In the line of fire
It ain’t A Song of Ice and Fire, so steamy sex scenes and dragons are (usually) not on offer. However, if there’s one thing the Auditor-General’s Report never fails to deliver on is sordid tales of government mismanagement.
It was no different this time out with the 2019 edition of the report, though instead of death slopes – a prominent feature of the last volume – Malaysians learnt about how our soldiers could’ve had their heads blown clean off all ’cos of defective armoured personnel carriers (APCs)!
That’s right, folks. According to the Audit Department, the vehicles in question had been dispatched to Lebanon to aid our United Nations peacekeepers there. Unfortunately, instead of helping our troops engage with the enemy while safely ensconced within, defects to all nine vehicles resulted in our soldiers having to pop their heads out to discharge weapons.
To add insult to injury, it seems we lost a tonne of cash in reimbursements from the UN (about RM2 million) on account of our hunks of junk failing to meet clearly-defined vehicle specs.
If you think RM2 million is a lot though, consider this: we entered into a RM9 billion contract for six warships some years ago, yet not a damn one’s made it to our shores yet. The first vessel, the A-G’s Report says, was supposed to have been delivered in April 2019. But it’s now August 2020, and we’ve yet to glimpse a bow on the horizon. Worse, it seems that our navy could have slapped late payment charges of approximately RM200 million on the contractor concerned. Unfortunately, they chose to twiddle their thumbs instead.
Needless to say, the military isn’t the only sector of government that’s been found to have leaked a whole load of dough – our cops are just as guilty.
In contrast to the navy, however, our police had no issue with phantom vehicles – they just couldn’t fly their helicopters. Being super responsible though, they still forked out about RM4 million in maintenance. Yep, 4 million big ones dutifully ponied up even though six of the 10 choppers at the force’s Air Wing Unit couldn’t take to the skies.
To be honest, this kinda shit ain’t new, and Auditor-General Nik Azman Nik Abdul Majid has noted that there really needs to better administration, coordination between departments and sterner action taken against incidences of mismanagement. The big question, though, is if that will happen. Ever.
Between 2012 and 2018, about a thousand civil servants were investigated in connection with discrepancies and questionable action discovered by the Audit Department. Yet, of those, only two were slapped with charges by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission with a mere three being given the sack. The large majority of those found guilty, meanwhile – only 255 had action taken against them – received mere slaps on the wrist. And, of course, the big fish always seem to escape censure.
As we’ve noted before, the A-G’s Report is a goldmine for journos and we, admittedly, often get carried away while dumpster diving. But really, we do sometimes wonder what’s the point of it all when very little follow-up action is taken to right wrongs and plug holes.
Anyhoo, that aside, here’re a few other highlights (lowlights?) courtesy of Nik Azman and his team:
- The Customs Department is about RM55 million poorer due to having not collected RM50.46 million in import duties from a company that was wrongly exempted from the tax. Apparently, the fault for this lies with an officer who failed to check on all the details in a customs declaration the company filed. Also, it seems the department overpaid GST refunds by RM4.38 million.
- Pakatan Harapan’s restructuring of government-linked companies resulted in a whole host of them functioning without chief executives. Talent Corporation Bhd, for example, which used to be under the Prime Minister’s Office but is now parked under the Human Resources Ministry, has had no CEO in charge since June 2018.
- Meanwhile, it seems TalentCorp did not hit key targets in its mission to bring home highly-qualified Malaysians via its Returning Experts Programme over the last three years. The company had set targets of 400, 400 and 1,000 returnees for 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively, but only managed figures of 272, 309 and 276.
- The Inland Revenue Board has yet to pay RM3.807bil in tax refunds for the assessment year 2017 and before. The IRB noted, however, that refunds took a long time to process as several cases were still being audited and investigated. Also, the money couldn’t be paid out as not all taxpayers had updated their deets.
- The Kajang Prison spent RM146,500 on printer toner from Hewlett-Packard but got knock-off ink instead. Hmmm. This is funny and all, but you’ve gotta wonder why a jail needed so much ink in the first place.
