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Election Watch

Heads should roll over fund wastage

April 10th, 2014
The Star

THE 2013 Auditor-General’s Report brings concern and anxiety for the poor standards of governance in our country.

Nevertheless the new Auditor’s Reporting System and its innovative Dashboard (report card), are fully appreciated, as it is the first time it is presented to Parliament in three separate parts, three times a year.

This innovation is laudable, as it enables Parliament and especially the rakyat to scrutinise the A-G’s report, that highlights financial mismanagement and weaknesses.

Unfortunately these management weaknesses and the consequent wastage of public funds continue to stubbornly persist. This is happening despite the A-G’s previous exhortations to improve our standards of good governance.

In this first instalment of the report for 2013, it shows that 283 spending related issues were raised in the first four months, which is well over the 256 spending issues raised by the A-G, for the whole of 2012. This trend is alarming and must be dealt with immediately.

Several critical questions arise in the mind of the public such as what the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is doing about this discouraging deterioration in management. Also what is the Public Services Department (PSD) doing about this sorry state of financial affairs. And what are we as the general public doing about this miserable wastage of public funds.

PAC chairman Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamad has taken the right move to summon five ministries to explain why they defaulted and what they will do to rectify their weakness. But this is not good enough. Millions of ringgit have been wasted and many political and public officials seem to be getting away scot-free.

I recall clearly as a former senior civil servant, we used to be scared stiff to attend PAC meetings. We would rectify the problems and make sure they did not recur failing which our heads would surely roll!

Is it so different today? Some of these defaulters may be promoted and thus leave the legacy of complacency and indifference towards the A-G’s sound recommendations.

The A-G has to his credit made 109 new recommendations for improvement in financial management. Will these recommendations be ignored and will mismanagement and financial wastage continue ?

Hence should the PAC not recommend tougher action and even name and shame these recalcitrant ministries which are responsible for the loss of hard earned public funds?

Secondly, the PSD, judging by the A-G’s Report is declining in its standards and practice of good governance. Civil servants who do not give financial discipline due diligence and priority, should be severely penalised for wasting public funds that could have been used instead to alleviate poverty. The public and the media have major roles to ensure better and higher standards of good governance.

Like the A-G’s new “Dashboard” on internet, the related NGOs such as Transparency International should set up their own Public Monitoring System (PMS).

The PMS is necessary to supplement and complement the A-G’s Dashboard, to lend strength and support to the AG and his reports, so that Parliament, the PAC and public officials, will know they are being watched too.

The A-G may not or cannot publicly criticise or pull up defaulting political leaders and public officials by name. But the PMS could do so, with all good intentions, to protect the people’s interests.

Its so disconcerting to read the A-G’s Report on the long litany of misconduct. These are inter alia, improper payments, the non-compliance of project works and supplies, with technical specifications, low quality performance, indifference to environmental regulations and the weaknesses in Government companies as well.

The dirty list goes on and on, much to the public dismay and frustration!

Hence it is not difficult sometimes for anyone to wonder whether we are now declining rapidly in good governance? Worse still, the people will ask whether there is a strong political will to arrest this decline or will we continue to slide?

We have to take the A-G’s professional and honest report much more seriously. Otherwise, we will continue to deteriorate in good governance and get more bad governance. This will cause our economic growth and income distribution targets and our legitimate aspirations to achieve our Vision 2020 goals to be delayed.

We therefore should take more urgent and strong initiatives to get back on track and move forward with greater commitment and purpose, to fulfil our national dreams.

TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM

Chairman - ASLI Centre for Public Policy Studies

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