NOVEMBER 23 — “We don’t want the government to just tell us ‘Yes, we are investigating’.”

One parliamentarian spoke up, vehemently.

He was referring to the Auditor-General’s Report.


Last year first

The 2022 report just came out. This is for the period January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022.

It takes the auditor-general's department — imagine floor after floor of accountants armed with laptops, small flasks and nunchakus — almost a year to dissect the preceding year.


Even in the electronic age, the task is demanding.

The department examines the government’s output and performance through what, who, when and how it utilised resources and manpower.

The department and its annual reports are not vindictive, they are matter of fact and seek to present in plain language where things worked right and more important, where they did not.

The A-G’s report points out inefficiencies, berates ineptitude and flags colossal errors which cost taxpayers dearly. Disciplinary and criminal charges can ensue, the latter very unlikely.

Why not is for later.

Every report is forwarded to parliamentarians which leads to Opposition MPs in the Dewan Rakyat holding up the report in disgust to register their protests about crass, uncaring and wasteful governance.

As clear as some findings may be, to act on them is tricky. It is a house of cards. So much has been ignored so long that if an actual effort is expended many may fall and in spite or by accident drag others down with them. Too much is at stake and the complicities weave through the whole service.

According to the Order Paper, Ahmad Fadhli Shaari (PN-Pasir Mas) will be asking the Minister of Communications and Digital to state the government’s assurance that it will not misuse the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to restrict media freedom and the freedom of speech. — Bernama pic
According to the Order Paper, Ahmad Fadhli Shaari (PN-Pasir Mas) will be asking the Minister of Communications and Digital to state the government’s assurance that it will not misuse the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to restrict media freedom and the freedom of speech. — Bernama pic

For that very reason, those in the civil service most certainly fight back, perhaps as a collective.

Which brings back talk about the deep state and how rocking the boat just asks for trouble.

Any meaningful action will be bloody, and prime ministers have consistently come short, not the least due to self-preservation.

So sadly, every year the auditor-general’s report screams out for action only to be met with what is the opposite of action. Not Don Henley’s New York Minute where he claims “Somebody's going to emergency, somebody's going to jail”. Instead, alleged perpetrators are out on the town dancing to Frank Sinatra’s celebration theme New York, New York.

It’s raucous for the wrong reasons.

Highlights of the 2022 report: Support for paddy growers went astray, as a result low productivity notwithstanding it ended up impoverishing farmers; Jurisdictional uncertainties between the home ministry and human resources ministry over foreign labour management harms labour process and control; Tekun gives out more loans than it has to give by about RM170 million; and that Selangor theme parks did not forward RM11 million of the entertainment tax they already collected from their patrons.

Those are millions and millions of ringgit misdirected, poorly appropriated or woefully spent on duds, like defective ventilators and entrepreneurs who treat government handouts as useful to pay credit card debts rather than grow the next economy.

Silent PN, Pakatan’s reputation

There is a reason why Perikatan Nasional (PN) is not up in arms about the 2022 report. The unity government controlled a total of one month throughout 2022, while the other 11 months were under the Umno government with PN (Bersatu and PAS).

The Opposition today authored the budget in 2021 and administered most of 2022.

What is presented is their stewardship of Malaysia, and therefore without a prompt, PN clams up.

This will not be the case in a year’s time when the A-G issues the first audit on the unity government of 2023. A critical report card for the unity government.

PN can have a go at the government then, at the end of 2024.

Pakatan Harapan, in control of the unity government, has many flaws, some insurmountable. But it towers over the rest when it comes to fighting corruption.

Which explains why almost half of Malaysians felt in March, Pakatan had a good grip over corruption. Mindful that it was only four months into the Anwar Ibrahim administration, the view then was probably clouded by what the general public feels about Pakatan historically rather than its actual attributes in government.

So unsurprisingly, the number dipped to 37 per cent last month. It depresses that when less than two out of five persons trust the government’s anti-corruption credentials, that ratio is seen as a win. A win because it is higher than the 30 per cent and 32 per cent respectively during the Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Muhyiddin Yassin’s administrations.

Imagine the poster: Malaysia, less corrupt today than in those bad, bad days. Unlikely to be a best-seller T-shirt at Petaling Street.

Pakatan’s anti-corruption badge will be sooner stripped from it if the next A-G report is as damning. This is the perfect storm the coalition fears, to be equated with BN of old, and thereby hand the election to PN. Or set a tone where a Pakatan demise is on the cards.

Which explains why already on September 1, 2023, the prime minister promised to elevate the auditor-general’s office, possibly extending to the introduction of ombudsmen. But he did not allude to the department’s autonomy or move it directly under Parliament rather than the government.

Anwar expects

The same MP who was displeased with the lip service, at the start of this article, asked on the same occasion “Where is the guarantee by the PM that this will not happen again?”

The parliamentarian was not directing all of this to Anwar and his administration.

Because the year was 2013 and the MP was also the leader of the Opposition.

On October 3, Anwar asked these questions outside Dewan Rakyat, and directed them to then prime minister Najib Razak.

And here he is prime minister — and Najib in prison.

Free to carry out the very measures he demanded before. Not relegate it to a “study” or “recommendation” set to improve processes in due time. They are merely euphemisms, to indicate the problems are shoved into the large bureaucracy never to see the light of day.

Everything points to increasing autonomy for multiple actors to engage with the situation and not to in-house it to a department, agency, board or commission. They are ultimately under the PM therefore more interested to serve him than the people.

If Anwar is serious, he’d reduce the controls, even if that means he feels the noose around his neck too.

It’s ok, that’s how the anti-corruption actions from the advisories of the A-G’s reports should look like, a bit of an existential threat to all civil servants, politicians and even the PM.

Otherwise, prime minister, like in your words albeit paraphrased, they are investigating into limbo and not breathing fresh air to help beat corruption, the true scourge to Malaysian prosperity.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.