Saturday, February 13, 2010

Grave matters and a sinking feeling

Over the last few months, we had read news of corruption in the nation. I don’t mean only the mega scandals like the one involving PKFZ, but spate of it at a more modest and spectacular scale. Though definitely less sensational in terms of the losses and amount involved over a single saga compared to the mega-scandals, usually to the tune of billions, the humbler offenders are nevertheless equally damaging , if not more. In terms of dollars and cents, each case does not boast of staggering amount, but in total the ‘lesser’ corruption may even be more staggering.

But then, we are more than aware, this is not simply a matter of dollars and cents. For example, I remember reading cases involving police officers, immigration officials, port authority staff, custom officers, district administrators, education administrators, armed forces personnel and more. I am sure my list is far from being exhaustive.A complete list of all the cases of corruption in our courts across the range would certainly conjure a picture that corruption is all pervasive in our national administration, and more disturbingly in vital areas affecting our national or public interests. On second thought, this has to be the case. It is only the vital areas of national administration that are ‘marketable’ or of value to corrupt offers and dealings.

A closer look at some of the cases would make clearer the harm they inflict and the extent of the damage to our national interests. The cases involving policemen usually involved a few hundreds or thousands ringgit, and the favors sought are either to overlook offences or to influence the outcome of investigation. Obviously the damage inflicted on the nation is disastrous as this is tantamount to nullifying the law and breeding lawlessness. The cases involving immigration officials disclosed how for a few thousand dollars corrupt officials would be willing to ‘facilitate’ illegal entry permits or other instruments of access into the country, usually for dubious purposes. Just imagine the harm to the nation. Isn’t this analogous to leaving the house door ajar to dubious characters in the night, or opening wide the city gate to questionable elements?

There is this case concerning a young official of the port authority. He faced several charges of corruption, involving a few thousand dollars on each account. In return for the bribes, he overlooked the smugglings going on through the port of his charge. Just imagine how damaging this can be to the nation. If those charged with minding its interests instead enter the pay rolls of smugglers, the nation would certainly be at the mercy of undesirable and dangerous elements. Just about anything can be imported or exported from the country. The entire range of the multiplier effects on the nation economy and security is inconceivable.

We hear of a young assistant district officer charged with accepting about $10,000 as down payment for a new car. A developer’s company bribed her to overlook their stealing of sand in her administrative district. We know how influential the district officials are. Virtually all aspects of living would come into contact with the local administration at one point or another. If they are susceptible to corruption and bribery, we can be sure there is a great deal more than sand being offered for corrupt deals.

The last auditors report revealed that a laptop had cost a staggering $42,000 in the budget of an established educational institution. Though we have not heard of any action being taken for possible abuse, the staggering price tag certainly raise many questions. Could the laptop be a rare proto-type that comes in gold parts or trimmings?

Few of us would have missed the news on our missing jet-plane engines and how investigations is being conducted. The authority had declared that there is no involvement of high officials in this saga. But still the facts remain that some groups had been very resourceful and entrepreneurial in moving and marketing the engines in the international black market. Imagine the significance or implications of it all. It happened in the armed forces, an institution which is supposedly to be one of the most secured places in our nation, an institution charged with the very security of our nation. Though many statements had been made on the actual value of the engines, their status as items ‘condemned’ or designated for ‘repairs’,in part to ameliorate the issue, the fact remains they went missing and ended up in the international back-door market. This suggests either a gross neglect of duty or breach of trust.Besides there is still the lingering question, what else besides jet-plane engines could be for ‘sale’ in this manner?

A few days ago we learned from the Sun of the saga involving RapidKL and its ‘bus grave’. Of course Che Det and Rocky Bru had raised the issue months ago prior to The Sun. It seems that RapidKL operator bought 1,294 used buses for RM93m in 2003, only to consign most of them to the scrap yard two years later in 2005. Presently only RM6m had been recovered in terms of sales value of scrap parts. The Sun covered the visit of the Public Accounts Committee ( PAC) to one of the so-called bus ‘graveyard’ in Sungai Buaya, Rawang.We learn there is another ‘graveyard’ in Serendah.

Many revealing facts had been disclosed by Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid, chairman of the PAC. The buses were registered from 1992-1998, and yet were professionally evaluated only in 2007, In the evaluation, only ten buses were categorized as in good condition. On the whole, each of the buses was valued at RM60,000, requiring RM200,000 worth of repairs. To the question whether an evaluation was done prior to the purchase, Datuk Seri Azmi said yes but ‘we did not know the rational’ for the purchase. It was reported that Prasarana Negara, the company behind the purchase of the buses, incurred a loss of RM839.81million between 2005-2007, due to ‘poor management’.

I can only add the following comments. Well, to date no action had been taken officially suggesting any manner of improprieties. The facts as they stand definitely suggest at the very least gross-mismanagement of epic proportion. The magnitude of the problem is symbolized by the sad and surreal sight of the bus ‘graveyard’. The concept of ‘graveyard’ is indeed appropriate. The row and row of buses had been consigned there to rest in peace for good. Bought for RM93m, they are worth a pittance of that now. As we know, however, nature does not waste anything. The bulk of the purchase price of RM93 would have gone to someone or some accounts somewhere. The instant, rather than gradual, filling of the ‘graveyard’ suggests ‘mass-grave’ might be a more appropriate term. The term ‘mass-grave’ is suitable for another reason. Usually it is mass-graves that are meant to cover some unsavory details from public knowledge.

I am still reeling from the Malay Mail news of a few days ago, that our sole and brand new submarine, KD Tunku Abdul Rahman, costing RM1billion,is experiencing a technical fault. If I am of the superstitious type, I swear we are jinxed as a nation, at least when it comes to acquiring a submarine. Our quest for a submarine had been beset by ominous signs right from the beginning. There had been allegations of massive commissions and kickbacks. It had been linked to a murder case. But then I am not superstitious, so I will confine myself to the facts.

Right after its homecoming in September,2009, a technical fault was discovered in October, the following month. This is a bit too soon for me, considering that it is a brand new submarine. I hope proper and professional evaluation was done in the acquisition of the submarine, uncompromised by any extraneous considerations or vested interests.

The nature of the technical fault is most interesting. Our brand new submarine cannot submerge. A submarine that cannot submerge is akin to a duck that cannot swim. This is serious as it changes the nature of the thing, Although the warranty period had been extended from the end of January to May, I wonder if the repair would incur further huge cost? It is very worrying too to read in the Malay Mail that although the fault had been repaired, it may still be unsafe for the submarine to undergo submerging trials.

I certainly hope that our submarine would not follow the fate of the RapidKL buses, doomed for scrapping because of inhibitive and uneconomic repair cost. Being the sole submarine, however, we cannot speak or conceive of a submarine graveyard. A submarine mausoleum perhaps? Although KD Tunku Abdul Rahman is unable to submerge, the whole saga certainly gives me a sinking feeling!