Wednesday, October 30, 2013

End of the road for AG’s Report?

Posted on 30/10/2013 - 09:30

Aziz Bari
OUTSPOKEN: No further action. No through road. Cul-de-sac. End of the road. These seem to be the bottom line after all the hype about the explosive Auditor-General’s Report 2012. And who can blame us for having such impressions? For one thing, the Chief Secretary to the Government Datuk Seri Ali Hamsa has been reported to have said that the government would form a committee to study the Auditor-General's findings as if they were not clear and insufficient.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has gone on record as saying that there is no law to prosecute the offenders, something that is quite expected given that the corruption-busting agency has the image of dragging its feet when it comes to the ruling Umno-BN. Similarly we have yet to hear anything meaningful from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in Parliament.

In short, we have another sickening routine: the tabling of a damning report followed by a week of strong words and condemnations though one only finds these in cyberspace. We do have bad reports in the so-called print and electronic mainstream media, most of which are under the control of the ruling party. But these are limited just to agencies and departments. No one has the courage to call the ministers into question. This is incorrect. At least from the point of view of the Federal Constitution which puts them (departments) under the care of the ministers; something that is known as individual responsibility of a minister. As the civil servants are not elected, the ministers have to speak on their behalf. The guilty civil servant may be put before a disciplinary proceeding or may even face criminal charge but the minister in question cannot go scot-free.

But what options do we have? We live in a system whereby most of the avenues meant to allow the notions of answerability and accountability are jammed and clogged. While some of the root causes lie in our feudalistic character, some others have been due to Umno-Barisan Nasional’s doing. They (BN-Umno) even went to the extent of hiding the report last year. This is, of course, a serious allegation. But I find it hard to believe this can happen in a country that is proud of her Federal Constitution.

Under this supreme law, the Auditor-General is under a duty to submit the report to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong who has the responsibility of laying it before Parliament. Now when the report went “missing” something suspicious must have taken place. Sadly, until now we have yet to be told of what had happened. But the buck stops with the government which incidentally is helmed by the old grand party.

It has to be said, however, that even when the report actually arrived in Parliament we have yet to see a real debate or actions taken about the wastage, irregularities and wrongdoings mentioned in it. But the reason is not hard to fathom: it all boils down to the fact that the person who heads the PAC comes from the ruling party. It is like having a football match between Malaysia and Singapore in Bukit Jalil stadium refereed by a Malaysian. The world over, especially in the United Kingdom, the PAC chief has to be from the opposition. The reason is not difficult to see.

But Umno, which most of the time claims that the legislatures under its rule are world class, cannot see it! And when the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor state government offered the PAC chief’s post in the state legislature to Umno, former menteri besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo refused to take it, claiming that it has less power. The funny part of it was that the rules were laid down by Umno when it ran the state before it was trounced in the 2008 and 2013 general elections.

To make matters worse, most media organisations are owned by Umno and other component parties in BN. Of course, some are not. These organisations cannot disentangle themselves from the Umno-BN tentacles as the party lays down the laws which are either biased or could be manipulated in their favour. Yes, both RTM – the public-owned TV system – and TV3 do carry reports about mismanagement and so on. But they are selective. The so-called live proceedings are only aired when Umno-BN MPs speak. They may, once in a while, have MPs from the other side but that is when these members jump ship or when their statements could be manipulated to score points against Pakatan.
Apparently the system has been somewhat, to put it crudely, sodomised. It no longer works in the normal or natural way. But the sad thing is our people have never been exposed to other systems.

Whatever it is, we have to pat Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang on the back for working hard to have the report out on time. In the past, we used to wait for some years before it is out for us to see.

But despite the good work, Ambrin has somewhat put a blot on his own good name when he came out with statements criticising the public for getting angry about the report's contents. He also appeared to be uneasy for putting the Umno-BN administration in an embarrassing position. Hence he made a statement which is tantamount to saying that it was all right for the police to lose arms and handcuffs. The auditor-general's job is to make report about how the money was spent. If the revelations put the sitting government in a bad light and it is voted out, there is nothing Ambrin could do.

Without that unnecessary statement, Ambrin could have stood tall alongside luminaries like Tan Sri Ahmad Noordin Zakaria, one of his predecessors. The slight, unassuming and quiet man from Kelantan may not be able to match the speed with which Ambrin completed his report but he never sounded apologetic about his job. And Ahmad Noordin got another badge of honour: uncovering the bad loans committed by the government-linked company – Bank Bumiputra – in the Hong Kong BMF scandal in mid-1980s.
Dr Abdul Aziz Bari is formerly professor of law who now teaches at the Faculty of Social Science, Unisel.

~ The Ant Daily

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