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Monday, March 24, 2008

Corruption by Anonymous

We got this long comment. Better to post it here. Thank you to Anonymous.

Corruption? What Corruption?The 12th General Election was concluded 14 days ago, the cabinet had just been formed, and we have since heard many calls to curb corruption. There must be a reason for this.

I was speaking to an Assistant Minister today. I was asked for my view about the poor show of the BN in West Malaysia. My short answer was that the people are sick of corruption. The Assistant Minister replied, “Really? Corruption? What corruption?” I said that he is living under a coconut shell if he can’t see corruption in our country. In jest, he said, may be it is more in West Malaysia. There is no corruption in Sarawak!.

When the Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi exercised his prerogative to appoint his cabinet, he excluded some of his old guards who were accused of corruption and scandals, but he kept some others, making Malaysians wonder whether our PM is serious in his second crusade into corruption and its ills.

Apparently having those doubts of Malaysians in his mind, in his first speech to them after their appointment, the Prime Minister asked his cabinet to stay clean and serve the people with integrity and dignity. He also asked all Ministers and Deputy Ministers to declare their assets. There is no requirement for frequent declaration, just twice in 5 years.

Joining the band wagon against corruption is the Anti Corruption Agency. Its boss said that forms will be designed for the Ministers and Deputy Ministers and their immediate families to declare their assets. These declarations will be made public.

The public do not entertain much confidence in all these. They call them post election gimmickries, saying that these moves were made only because the BN lost big, and they want to win the hearts back.

The request for clean administration was picked up by the MCA, a big loser in the election. The MCA’s education bureau chief Lee Sing Chooi, a Senator, urged the Government to make sure that all development projects by the government are awarded through open tenders and not to those with political patronage. He said that the recent general election results showed that voters had “rejected previous practice of squabbling for projects by those in power at all levels for personal gains and to continue staying in power”.

Why was the call made by a low ranked Lee and not by the MCA President is everybody’s guess. It has taken the MCA a long time to realise the discontent of the rakyat on matters concerning corruption, that few contracts had been awarded by public tender but given to those that are influential and powerful. But it is good that such discontent is realized. It is better late than never.

The SUPP, Gerakan and other leaders from BN, living like frogs under coconut shells, have not even the courage to admit the malpractices.

Is corruption so worrying now, so that everyone is talking about it? Or, has someone realized the worries only now?

Once confronted with the issue of corruption, many BN leaders would ask, “Corruption? What corruption? We are very transparent. There is no corruption”. They would not tackle it head on. They won’t see it, even less admitting it.

I can mimic those gestures in the Dewan Undangan Negeri recently. Looking toward the direction of Wong Soon Koh, a very upset Chief Minister said, “Soon Koh, you probably know better. I don’t know. You can explain”. Soon Koh rose to his feet to vouch that all contracts were above board and were given out transparently to those who can perform.

On 21st March, 2004, AAB secured an unprecedented electoral victory which saw 91% of MPs coming from the BN. He secured that unprecedented victory on his pledge to weed out corruption.

A full 4 years later, ask AAB whether he had succeeded in weeding out corruption? AAB will be very honest. No.

Ask him, whether he has reduced corruption? He will shyly tell you. No.

Ask the Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Assistant Minister, Parliamentary Secretaries (now abolished), Political Secretaries, whether there is corruption in Government Ministries, departments, offices, and the answer will always be “No”. Some would get very personal and angry, “You prove it, or we will sue you”.

Should anyone say that these people are corrupt, or insinuate that they are anywhere near dishonesty, they will sue you, until you are flat!

It is not easy to track down corruption. But it is there. Are all these people in power clean? Ask the people in the streets and coffee shops, and they will tell you, categorically, which Ministers are corrupt. I have seldom heard of impeccably clean ones. It is a shame.

If AAB had not been mindful of his failure on curbing corruption, or how those in power managed to secure assets, why should be take the trouble to require public declaration of asset by his cabinet? Or, why should he even bother to direct the ACA to prepare the forms for asset declaration?

When AAB faced the 11th general Elections 4 years ago, his resounding victory was due to people’s hatred over corruption. Under 22 years of Mahathir’s rule, the country faced unprecedented corruption. Those in power amassed unexplained wealth. The NEP produced not equality in distribution of wealth, but disparity. Only those few bumiputeras in power or connected to the powerful became rich, filthy rich.

Has things improved after 4 years of Abdullah’s premiership? All Malaysians will have to agree that nothing in the clean governance front has improved. Even former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir poised the gun squarely at AAB. He put it succinctly that corruption, as a gangrene, was rampant. It has shot over the ceiling.

But still, despite the crusade against corruption, no big fish was caught. Not many ikan bilis had been nabbed. Those ikan bilis caught are more often than not, returned to the seas, where they can swim freely and wag again.

Check out the assets of those people in power. Ministers and Assistant Ministers etc are not supposed to be in business. They depend on the “meagre” income as Ministers. Yet, they can afford to build and maintain palatial mansions, with size of the sitting room big enough for futsal. They can afford to spend RM2 million on a paino. They could afford to lose millions of Pounds in casinos in a day. They could afford to carry multi millions Australian dollars across customs check points. How would they justify their income or the manner in which they lead their lives?

Check out the assets of those family members of the Ministers and Assistant Ministers. Many of their children can have a handful of luxurious cars. Their wife or children could have tens of millions of shares in public listed companies. Their wife or sisters could be one of the richest in foreign country, owing a hotel chain. Why should these folks be so filthy rich?

