Accounting for Their Actions

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

At the rate things are going today it will be a matter of time before the inevitable happens. Are we heading for a catastrophe far worse than what is experienced by Greece and Portugal? I don’t wish to be an odious naysayer or an obnoxious armchair critic who harbours ill feelings towards his kinsmen and country. My forte is definitely not foretelling troubles and bleakness and a future devoid of colour. But being a keen observer of my surroundings, my predictions are seldom wrong.

Take the petrol price hike on September 3, as an example. I have harboured thoughts that the prices of RON 95 and diesel would go up once the general elections are over. It took barely five months after the ruling coalition was reinstated in Putrajaya for it to happen. My other fear is the implementation of the long-awaited Goods and Services Tax, which will come our way soon.

The consensus among economists is that businesses would find a way to escape the tax regime while the rich would not be impacted. As in the past, the well-heeled are never affected anyway, as they have the means and the resources to doctor their documents and to grease the palms of those concerned.

Poor enforcement and rampant corruption are two factors that hamper the proper implementation of government policies and directives. For as long as there is a will there is a way. I have many anecdotal examples to back my claim. Poor monitoring and the “tidak apa” attitude of enforcement agencies at border regions, especially at the Thai border, has allowed foreigners to buy our relatively cheap fuel not in litres but in drums.

The sensitivity of Malaysians to a possible price hike is simply incredible. On the evening of Friday, September 27, I was shocked when the petrol station near my house was swamped with motorists eager to fill up. It did not occur to me that rumours were circulating on the social media that the price of RON 95 would be increased by another 10 sen. It took none other than the Deputy Prime Minister himself to quash the rumours by issuing a statement to the contrary. Apparently, news of a possible hike in cigarette prices was also making the rounds. No wonder my favourite mamak shop was similarly swamped that very day.

But these minor excitements are nothing compared to the din created by the 2012 Auditor General’s Report, which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, October 2. Here are some glaring examples of wastage and mismanagement committed by federal agencies whose integrity I question:

Topping my list is the more than RM1.33 million worth of assets lost by the police force. Missing items, according to the auditors, included 156 pairs of handcuffs, 44 firearms (pistols and rifles), 29 vehicles, 26 walkie-talkies and 22 radios. The loss is enormous by any definition and, being a former serviceman, I find the reasons given by the Inspector General of Police simplistic and incredible.

One of my platoon commanders, during an operation in the Belum jungles back in the early 1980s, used his M16 assault rifle to shoot fish in a creek. Instead of firing the weapon from above he dipped the barrel in the water and fired. The force of the water caused the barrel to split like a bamboo. He was duly charged and court-martialed. His negligence caused him a forfeiture of seniority and was made to pay for the damaged weapon. Another officer lost his 9mm Brownie pistol while on a train ride to Johore Bahru. He too was court-martialed and suffered a reduction in seniority and was made to pay for the loss.

In both instances, the punishments were swift, as a regimental board of inquiry is required to be convened within 21 days upon the report of a loss or damage of a controlled item(s). That is the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in the army. I don’t know about the police but I am sure there are SOPs in place. How effective their SOPs are is left to your imagination.

The Home Minister and the IGP have attributed the missing weapons to training – the firearms sank to the bottom of the sea! Seven, according to the IGP, have been recovered making the final number as 37. Thirty seven can equip a complete rifle platoon with some to spare. That is the enormity of the problem. You just cannot dismiss it as something insignificant.

The other on my list is dubious purchases by the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry. Twenty wall clocks at RM3,810 each, three A4-size scanners at RM14,670 each and five A3 scanners at RM103,105 each. The prices are simply unbelievable.

The list of improprieties goes on. My question is why the seemingly lack of action taken against the wrongdoers? Is the AG’s Report a mere eyewash and a distraction? Civil servants have to be more accountable for their actions.

But is accountability possible in an environment where political masters are equally culpable? Your guess is as good as mine.

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