Speaking of financial mismanagement, DAP’s Lim Guan Eng found himself dragged into the spotlight on Monday over some ostensibly dubious deals which took place during his tenure as Pakatan Harapan’s money minister.
Here’s the skinny: between May 2018 and February 2020, it seems that over a hundred projects were greenlit by the then government via direct negotiation to the tune of a massive RM6.61 billion!
If you recall, Promise 23 in the former gomen’s Buku Harapan had expressly stated that open and transparent tendering processes would be employed for large projects. Thing is, Perikatan Nasional’s current Rich Uncle Pennybags, Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz, alleges that the Finance Ministry under Pakatan failed to keep to that end of the bargain as many as 101 times.
To be clear, direct negotiation of contracts isn’t always bad. In fact, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, while warning about how the process can lead to all sorts of issues such as fraud and corruption, notes that the procedure is okay for example, in times of urgency or when there’s a single supplier. And that, to be fair to Tengku Zafrul, is what the minister also said when he brought the matter up in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday. Unfortunately for all of us, though, Zaf never spilled the beans on when and where direct negotiations were employed, so we’re left to guess if the conditions were met.
Nobita maintains, of course, that everything was above board and that the then Cabinet had okayed all the projects. Thing is, one fellow who used to be in that Cabinet and who now sits in another – International Trade and Industries Minister Azmin Ali – claims no approvals for direct deals were given. Ever!
Now, Azmin and Guan Eng have crossed swords more than once in recent weeks – they notably bickered just prior to Zaf’s revelation in Parliament about whether or not the Pakatan gomen had spent enough on Covid-19 relief – so it’s really hard to say what’s just being said for dramatic effect, and what is, in fact, the truth. Having said that, here’s something to consider: yesterday was not the first time that Pakatan was accused of junking its promise of transparency in favour of questionable direct deals.
Also, remember, that Kelantan federal building project in Tunjong, Kelantan that we wrote about in September last year which both Nobita and then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad claimed to have no knowledge about? Yeah, that’s another time when direct negotiations were alleged.
Of course, the best way to clear the air over the whole issue would be to publish a list of all the deals done. But despite shouty requests for it from both sides of the divide, it’s left to be seen if we’ll be treated to one. Also, just checking, Zaf ol’ buddy ol’ pal. Can we get a list of all the projects Perikatan and the old Barisan Nasional approved too? Ya know, just to compare and contrast.
Cabinet Covidiot still in the spotlight
If you read our newsletter yesterday, you’d know where we stand on Plantations, Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali’s breaching of quarantine rules – we’re annoyed as hell. Happily, though, we’re not the only ones who feel Brother Khai should face the full brunt of the law. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin thinks so too.
Khai, as we’ve noted, has already apologised and been compounded for his transgression. Even so, it’s pretty clear most people feel a RM1,000 fine and giving up four months of pay just won’t cut it. Which is probably why Moo chose to respond the way he did on Monday and say no one is above the law.
Here’s the thing though, while the PM’s remarks are welcome, we’re not counting our chickens just yet. Reason? The last time someone in the government recited the “everyone is equal” crap, we saw two politicians who’d been accused of breaching the Movement Control Order (MCO) let off the hook, and another fellow handed a paltry fine.
In any event, not everyone in the government appears to be on the same page about Khairuddin, and at least one guy – Umno’s Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim – thinks that Khai should be given a free pass ’cos he’d been on a mission to Turkey to “save the country” and has brought in a whopping RM82 billion in investments since being made a minister.
And we just really gotta call Azeez out for dropping this huge load of cow manure. If he really did bring in RM82 billion in the six months he was a minister – six months in which the global economy went into the crapper – then Muhyiddin needs to just hand over the keys to the PM’s office to him right now.
But really, the person who says it so much better is former commodities minister Teresa Kok. It’s been a while since we agreed with Kok’s talk, but this time she’s nailed it.
In any case, RM82 billion or RM82 gazillion, it shouldn’t bloody matter. The only thing that matters is that Brother Khai broke quarantine, put hundreds of people in harm’s way.
