26 October, 2007

ACA Blitz

“We will continue with our investigations. If there is any basis for us to arrest and charge anyone for any corrupt practices, we will do it,” said Ahmad Said.




“There is no such thing as going after only the small fish and letting off the big ones. We do not discriminate when it comes to such matters.”


The blitz on civil servants and others allegedly involved in the irregularities highlighted in the 2006 Auditor-General’s Report continues with four arrests Thursday, and more likely to be picked up soon.

On Thursday, the ACA picked up a former director, an assistant director and a technical officer – all from the Youth and Sports Ministry. The fourth person is a contractor.

The four arrests have taken to 17 the total number picked up so far.

Meanwhile, Michael Backman sings again, and this time he reviews Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s performance after been in office for nearly four years.


Malaysia's PM seems to be failing his people at every chance

by Michael Backman

The Age
Otcober 24, 2007



ON OCTOBER 31, Abdullah Badawi, Malaysia's Prime Minister, will have been in office for four years. Abdullah came to office promising to fight corruption and to be a breath of fresh air. He has failed on both counts.

But he has achieved one remarkable feat none of his predecessors could: he has united most of his country's elder statesmen, established businessmen and intellectuals.

They are united in their utter dismay at his performance, a point that many such individuals made to me on a recent visit to Malaysia.

The despair is compounded by the near impossibility of getting rid of Abdullah.

Before 1987, anyone who wanted to challenge the president of the ruling UMNO party (and hence prime minister), needed to get endorsements from just two divisions of UMNO. Previous prime minister Mahathir Mohamad had that changed after his finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah challenged him for the leadership and almost won.

Would-be challengers must now acquire the endorsement of 30 per cent, or 58, of 191 divisions. This means that the prime minister's office needs to pay off fewer than 150 division heads with government contracts and licences to ensure their support.

Critics within UMNO are anaesthetised by patronage and sadly the Prime Minister probably thinks that he is doing a good job because his inner circle constantly tells him he is. He is their ticket to riches, after all.

Ramadan has just ended and once again Malaysia has been treated to the spectacle of government ministers and other officials fasting and playing the pious Muslim on the one hand and stealing from their fellow Malaysians on
the other.

Abdullah has had three chances in recent times to show that times have changed in Malaysia and to clearly assert
his authority when presented with examples of such theft.
He has blown each one.

The first was when it emerged that his Trade Minister, Rafidah Aziz, had handed out to her relatives, government officials and former officials hundreds of lucrative licences to import cars - without any clear procedures or transparency. A good leader would have fired Rafidah immediately. She is still there.

Another opportunity arose with revelations by the auditor-general last month of fraud and corruption in government purchasing. Some of the more flagrant abuses were at the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs. It had wasted millions on purchases such as paying 224 ringgit ($A75) for sets of screwdivers worth 40 ringgit, or 1146 ringgit for a 160 ringgit pen set.

More seriously, the ministry's head, who had the authority to approve contracts worth less than 5 million ringgit, was found to have approved contracts for almost 450 million ringgit. The ministry claimed that the then minister and
now Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had written a letter of authority for the purchases but this disappeared during auditing. Despite all this occurring under Hishammuddin's watch, he remains in the cabinet.

The third incident relates to an ongoing scandal at the Port Klang Free Trade Zone - Port Klang is Malaysia's main shipping port. Essentially, the port authority was forced by well-connected individuals to buy far more land than
planned for the free trade zone and at highly inflated prices, even though it could have compulsorily acquired the land, literally saving billions.

This and development costs, and "professional fees", blew out the total cost for the zone from 1.845 billion ringgit to 4.2 billion ringgit. It is a scam of outrageous proportions and is just the sort of thing that is turning foreign
investors off Malaysia in their droves.

Rather than make arrests, the Government is using taxpayers' funds to bail out the authority. The auditor-general tipped off the responsible minister (a term I use loosely) - Chan Kong Choy, the Transport Minister - about the
problems, as did a foreign partner in the zone, but Chan ignored the warning. Has Abdullah fired Chan? Of course not. Has the previous minister Ling Liong Sik been questioned by the police? Of course not.

These three instances were good opportunities for Abdullah to show his ministers who is boss. Well, he certainly did that.

One might ask what on earth the Finance Minister has been doing in the face of all this waste and theft. Or, indeed, even who is the Finance Minister? Extraordinarily, it is Abdullah. In a break with tradition, he occupies that post as well as being Prime Minister. The firings should start with him.

After all, it's not as if Malaysia has a shortfall of ministers. On the contrary, Malaysia has no fewer than 72 ministers and deputy ministers at the federal level. By way of comparison, Australia has 32 ministers and assistant ministers.
Is the quality of public administration in Malaysia more than twice as good as in Australia? Let the facts speak for
themselves.

Malaysia is truly at a cross-roads. It has many good people with great potential but it is slipping beneath the waves of mediocrity, weighed down by officials intent on an orgy of plunder while the ship's captain stands idly by.

The process of government needs to be dramatically and urgently overhauled. Malaysia needs a dynamic, strong visionary leader who is up to the task. Instead, it has Abdullah Badawi.

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