Published in The Sun on 14 October 2013

A PUBLIC outcry again! This time it is with dismay and disbelief at the Auditor-General’s 2012 report which reveals yet another year of mismanagement in government spending.

Yet again, the ministries and departments whose budgets give them access to public money have abused the trust invested in them. The overspending is gross, the wastage behind it atrocious.

The officials responsible must be brought to book. Bloated claims must be investigated as incompetent civil servants have allowed themselves to be duped (advertently or inadvertently) by service providers and suppliers. Invoices and claims defeat honesty as the government spends money, showing an obvious crack in the line of authority.

How did the spending for this and that get past the scrutiny of department committees and their heads or of the minister for more important inventory? Why were departmental guidelines and the treasury instructions not adhered to? Is not accountability implicit every step of the approval?

With the PAC and other official agencies and committees standing in line to investigate the government’s yearly financial faux pas, some of these questions will be answered and assurances given that they will not happen again.

But the question of whether the government is prudent enough or its calls for austerity serious enough remains unanswered for as long as the budget is superfluous and public monies carelessly disbursed.

One has only to look at the routine activities of government departments such as meetings, workshops, seminars and conferences to realise how big the allocations must be.

Mundane as it is, the supply of food and drink is one area of regular abuse because of its very regularity. It has become normal practice to “lay out the table” at least three times a day – morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea – and lay the plates with food regardless of appetites.

This is one part of the budget which can be drastically cut down without hurting anyone except perhaps the office caterer. If the government is serious about encouraging thrift among the public, it should start by removing the unnecessary and irrelevant details in catering expenditure.

Looking at the generous spread of food served at government events, one should not be surprised if obesity is a prevalent disease among civil servants along with diabetes and hypertension.

It has been rumoured that if a whole roast lamb or several are not in the menu of government open houses, the department “has not arrived” and its KPI will be negatively perceived.

Being a bit of a socio-cultural bluff, I would like to point fingers at the attitudes and values nurtured in and by a society that has never had it so good – at least among the more affluent civil servants managing ministry headquarters and agencies in and around Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, as well as the state capitals.

Being used to the fast-track lane of managing huge budgets for the numerous programmes and activities at all levels of the community, one can become blasé and disconnected. Paradoxically, it is the ministers and deputy ministers who are in touch with the common people and can see for themselves where the real needs lie.

When one thinks of the sheer irrelevance of musical pop groups such as K Pop and their singer Psy in nurturing good values among the young, one wonders why they were factored into the entertainment in the first place.

If song and dance are the reasons why the young support these government programmes, one should not then wonder why the support was not forthcoming when it came to more serious matters.

While it is true that sports and music bring people together and promote integration among the young, there can be greater mileage in low-budget educational programmes such as language camps where young people can be encouraged to create their own music or drama.

As the next Budget draws near, it is hoped that the government will streamline a reduced allocation to the ministries, their departments and agencies. Instead of a superfluously generous budget which encourages parties to overspend and overclaim, the budget should be stringently focused on key areas that will bring the greatest development to the people.

This way, civil servants will be kept on their toes and on their heads to think harder of programmes and activities that will really benefit the communities they serve.

Ministry officials and their political masters must lead the way in showing thrift and prudence in the management of their activities. For one, the entourage which accompany them on both local and international trips can be reduced which then trims down all related expenditure.

The class of air travel is another area which can be revised to reflect the country’s austerity drive. Travel by LCC should be the first choice rather than the last resort. “Austerity For Prosperity” should be adopted as the new national slogan.



  1. October 29, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I like this article written by you. I hope that more people in positions of power will do the same. A nation is like a Publically Listed Company. It is only as strong as its Audit Department. The only document that shareholders read is the Audited Annual Financial Statement.

    The Russians believe that there are two types of corruption. One is called “balat” or small corruption and the other is “systamia” or systemic corruption. While a nation can live with former provided it is in the 10% range, history tells us that there is no nation in the world today that has survived the “systamia” corruption.

    I hope that Malaysians in positions realize this sooner rather than later and avoid killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Only a strong national financial order can determine our standing in the global social order.

    Thank you.

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