PRESS STATEMENT, 12 November 2014, Kuala Lumpur – Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) once again lauds the Auditor-General’s Department for successfully tabling the Auditor-General’s Report 2013(A-G’s Report) without fear or favour on the federal government ministries and agencies, statutory bodies and state government activities in the final report of a three-part series. Although there are deficiencies and irregularities as highlighted in the A-G Report, there are also some positive signs and improvement made by certain ministries and departments.
Of particular note, there are still some similar inherent trends in poor procurement practices and lack of transparency by certain ministries. One major finding from the latest report is the 1BestariNet project which is aimed at installing high-speed 4G broadband across over 10,000 schools nationwide, as well as a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) platform for e-learning. The A-G Report reported that over 89 percent of the 46 schools surveyed and over 70 percent of the 491 feedbacks received from schools revealed that 1BestariNet coverage does not encompass the entire schools’ compound. Hence there was restricted access even within the confines of the school area.
The project was meant to provide the infrastructure to over 10,000 schools throughout the country within 30 months from December 13, 2011. The A-G report noted that Internet connection to 4,176 users were delayed up to 439 days with no penalties. Dato’ Akhbar Satar, the President of TI-M reiterated that the relevant contractor should not be allowed to get away with a mere slap on the wrist with a meagre fine of RM2.4 million for the delay in the project. Dato’ Akhbar reiterated that the Ministry of Education should instead take legal recourse against the contractor for its failure to fulfil its contractual obligation, as the project is supposed to have been completed in June this year.
TI-M also cites from the report specific examples of mismanagement including those serving in our hospitals having stolen RM1.5 million worth of medicine and medical equipment, how a former civil servant who embezzled RM1 million goes scot free and a host of other misdeeds. But at top of the list must be that dead army personnel are still being paid their monthly pensions amounting to almost RM12 million.
Just as alarming is that the A-G Report uncovered that the Government has paid close to RM 12 million in monthly pensions to 3,786 ‘passing’ army veterans between 2011 and 2013. From that only RM 1.69 million has been collected. TI-M believes poor and inefficient management of retirement payment benefits was due to poor upkeep of records. What is most disappointing was that this is not an isolated incident, as similar overpayments were reported in the A-G Report 2012 in October last year, where welfare assistance was paid out to 145 dead people in three states.
TI-M, once again, strongly urges the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to look not only into the growing number of outstanding cases of public projects where costs have escalated and possible abuse of public funds, but also to ensure that those who commit fraud, wrongdoers and those suspected of criminal breach of trust, cheating or leakages as identified in the audit report, are thoroughly investigated and stern punitive actions taken.
TI-M urges the PM to investigate whether public funds have been spent prudently and make every Minister, Ministry secretary-general and state leader be accountable for the failure to comply with financial regulations, delayed implementation and other leakages. Any initiative to tighten leakages in Government procurement even by 5% will save billions in taxpayers’ money. The Government needs to also terminate contracts which do not favour the public especially the taxpaying population.
To address these problems, the Government must urgently implement changes, strict enforcement in internal control systems, transparency, accountability, integrity and impetus for greater efficiency and implement effective measures to ensure officers have the highest integrity.
When will we ever learn from the A-G’s Reports over the last few years? The lack of effective action by the Government in dealing with such leakages has cultivated an entrenched lackadaisical attitude.
For cases involving mishandling of internal systems and procedures, actions should be carried out by the respective agencies based on the legislation. The Government needs to not only learn from each year’s A-G Report but also not repeat such offences and take swift and stern actions against the wrongdoers involved and make them face harsher penalties rather than the norm such as reprimands and warnings. Enough is enough – a strong message should be sent to all civil servants that their wrongdoings will not be tolerated and severe action will be taken including dismissal.
It is a great travesty that these mismanagement and the consequent wastage of public funds, continue to recur year-after-year. TI-M would like to call all relevant enforcement agencies to take stern action to ensure this trend does not continue. It is also the role of members of the public to continue monitoring issues in the AG Report and put pressure on the government to make the necessary changes. Everyone has a part to play.
Transparency International-Malaysia is an independent, non-governmental and non-partisan organisation committed to the fight against corruption.