Wanted: Common sense officer
|Azrul Mohd Khalib works on HIV/AIDS, sex and human rights issues. He is becoming cynical and is in danger of losing his sense of humour and mind. He also runs and is battling an addiction to the "A Song of Ice and Fire" book series. Azrul can be contacted at [email protected]|
NOV 2 — Reading the findings of the recent Auditor-General’s 2010 report has been an exercise in cramp-inducing facial contortions, howls of frustration, hair pulling, and forehead slapping.
I am sure that many of us who have taken a look at this report over the past couple of weeks have experienced similar reactions of self-abuse.
And yet in the blink of an eye, we will have gone back to business as usual. The self abuse reflected in the report findings appears to be one which Malaysians are generally accustomed to, are expecting each year and generally feel helpless to do anything about.
There is a certain amount of denial reflected in the expressions of helplessness and the “what can we ordinary rakyat do?”
Outrage in Malaysia also appears to be self-limiting and has an expiry date. Kita cepat dan mudah lupa (We forget quickly and easily). All of this is taken advantage of by those responsible for the RM56,350 night vision marine binoculars (its actual market value was only RM1,940) and the other incidences of idiocy and lack of common sense afflicting those who have been entrusted with the public purse.
Indeed they are counting on the forgiving and forgetful nature of the Malaysian people. Takpa lah, lain kali jangan buat lagi (It’s okay, just don’t do it again).
I have come to a conclusion which my friend Pat had earlier suggested to me: that we need a common sense officer to guide us in our decision-making and to keep us honest. In other words, someone to kick us in the backside when we make hairbrained decisions. However, painful it maybe, let’s revisit some of the latter.
Common sense could have helped prevent the situation where remote rural areas of Pahang, Sabah and Selangor remained without electricity despite having the necessary cables already in place.
The problem? Somebody, either forgot or did not think of, including the cost of home electrical installation. The lucky ones were those who could afford to fork out their own money to install the electrical wiring themselves. The poorer households remained in candlelight despite the cables being right outside their doorway.
A common sense officer would have been handy when purchasing those 23 horses costing a total of RM5.66 million. Somebody who knew what they were doing, heck with some common sense, would have picked horses which were healthy and trained. As it turns out, 18 of those horses were in poor health and had not undergone adequate training causing their disqualification from the 2008 World Endurance Championship. Can we get our money back please?
Maybe the Marine Parks Department should have a common sense officer as a permanent post. This department distinguished itself by either lacking any appreciation for the value of the equipment it purchases, lost its common sense at sea or all of the above.
It purchased computer equipment at a value 246 per cent higher than market price, bought a LCD TV and DVD Player for RM16,100 (638 per cent higher than the retail price of RM2,182) and acquired marine binoculars for 2,805 per cent higher than what they should have paid.
Very generous of the department head to agree to such magnanimous terms. It’s like going to the supermarket and wanting to buy a carton of soya bean milk. It costs RM4.90 and at the cashier you pay with a RM50 note. You say I want to pay RM49 for this carton of soya bean, alang-alang duit dah ada (since the money is there). “Please, I insist. Also, you can keep the change.”
If we thought that our losses were strictly earthbound, think again. As we speak, there is a RM142 million satellite with the Malaysian flag on it circling the Earth in near equatorial orbit (the world’s first apparently!). And guess what? It wasn’t able to be used because its high-resolution cameras (a mature technology) were consistently missing their targets.
The operational lifespan of the satellite was supposed to be three years but it failed completely in August 2010, a year and sixteen days from its launch date during which none of the images it took were useable. Far from being a cost-effective solution to high resolution imaging for Earth observation, it has become a multimillion boondongle waiting in line to burn up in the atmosphere.
Back on Earth, while economies around the world faced the continuous threat of recession and economic turmoil, it was strangely happy hour for many of the government-linked companies (GLCs). Despite incurring hundreds of millions of ringgit in losses, some GLCs paid out bonuses of up to three months. Those that were profitable were found to not be being paying dividends to the government.
With this epidemic of wastage, generosity and dearth of common sense in the public sector, no wonder Malaysia’s public debt level has risen 12.3 per cent to RM407.11 billion in 2010 from RM362.39 billion a year earlier.
Though it has been shown that the ministries, government departments, and government-linked companies by and large act upon the recommendations in the Auditor-General’s reports, the situation is akin to closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.
Hundred of millions have been wasted. These are public funds we can ill afford to waste, especially with the continuing uncertain economic climate and the growing national deficit. Contrary to popular belief, Malaysia is not immune to recessions and economic turmoil.
The civil service seems to be extremely generous. The problem is that it is not their money to be generous with. It is the Malaysian taxpayers’ money.
There appears to be a culture of impunity and complacency ingrained in the public sector. Who is responsible for these shenanigans, who should be held accountable and what is being done to remedy the situation?
Every year after each Auditor-General’s report, Malaysians everywhere find themselves asking these questions. Why? Because it doesn’t seem like anyone is answerable for the glaring insanities and lack of common sense as witnessed within the Auditor-General’s report. Nobody seems to get sacked, demoted or even disciplined.
I can only hope that with more than 1.2 million civil servants on the payroll in Malaysia, somebody must have some common sense somewhere. It is going to be tough though.
The common sense officer needs to be able to tell the truth, be thick skinned, resistant to “encouragements”, threats and inducement of all kinds, immune to the dropping of names and honorifics, and be prepared to deal with accusations of being unpatriotic, defeatist and being disloyal to a particular ethnicity.
Interested in a job as a common sense officer?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.