Corruption and lack of inclusiveness plague ‘Malaysian family’

We must persevere in the struggle of light against darkness

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Bearing the theme “keluarga Malaysia, makmur sejahtera” (a prosperous Malaysian family), Budget 2022, at a whopping RM332bn, was the largest ever.

Yes, we need to invest and spend some money to help the nation recover from the pandemic. But where exactly is the money coming from, what exactly should we spend it on and how do we monitor it to ensure the money reaches target groups without ‘leakages’?

The auditor general’s 2020 report noted that the non-compliance with financial management standards by federal ministries and departments led to irregular payments, loss of public funds and wastage amounting to RM620m.

The auditor general said “that of the RM510.49mil in irregular payments, RM499.19mil involved payments for maintenance service claims without being verified at the National Security Council level”.

And, of “the RM104.79mil loss in public funds, RM81.69mil involved unclaimed penalties not imposed by the Immigration Department, RM4.79mil involved equipment that was received late and not installed at Istana Budaya, among others”.

The auditor general recommended verifications of financial statements and compliance audits of federal ministries and departments to enable corrective action and improvements.

But who will be held responsible for such a loss of public funds and wastage – RM620m! Will we ever take anyone to task over this corruption or mismanagement of funds?

In early October, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief commissioner said corruption cases resulting in leakage of government procurement funds involving civil servants were growing more critical. Apparently, half of such cases involved government agencies.

The MACC chief said “based on the MACC analysis, such wastages are common in the public sector, where they (the top leadership of government agencies) who are in power in deciding a matter (government procurement) are involved in misappropriation and abuse of power…. When there is a leakage of government procurement, our investigation shows that there is an element of corruption that causes a certain value of government procurement to rise.”

Back in 2017, the former auditor general had already estimated that up to 30% of Malaysia’s public projects’ value was lost owing to mismanagement and corruption.

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If this estimate is accurate and still holds true, then what will happen with the latest Budget? Will we still see mismanagement, wastage, leakages – or whatever the term for corruption is these days?

Many worry that the projected revenue for 2022 is only RM234bn. What will the government do about the shortfall of RM98bn? Where will the money to finance this come from and what will it mean for Malaysia to be even more indebted?

Before and after the Budget was unveiled, some had wondered whether it could meet the needs of vulnerable groups in society.

Although the Budget had some positives, some felt disappointed over the lack of measures to tackle the problems faced by government contract workers, including cleaners, gardeners and security service staff in hospitals and schools. Many contract medical officers also felt let down.

Others were disappointed over the lack of a gender perspective in the Budget across ministries and sectors and the lack of detail in the actual implementation of the Budget.

Meanwhile, the phrase “keluarga Malaysia” (Malaysian family) keeps popping up. However, there are many things happening around us which make us wonder about this concept of a ‘Malaysian family’, as in who defines it? It does not seem to be very inclusive at the moment.

The brouhaha over Timah whisky is still simmering with people wondering about the origin and validity of the “sensitivities” surrounding it. We are now told that the whisky firm might consider a name change. Others have deemed the entire episode less than rational.

One wonders about those setting or influencing the current mainstream narrative and debate. It is often exclusive in deciding whose views, rational or otherwise, are considered. We don’t have to look far to see the impact of ethnic chauvinism coupled with the politicisation of ethnicity and religion on minority groups in, for example, Sri Lanka, India and Myanmar.

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If we can see so clearly the transgressions of chauvinist extremists in these and other places in the world, why do we still allow (and sometimes fuel) the spread of such thinking over here? Because the ‘over there’ scenario is where Malaysia could well be heading if we continue to politicise ethnicity and religion and exploit insecurities for political mileage.

If we really want the concept of the ‘Malaysian family’ to work, then there can be no room for ignorance or arrogance from any side. We cannot allow unjust practices.

More than ever, we need to show compassion and understanding in our thoughts, words and actions towards others, especially those in need – and there are many vulnerable people and groups across the country. Nation building is not about wealth creation for a select few.

Meanwhile, problems of poverty, employment, living wages, social protection, affordable housing, accessible healthcare, access for persons with disability, digital access for people in rural areas including in Sabah and Sarawak, violence against women and children, the impact of climate change and environmental destruction persist. Shouldn’t these issues be the major thrust of the government’s focus and discussion in Parliament?   

And while we took part in Deepavali celebrations this year, across the causeway in Singapore, Malaysian Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam faces execution on 10 November 2021. Nagaenthran was convicted of trafficking in 43g of diamorphine in 2011. The Malaysian Bar, the Advocates Association of Sarawak and the Sabah Law Society jointly appealed to the Singapore government not to proceed with the execution as Nagaenthran has faced diminishing mental capacity since his conviction and has been diagnosed with borderline intellectual disability with an IQ of 69.

Human rights groups – the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) and Lawyers for Liberty – have also urged the Singapore government to commute the death sentence and spare Nagaenthran.

A Change.org petition #SaveNagaethran has collected over 60,000 signatures calling for the pardon of Nagaenthran.

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It is unclear how the execution of a person with a reduced mental capacity can serve as a deterrent to others. But it would seem the Singapore government remains unmoved.

Back in Malaysia, 55-year-old Hairun Jalmani, a single mother of nine, was recently sentenced to death by the Tawau High Court on 15 October after she was convicted of possessing and distributing drugs (114g of methamphetamine) three years ago.

Available statistics show that 1,324 people have been sentenced to death in Malaysia as of 24 October 2020. Of these, 59.5% are Malaysians with about  60% of them having been convicted of drug trafficking under Section 39(b) of the Dangerous of Drugs Act 1952. 

The data also shows that while most of those sentenced to death in Malaysia are men, women make up 9.7% of the total number. An Amnesty International report states that the death penalty for drug offences disproportionately affects women, with 95% of women on death row convicted of such offences.

A UN General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2020 called for a moratorium on executions pending the abolition of the death penalty. Malaysia was one of the 123 nation states that supported this call.

It is time to put our international commitment made at the UN into practice at home, especially given our new status on the UN Human Rights Council. So it is heartening to hear that the PM has appealed to his Singapore counterpart for a stay of execution for Nagaenthran so that a fresh petition for clemency can be filed.

The flame depicted in the oil lamps during the recent Deepavali celebrations is said to symbolise the inner light, which protects us from spiritual darkness. It represents the triumph of good over evil.

That flame is an important one, and all of us need to watch over and nurture it. It is a struggle at times to keep that flame burning, but struggle we must.

Prema Devaraj
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
7 November 2021
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