When silence isn’t golden: Top officials ‘mum’ on scandals, reasons for quitting

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A cage used for illegal immigrants found at a human-trafficking camp in Wang Kelian, near the Malaysia-Thailand border of Wang Kelian - Photograph: Hasnoor Hussain/The Malaysian Insider

We miss out on opportunities to rectify weaknesses in the system when few are willing to speak out against wrongdoings or are held accountable, says K Haridas.

We are a nation that moves from one headline to another, each more startling than the earlier, with very little to show in terms of accountability.

Scandals – who is responsible?

Some time ago we heard about undocumented migrants and the number that had perished along the Malaysia-Thai border. This hit the headlines and it was difficult for the Malaysian police to deny knowledge.

Dozens of secret camps with about nearly 140 graves were discovered along the Malaysia-Thai border, used by people smugglers. Our police chief said we have been building up information and vowed tough action against Malaysians involved. Have we heard of any action to date? Were the Malaysian and Thai authorities aware of this illegal and perhaps lucrative activity?

No wonder Malaysia is listed in tier three of the US State Department’s annual human trafficking report – amongst the worst ranking countries failing to stop such trade.

Powerful forces are at work, and it is not good enough for the Malaysian police and immigration officials to just explain this away.

Then we heard about the RM100m that was defrauded from the ministry of youth and sports. Although the culprits have been charged, where is the notion of accountability from the minister and senior civil servants?

The under-secretary involved has been transferred and is now under remand. He had been misappropriating funds from 2010. They have now seized assets worth RM20m, 12 vehicles, designer bags and expensive jewellery besides freezing 69 bank accounts worth RM8.3m.

What does this say about the competence of our civil service, the minister, the secretary-general and their levels of accountability and responsibility? A good question to ask at this stage is, who is his role model?

What action has been taken?

Minister Paul Low, we need clarifications from you as your portfolio must explain such issues. How can such matters go on for over six years? Consider the regular shocking reports from the auditor general. Many departments and ministries are exposed for not following proper procedures and procurement methods and for making excessive payments.

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Has any action been taken or are civil servants held to task? They are well paid and upon retirement, are handsomely rewarded with directorships, titles and other benefits. Yet when it comes to doing their job, they are found wanting and everything then seems to be swept under the carpet.

Report after report from the auditor general highlights weaknesses. Can we now have a report that also highlights actions taken and measures in place to ensure that wrongdoings do no recur? If this is not done, where is the learning and progress? Can Paul Low ensure that such a report is produced by his ministry?

Then, we had the news of the four Sarawakian sailors abducted by a militant group. Ransom money of RM12m was collected and handed over to the Special Branch in Sandakan, Sabah on 24 May this year. The sum consisted of 12 Hong Leong Bank cheques, money collected from the public and sale of family assets.

The deputy prime minister has one version while the inspector general of police denies that the police ever received RM12m. He claims that the money was handed directly to an unknown third party, contradicting Lau Cheng Kiong, an uncle of one of the kidnap victims ,who was specific as to the time and date when the amount was allegedly given to the police.

Who are we to believe? Now we are told not to question this affair! So who is accountable for the money and where has it landed?

Muller’s departure – a missed opportunity

Why do Malaysians and even foreigners here seem fearful of telling the whole truth in an honest and candid manner? Take the retiring CEO of Malaysia Airlines. He has now been employed by Emirate Airlines. We were told that he was leaving for personal reasons. It just does not add up. Was he hemmed in or constrained in any way and hence the only way left was to resign?

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Malaysia Airlines is a good example of a government-linked company (GLC) that has been milked again and again. There is a default culture prevalent that is difficult to dislodge. “I had to cut 6,000 jobs as many of the 20,000 workers were doing nothing” said Muller.

In addition, procurement costs were were over 20 per cent higher. Surely, if they had benchmarked Malaysia Airlines with other outstanding airlines in the industry, all this would have been obvious.

Has anyone in the top management of Malaysia Airlines been taken to task over the years? To the outsider, they all seem to be ‘protected’ and no action is taken. This is why GLCs are perceived as political tools with the powers that be holding the reins. Whether it is Khazanah or PNB, the game is the same.

I can agree that this is not Malaysian culture. But if supervision is absent and clear job descriptions are not provided, then it is natural for people to go to sleep for want of doing anything meaningful. Is this not an easy way to earn a salary? Many who were retrenched have paid the price for poor management and gross indiscipline, and no one from the top is held accountable.

I hope some day Muller will be more forthcoming about his reasons for leaving. Without this, we miss the opportunity to learn from earlier mistakes. Again, the cover up culture continues and we lose the capacity to be different. It is neither Malay culture nor Malaysian culture. It is just bad management and leadership from the top.

Malaysia boleh?

Consider the manner in which money was given to BN voters to cover transport costs and the same paid out after the elections, with voters queuing up at certain centres. Obviously, the Elections Commission has a different interpretation regarding such payments. This in no way shows a sense of independence, but confirms the perception of the commission’s alignment with the party in power.

Meanwhile, Razali Ismail has sadly taken over as chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia. He already has a good biodata and does not need to add this to his credentials. How is he going to do better than his predecessor? Can he at least spell out what he intends to achieve so that we can hold him to his word – or is this another decoration for a diplomat who cannot be decisive?

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Anyway with cuts in the budget, what can he really achieve? By taking up this position – just for a sense of honour and the money this will earn him? – his credibility is on the line. He is already chairman of several companies and sits on several boards. Will he bring the drive and convictions for human rights that is so necessary today?

With the clearance by his appointed attorney general, I suppose Najib is free of all wrongdoings with regard to IMDB. Daily, we are getting fresh disclosures. Banks have fallen, and there are cases initiated in Singapore along with investigations in several countries.

The amounts are large, the deceptions clear and the perception very negative about the prime minister. Yet, it is all ‘Malaysia boleh’ as far as loyalty is concerned.

Reading between the lines

The displaced attorney general is silent – for whatever reason – and this seems to be the reality in Malaysia.

Ahmad Husni resigned as second finance minister, and one has to read between the lines to understand his frustrations. He has got fully out of Umno, and in doing so he is making a statement.

Senator Abdul Wahid Omar did not seek an extension to his position as minister in charge of the Economic Planning Unit. Perhaps driving Uber is a more honest occupation.

The message is to be read between the lines, as this tells another story. But it would have been better if they were candid and had the courage to share their concerns in the national interest.

Truth is independent of culture, and this is what distinguishes one with upright integrity from others. Integrity is compromised when loyalty is to a person rather that to a higher force or God. Then one blindly puts self-interest before national interest.

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SuperString

Malaysia politics….sighhhhhh