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Correcting the civil service: 'Culture of responsibility' needed

Publish date: Sun, 03 Dec 2023, 08:26 AM

KUALA LUMPUR: Reviving town hall sessions at ministries and government agencies is a step in the right direction, but more efforts are needed to curb wastage.

Anti-corruption and transparency groups said the government must hold to account those responsible for the RM681.71 million in losses revealed in the recent Auditor General's (AG) Report.

Transparency International-Malaysia president Dr Muhammad Mohan said Malaysia must walk the talk when addressing public spending issues, and consider severe punitive action against those who failed their responsibilities.

"Firstly, we welcome the revival of town hall sessions as a place for ministries' secretaries-general, department heads and others to explain to the public what went wrong and what actions are being taken to plug loopholes in how taxpayers' money is spent.

"But first, a more important question is, despite having town hall sessions in 2015, 2016 and 2017, why do we continue to see wastage and continued failures of fiduciary duties among those in the civil service who are entrusted with taxpayers' money?"

Mohan said a culture of being responsible appeared to be lacking, and without punitive steps against individuals accountable for these failures, it was difficult to understand how perceptions might shift to be positive.

While Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is doing his best and working very hard to change the civil service by advising them to be efficient, practise good governance, avoid corruption and be accountable, Mohan said it would be difficult to see reduced wastage without radical changes to work processes, good governance, and aculture of accountability in the public sector.

"Perception can change to be positive when those who are responsible for the failures, admit their failure and step down honourably or be removed by civil service authorities for failure in his fiduciary duties. Then we can say real changes happening."

He added that just a slap on the wrist was not going to get Malaysia anywhere in addressing the issue of public fund wastage and good governance.

Malaysia Corruption Watch (MCW) president Jais Abdul Karim said the revival of town hall sessions suggested by Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali, in response to the AG's Report, was commendable and a move towards transparency.

He said to make the sessions effective, the government should make sure that detailed and clear explanations were provided on measures taken in response to the AG's findings.

Jais also seconded Mohan's view that those overseeing the shortcomings and wastage at a unit, must be held responsible to rectify the shortcomings highlighted in the report.

"Engaging the public, allowing them to ask questions and express concerns, as well as fostering a sense of participation and awareness are also recommended."

He added that follow-up action should be outlined based on discussions, and being committed to implementing changes were necessary to avoid issues from recurring.

"Taking anti-corruption measures through integrated discussions would also show the government's dedication to eradicating corruption and improving governance."

He said transparent monitoring to track action points discussed during town hall sessions were also needed to ensure sustained efforts to address wastage.

"MCW is of the view that by addressing these aspects, the government can boost anti-corruption initiatives, foster public trust and demonstrate a genuine commitment to improving administrative governance."

On Friday, Zuki said secretaries-general of all ministries must clarify the actions and measures taken in response to the findings in the AG's report, and that town hall sessions would be held to help this process.

He said he had instructed the Public Service Department to coordinate the sessions.

The government had organised town hall sessions from 2014 until 2017 to enable top officials to explain actions that they took following warnings highlighted in the report.

Zuki said Anwar was serious about the findings of the report and instructed for them to be debated in Parliament.

Anwar had said the report should be scrutinised by each ministry, government department and agency with recommendations made to rectify the shortcomings.

Zuki said any proposal to upgrade the Audit Department to become an independent commission must be discussed with the cabinet.

"Every proposal needs to be presented and discussed with the cabinet for the department to be like the Election Commission and to report directly to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong."

The 2022 AG's Report published last month revealed a total loss of public funds worth RM681.71 million involving six government programmes.

Auditor General Datuk Wan Suraya Wan Mohd Radzi said the leakage was based on 16 performance audits worth RM208.882 billion carried out in 14 ministries.

She had added that the six programmes that suffered losses were the Padi Planting Management Programme, the Langkawi Development Authority Property Development Management programme, the management and regulation of firearms of Home Ministry departments and agencies, the management of the Marine Protected Area Conservation Programme, the Investment Promotion Programme for the Manufacturing Sector, and the management of the Safe City Programme.

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