is submitted.