And here’s the other bloody thing – he wasn’t alone! Khai was accompanied by government officers – and his family! He took his family on a bloody overseas vacation while the country was in lockdown! And if Khai wasn’t in quarantine, does that mean his family wasn’t either? What about the government entourage that went with him? Again, the only person who seems to be asking this question is Kok and if there’s one thing we hate, it’s having to agree with a politician too often.
Covid has revealed a bunch of idiot politicians around the world and here’s an interesting take on how other countries have dealt with ministers breaching Covid-19 protocols. Spoiler alert: most of the guilty fellows resigned – or were made to resign.
Which brings us to one question: it’s all well and good for Moo to say nobody is above the law. But what are you doing, Moo, in tolerating this kind of behaviour among your ministers? Sack him!
Anyways, here’re the other important coronavirus bits and pieces:
- Even though only seven new Covid-19 infections were registered on Monday, five of these were local transmissions recorded in Sarawak that have bloated the state’s tally to 696 cases.
- Despite infections rising continuously since the Tawar cluster was first detected, Monday saw zero new cases recorded.
- The Dewan Rakyat has approved the Temporary Measures For Government Financing (Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19)) bill. The bill seeks to set up a RM45 billion relief fund for Covid-19 as well as temporarily raise the national debt ceiling.
- While it’s no secret that the MCO hit us all hard, a new study by Unicef and the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) shows that folks in Peoples Housing Project (PPR) schemes were among the worst affected with many suffering from poor nutrition during the lockdown months. The report also notes that kids from low-income families have struggled to keep up with their studies in post-MCO Malaysia.
This and that
Finally, here’re some interesting and/or important odds and ends from yesterday that didn’t quite fit anywhere else:
- The Philippines wants to include Sabah in a map to be printed on passports and, as you’d expect, Sabahans are pissed. Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein assures, however, that he’s voiced Malaysia’s stand on the issue before and “there is no question about it – Sabah will forever be a part of Malaysia.”
- Amendments to the National Security Council Act, including a clause that removes the PM’s power to declare security zones and hands it to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, have been passed by the Dewan Rakyat.
- Former Barisan Nasional component party Liberal Democratic Party has denied that it will throw its weight behind Barisan Nasional in the upcoming Sabah polls. Elsewhere, former Umno man Anifah Aman was also firm about his Parti Cinta Sabah not backing anyone. Of course, independence is good and all. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that in Sabah, deals can always be struck.
- Umno grassroots leader Jamal Md Yunos a.k.a. Jamal Jamban has been summoned by police over a memorandum he sent the cops regarding gambling activities. It’s understood that the dude is being investigated under the Penal Code and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 with regard to certain claims he made.
“Giving money and power to government is like giving whisky and car keys to teenage boys.”
- P. J. O’Rourke -
IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- At least one person has died with about 100 more feared trapped following a building collapse in India’s Maharashtra state. Collapses aren’t rare in India and most usually occur between June and September during the monsoon season.
- White House adviser Kellyanne Conway is set to leave her post at the end of the month. Kellyanne’s hubby, George, also announced his departure from The Lincoln Project, a Republican political action group that’s been working to bring down United States President Donald Trump. The couple say they need time with their family.
- Benny Chan, who is widely regarded as among Hong Kong cinema’s stellar action directors, passed away of nasopharyngeal cancer Monday. Benny, 58, is best known for his collaborations with Jackie Chan in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
- Not to be outdone by Russia, China claims it’s been vaccinating doctors and other front-line professionals since July. According to a senior health official, clinical trials of the vaccine have been conducted in the UAE, Peru, Morocco, and Argentina.
- A Hong Kong man is the first documented case of a person contracting Covid-19 twice. The 33-year-old first diagnosed on March 26. He tested positive again on Aug 15 at the Hong Kong airport upon returning from a trip to Spain. This one is tempting fate lah. You recover from Covid and then promptly head to one of the worst hit countries in the world. Some people you just can’t save from themselves. 🤦