Check the might and wealth of political secretaries. They can afford frequent gambling sessions at Genting Highlands. They can go to the casinos in Australia. Each stake can reach tens of thousands of Australian Dollars. Why should God be kinder to them?

Where do they get the money from? Need we ask? Business? If their business acumen is so great, shouldn’t they pass some of these secret skills to the ordinary rakyat?

Abdullah is great. He asked his cabinet Ministers to declare assets. In order to curb corruption. At first glance, it is good, because it is something new. But a closer look will reveal that it may well be a gimmickry, trying to lure back the lost votes.

The pains about corruption is that it is there, but not seen. When Rafidah Aziz was dropped from the cabinet, she said that she had always stayed clean. Despite the accusations over APs and what not, give her credit for her courage to elevate her credibility.

Those who were recently appointed to the cabinet thought that they are ingenious. Youth and Sports Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob vowed to weed out corruption within the Ministry and from all sports and youth associations. Why should this Minister single out his Ministry? Why shouldn’t he say he would cooperate with all cabinet Ministers, including with AAB, to weed out corruption and irregular practices across the board?

If sports equipment were said to have been purchased but no one knew where they were kept, were there corruption somewhere? If special containers were ordered to put sports equipment but dogs’ cages were supplied, would Ismail Yaakob order an investigation? If RM50,000 is spent on a pole vault mattress, would those officials be brought to book?

Where did our money go to? When a car jack could be bought for RM5,471 when the market price is RM50.00, would that be called corruption, or erroneous over-payment? When the Treasury paid 90 sets of faber Castell technical pens at RM1146.56 per set when the market price is RM160 each, when 152 desktop computer packages were bought for RM4.5million when the market price is only RM1.4million, whose pockets did all the money actually go into?

The alarming decline in the standards of public accountability, transparency and integrity in Government departments through misuse and mismanagement of public funds were glaringly exposed in the Auditor General Report of 2006. Malaysians were not shocked by all these exposes, for all these had become an annual ritual of shame. The Youth and Sports Ministry, for instance, had not come forth clean.

There were thunderous comments about the Auditor General’s Report 2006. There were calls for detailed and thorough investigation. On 13th September 2007, AAB said the ACA should step in and investigate any suspicion of corruption and in Ministries and Government agencies implicated in the Auditor General’s Report. Amen! The people applauded thunderously.

In no time, there was only thunderous silence. It is back to square one.

Why were not the Ministers and Deputy Ministers required to explain and account for the public fund mismanagement and irregularities?

The people are right, most of the time. They said, often, “All these are for show. Lip services only”.

Many Ministers were not re-appointed. Some were not returned after the election. Those appointed to the Ministries comprised half a cabinet of new faces. They have nothing in them to explain, yet. The saga ends. The next chapter begins from a different person appointed to the Ministry.

The Auditor General will go fly kite again. Come next year, the report will be duplicated, only figures are different, increasing. AAB will direct the ACA to investigate the suspicion. A few years later, the story remains the same.

Is there will power to weed out corruption? Not yet. It is too difficult, so they say.

What about ridding corrupt ministers? If AAB does that, a town folk told me, AAB may not have enough quorum for the Wednesday cabinet meetings.

The people are accusing the cabinet of lacking will power, even alleging that dirty Ministers swim together. They cannot be dislodged by someone who is equally not impeccably clean. If a Prime Minister had the audacity to say that his son got contracts, yes, but not as much as his predecessor’s son. How can we have legitimacy in enforcing laws against corruption?

But there is a way to go about it. The people can vote the Government out. Just that, beware, that in the transition, before the new Government takes office, all these Government files, confidential or not, will be removed, so that the evidence of corruption, malpractices, irregularities, etc, will sink like a tonne of lead.

It is a sinking feeling, isn’t it? But hasn’t that happened recently in the non-BN controlled states of Selangor, Perak and Penang?

There are of course, other departments whose expenditures were not accounted for. Malaysians almost threw out the BN Government, owing partly to the anti-corruption pledge that it did not honour.

At the state levels, we have seen virgin forests being lumbered. We have heard of helicopters being used to track illegal logging. We have heard of fraudulent deals involving land. We have heard of timber licenses being revoked due to squabble between uncle and nephew. We have seen multi-million contracts awarded to companies linked to the powers that be without tender. The lost goes on and on.

People had asked me whether corruption is across the whole spectrum of society. It is. I was also asked whether there is corruption in administration outside the Government? Who would give bribe or benefits to the Opposition knowing that the Opposition cannot give any special rights, benefits or privileges at all? But my mind was directed to someone who had left the DAP in order to prepare themselves entering the ruling BN elites. Did money change hands? I must confess I had no idea. That must be a moral issue, but certainly not corruption.

Ridding corrupt practices start with one fundamental mental frame. That is to admit that there is such a gangrene. Admit that the country suffers the ill of political patronage. Under this ill, the money and resources which are meant for the rakyat were siphoned away and many decisions made were biased with personal interest. The Government must admit that the NEP had only favoured a negligible number of bumiputeras. It has been abused by those in power to enrich themselves or their cronies.

Let’s see how the non-BN controlled states will tackle the issues of corruption and administration frauds. But the war against corruption will fail unless it is started at the federal level too.

Can that be done? If there is a will, may be it can. But no one in power should be allowed to ask, Corruption? What corruption? The people are getting sick of the denial syndrome.
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