What are we waiting for?
What is the purpose of publishing the Auditor-General’s Report?
a) To show that at least one government department is doing its job;
b) To satisfy a statutory requirement made by Parliament;
c) To amuse and entertain taxpayers on the antics of some sectors of the civil service;
d) To provide comic relief to some of our depressed taxpayers;
e) To ensure that large volumes of paper ordered by the printer is utilised
f) All of the above.
TODAY’S column is not a quiz show like Who wants to be a Millionaire or Deal or No Deal and there are no cash prizes to be won. In all probability, the answer to the question must be (f). Let it be said that there is no offence or disrespect to the erstwhile auditor-general (AG), Tan Sri Amrin Buang, and his team of dedicated officials who go through government documents meticulously, make their findings and then present them to the people via Parliament.
Like the National Audit Office in England, our AG’s Office’s objectives are:
To hold government to account for the way it uses public money.
To support, by helping public service managers improve performance.
To safeguard the interests of citizens who as taxpayers are responsible for paying for public services.
To champion the interests of citizens as users of public services.
The AG has never been on a fault-finding exercise. He wants to help the departments and agencies to improve their allocation and control of public money through more robust financial management and increasingly transparent reporting. He wants to help the government make better use of information to achieve improved performance and productivity, as well as to support clearer accountability.
In the course of his duties, he finds irregularities and by including them in the reports, the AG wants tighter controls, accountability and transparency in the spending of taxpayers’ money.
If so, why are we, year-in, year-out, hearing the same old miserable bad news of overspending, misuse of power and money and abuse of the system? Is no one afraid of the AG and his reports? Has the civil service come to a stage where it cares a damn about what the AG has to say? Have department heads come to the conclusion that they are immune from prosecution because they made illegal decisions on the instructions of their political bosses? Does anyone in authority care to read these reports and take appropriate action?
Take the 2004 report of the AG on the Port Klang Authority which was tabled in Parliament the following year. It categorically outlined the financial and procedural flaws. If anyone had taken immediate remedial steps or inquired into the findings, the Port Klang Free Zone would not be in the mess it is now in. But the bitter truth is – no one bothered.
Measuring government performance is vital and the AG tells us if the taxpayer is getting value for money. Besides, he is supposed to let the government departments and agencies learn from experience and improve performance.
But have they learnt? Has anyone been prosecuted for their over-indulgence and putting their hands into the till? What are the authorities waiting for? They are quick to prosecute menial offences but when large sums of money are misused or used without authority, there seems to be some sort of reluctance to do so? Are they going to fall back on the catch-all phrase – “insufficient evidence to prosecute”?
Malaysians have on many occasions been told that “no one is above the law” and that it is perfect. If so, why haven’t the perpetrators of fraud against the people been spared, as if, they are above the law?
Four years ago, I described the AG’s voluminous reports as “catalogues of shame”. From paying RM7,000 for a 23-inch TV set to RM80 for a screw driver, they have done it all. And they still walk around and continue signing off as “saya yang menurut perintah” and continue to draw their salaries and perks, while the lesser mortals – the ordinary taxpayers – continue to pay their emoluments although they had committed fraud against the same people who pay their salaries.
The question that has to be answered is: When are we going to take the auditor-general seriously and act against wrongdoers he has named without fear or favour? If we don’t, we’ll be wasting time, effort and money in producing these annual reports.