It is that time of the year when the annual Auditor-General’s Report is published and presented for all to peruse.
But frankly, what difference would this annual ritual make? What else is new - buying supplies at 10 or 20 times the market price, dishing out inflated contracts and tenders, building white elephants, leaving projects half-completed, buying equipment or apparatuses that were never used, or procuring products and services that have not met the stipulated specifications.
Seriously, why the need to do auditing when we know the causes to the problems are going to be the same year in and year out? We are just taking turns to highlight them to show as if something is being done. In reality, nothing has changed.
If we look at all the causes as highlighted, easily 80 to 90 percent are due to incompetence and corruption. Perhaps 10 to 20 percent are due to unforeseen circumstances or procedural/control deficiency. Can auditing solve corruption and incompetence problems? How else can we explain buying a product at 10 times the market prices if not due to blatant corruption or mega stupidity?
We set up outfits like Pemandu and engage high-powered consultants to do transformations. We have lost count of the key result areas being tossed around. But where are the outcomes, if the latest audit report is used as the gauge?
Every year the government spends big, drawing up big budgets, incurring deficits and borrowing heavily to meet the spending targets.
But has it ever occurred to us that the big budget has actually given us a small economic impact because the bulk of the allocations are in the form of ‘transfer payments’ through corruption or overpricing. There is hardly much multiplier effect because big contractors, suppliers and corrupted officials are just hiding their ill-gotten gains here or abroad.
Auditing is good in identifying malfeasance in government departments and agencies but it has little means to solve it. Some public officials did face disciplinary actions, but usually the punishments meted out are far lesser than the gravity of the blunders committed.
We can’t solve corruption and abuse of power by looking at procedures or modus operandi of an organisation. Corrupted people look for loopholes to circumvent procedures and control. Corruption problems need stringent and relentless Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) actions without fear or favour.
Similarly, there is no cure of stupidity and incompetence unless we change the people in charge.
Do we know what our biggest problem is today? I believe most public officials, contractors and suppliers have no fear of being caught or held to account for whatever misdeeds and corrupt practices they indulged in. Even if caught, they think it is worthwhile.