AG’s Report – We need to do more

Given the grave national sadness over the fate of MH370, the first series of the forthright Auditor-General’s Report 2013 is welcome yet depressing too.

The report also causes us additional concern and anxiety for the poor standards of governance in our burdened conscience and 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 parts, three times a year.

This innovation is laudable, as it enables Parliament and especially the rakyat to scrupulously scrutinise the report, that comments frankly on our sadly significant financial mismanagement and weaknesses.

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

In this first instalment of the report for 2013, it appears that 283 spending related issues were raised as for the first four months, which is well over the 256 spending issues raised by the AG, for the whole of 2012! This trend is alarming and must be dealt with very seriously.

Several critical questions arise in the public mind.

» What is our Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) doing about this discouraging deterioration in management?

» What is the public service doing about this sorry state of financial affairs

» What are we as the general public doing about this miserable wastage of our own taxes and money that can help finance public projects for all our benefit?

First, the PAC under Datuk Nur Jaslan Mohamed has taken the right initiative to summon five major ministries to explain why they defaulted and what they will do to rectify the weakness.

But this is not good enough. Millions upon millions of ringgit, and taxes have been wasted and many political and public officials seem to be getting away scot free.

I well recall that as former senior civil servants, we used to be scared stiff to attend PAC meetings. We would rectify the problems and make sure they did not recur or our heads would roll.

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

The auditor-general has to his credit now made 109 new recommendations for improvement in financial management. But the rakyat will ask what will be done with them? Will these recommendations be ignored and will mismanagement and financial wastage continue regardless?

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

Second, the public service, judging by the report is declining in its standards and practice of good governance. As a former secretary-general, I used to personally chair the ministry’s internal audit committee, to ensure the AG’s recommendations and advice are thoroughly followed up and monitored constantly.

That has to be done with even greater commitment these days. 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.

Third, the public, including the press, have major roles, to ensure better and higher standards of good governance.

Like the AG’s new Dashboard on internet, the related NGO’s such as Transparency International should now set up their own public monitoring system (PMS).

This PMS is necessary to supplement and complement the AG’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. Let the people then judge and cast their votes accordingly.

The auditor-general 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 rakyat’s interests.

It’s disconcerting to read the 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.

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?

In conclusion, whatever our individual judgments, it is clear that we cannot continue to fail. We have to take the auditor-general’s professional and honest report much more seriously.

Otherwise, we will continue to deteriorate in good governance and get more bad governance. Then our economic growth and income distribution targets and our legitimate aspirations to achieve our Vision 2020 goals can be depressingly delayed.

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

Article published in The Sun.

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