Saturday, October 29, 2011

Auditing audacious greed or costly fool?

In a persistent pattern, easily anticipated and predicted like clockwork, the recent auditor's report recounts the usual blatant and outrageous plunder of public fund by way of 'deliberate' waste and ridiculously inflated spending. Thin indeed is the line between 'bad planning', 'careless spending' and probable vested interests that underline them. Where the procedures and supervision over vested interests are weak or lax, there would for sure be widespread 'bad planning', 'human errors', 'overspending', 'misspending', 'ill conceived projects', 'bad decisions', 'bad purchases' and everything else suggesting all manner of 'mistakes', 'blunders' and 'bad judgement' which nevertheless drained billions from public funds.

In such a situation, from the point of view of vested interests, the trick is to pass 'vested interests' for 'silliness', 'inaptness' or 'inefficiency', which no matter how costly will still remain 'innocent' of questionable motives. What! ... the Marine Department paid RM 56,350 for binoculars worth about RM 1,940? Paying RM192,694 for laptops, printers. LCD monitors and DVD players which should cost only RM20,193 ? And the Tourism Ministry paying RM1.95 million for pamphlet racks done without the Ministry's approval? The same ministry spending RM270 million on advertisement by direct booking instead of following the procedure of tendering which could cost only RM 75.38 million?Ministries overspending on items such as ovens and folding beds by RM306 million? All of which naturally drove the federal government's public debt up to RM407.1 billion, up 12.3 percent over the previous year.

There are many too many of such 'blunders' and ' costly mistakes ' in the Auditor-General's Report, so many as to make the report almost a compendium on a management style dominated by fools. The phenomenon is so prevalent, so usual in our situation as to make it 'normal' and 'common knowledge' ,that it no longer shock or surprised us, merely exciting disgust and indignation among a few, and acquiescence or resignation among many others. Such recounting of administrative 'blunders' and 'bad judgement' has attained a kind of ritual status, no different from the past and would be repeated in the coming years. Initially it would be met by pious pronouncement to bring people to book to appease the public, which would then quietly fizzle out as the issue fades in public attention.

The fact that the phenomena of 'blunders' and ' innocent oversights', notwithstanding how silly or costly, are persistently continuing testifies to the lack of will in checking them on the part of leaders. Either it testifies to their lack of seriousness or willingness in checking them or to their ineffectiveness in doing so .Either way, it casts doubt on their leadership of society and nation.

What leaders should understand, however, is that public indignation or revulsion would be eventually translated into the ballot box.This is because the issue of ' blundering bureaucracy' is of such nature as to constitute the very stuff of life and reality for the voting public. It would take many many speeches promising 'high income society' or ' public spirited budget' to erase inner public revulsion towards such 'errors' or 'bad judgments', if at all rhetoric can counter life experience. Even when the public are handed out little goodies, or direct handouts, these would be nullified by public  resentment that they are being made to pay RM 56, 000 for  RM1,900 binoculars. Though they hear the promise of higher income, they nevertheless resent being made to pay over RM190,000 for gadgets worth only RM20,000. And so will they feel over the overspending and wasteful ways of Ministries in general.

The purpose of this posting is not to lament the fact of a 'blundering' and 'erroneous' bureaucracy and leadership, examples of which are replete in the Auditor-General's Report. What is important is to draw wider implications and observations relevant for our society and nation. From the widespread phenomenon of ' blundering bureaucracy' can be deduced the following: a) there is vested interests in initiating or implementing 'bad planning' and 'inefficiency', with considerable cost to the people, both financially and in terms of development, b) there is an unhealthy symbiosis between the bureaucracy and the private sector, which then thrives parasitically on society and the nation, c) for the 'blundering bureaucrats', the bureaucracy and national administration is seen basically as the cow to be milked perpetually, d) for the participating representatives of the private sector, good business skill and acumen is the art of networking and cultivating certain 'blundering bureaucrats', on which their business success vitally depends.

All the above does not auger well for the nation and society. The revolting examples mentioned in Auditor-General's Report do not represent simply isolated examples of deviation or corruption against a background of an otherwise efficient administration. Rather they represent a whole fundamental attitude towards what being a part of the national administration means for certain type of bureaucrats, and what is really going on between the bureaucracy and the private sector in some powerful and well connected circles on both sides.