The charging of two top officials of Bank Rakyat at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court for criminal breach of trust (CBT) involving an estimated RM15 million is indicative of the sorry state of affairs of our public institutions. Trust, a lofty quality expected out of leaders, regardless of their affiliations and connections, is just a word that means little to crooks.
One of the two is a retired army general with nearly 40 years of unblemished service to King and Country. No one would have thought that a former Chief of Armed Forces would one day be dragged to court, like a common criminal, to be tried for grand larceny. And being a former member of this elite club, I am ashamed of being one.
Gen Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal (Rtd), chairman of Bank Rakyat, was my junior at the Royal Military College, Sungei Besi. And like all juniors he suffered some hard knocks from the seniors. We all underwent such orientation (ragging) in those heydays when telecommunications were still rudimentary.
It was an accepted norm then that the moment you entered the gated grounds of the Royal Military College, Sungei Besi, your life and well-being were being entrusted to your seniors. They were the ones who would determine your future. We took this in our stride. No one complained or made a hue and cry over it, as would be the case today.
To be accepted as a member of the armed forces was something we would give an arm and a leg for then. It was a distinction we cherished in spite of the ignominy of being “bullied” for almost a year. We endured the hardships in order to be part and parcel of an august club. Notwithstanding that, we harboured no grudges against our seniors and are still best of friends till today.
It is unkind of me to discuss the character of an accused in an upcoming CBT trial, as it is sub judice (under judgment of a court of law). I am not prejudging an accused person before his trial. My doing so has nothing to do with the case, which will come up for mention at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court on Monday October 10. It has to do with the belief that being a commissioned officer of the army your behaviour should be impeccable and being charged with CBT casts a shadow on exemplary conduct of members of the Armed Forces.
Someone asked me would I not have done the same when a huge sum of money was at my disposal? RM 15 million is no small change. It can make or break a person. But there again, you are being entrusted with public funds. The money is not yours. It belongs to depositors and the bank. RM 15 million was earmarked for the publication of a coffee-table book on a national leader and the upgrading of the bank’s computing systems.
That leads me to the other question. Why RM15 million for two jobs that, in my calculation, would not cost more than RM4 million?
I have done coffee-table books before. The last one we did for a state agency cost them barely RM15, 000 for 200 copies. The cost of printing one book was RM75. The duo was tasked to print 20,000 copies and if RM75 is taken as a benchmark, it would cost only RM1, 500,000. Upgrading of the bank computing systems may take another RM2 million, at the very most, after all Bank Rakyat is not Maybank or Public Bank.
Aziz Zainal and Mustafha Abdul Razak, may have allowed greed to cloud their thoughts. Two simple jobs requiring an estimated RM3.5 million have been exaggerated over four times. Whatever their reasons are, the truth may or may not surface at the upcoming trial.
In the meantime, I hope my junior, Aziz Zainal, has the moral courage to own up to his mistakes if he has made them. Aziz, you are an officer and a gentleman. That was drummed into us at the Royal Military College. Just be one. Period.