By Kanason Pothinker
The second series of the auditor general’s report for 2018 pointed out that subsidies were paid not to one, but to 11,712 dead farmers.
That’s not all. Another 5,099 farmers could not be found. What does this mean? Were the 5,099 names merely created out of thin air – fictitious names to support claims of subsidies to poor farmers?
I, for one, cannot understand how such payments to dead and fictitious farmers were made. The auditors revealed that RM57.9m was paid out as subsidies and incentives to deceased farmers between 2016 and 2018.
The country is facing problems with huge amounts of debt. We are told by our previous leaders in 2020 that the enormous debts were not of their own making but that of a previous administration. Well, we have to live with that.
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But what about the subsidy and incentive payments to farmers who are dead, and who are obviously not tilling their land?! Why was there no public outcry over these ‘ghostly mistakes’ that cost taxpayers nearly RM58m? I suppose we have to accept these errors by our civil servants, but the cost is too much!
If the auditors could do a simple verification analysis of the registration of the names of farmers against the identity card details with the National Registration Department, why, oh why could not the officers in the then Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industries do a similar verification exercise during the ‘handouts’?
Huge question of governance arises
Reading the auditor general’s report further on, we see that these payments to the farmers were not done by ministry officials but were contacted out to a company or companies.
The report states that ”between 2016-2018, claims by companies for the padi fertiliser scheme had exceeded their contract value by $178.23 million”.
I see a horror story unfolding if and when this report from the auditor general gets reported formally to the authorities. And, of course, our Public Account Committee members in Parliament should pursue this to the end.
Who was in charge of this scheme in the ministry? Are there steps now being taken to verify every claim by the contractors?
If fraud is involved, the matter should have been reported to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and to the police. I am sure the working papers that the auditor general’s office relied on for its report would be very useful.
This subsidy scheme is vital to our living farmers but money was being handed out to farmers who are dead or untraceable! As a long-retired auditor, I remember the time many years ago when we paid pensions to dead pensioners! Or more famously, even a cut-off thumb was used to claim a monthly pension.
Did the ministry prepare a detailed plan of implementation for this very helpful scheme for our farmers?
Some time ago, I had drawn attention to a better practice guide from the Australian prime minister’s office on the implementation of programme initiatives. We need not re-invent the wheel. That particular guideline should make the implementation of vital programmes matter.
The poor and the needy are being literally robbed of their pittance by the fraudulent submission of the names of dead farmers or by fictitious names.
Our [then] prime minister in 2020 repeatedly talked about integrity. There is now even a new national anti-corruption plan for 2019-2023, with a strong division of dedicated officers in the Prime Minister’s Department.
I wish – no, I pray – that they will look at the guidelines on the implementation of programme initiatives, which is structured along the following lines:
- Identification of challenges during policy development, including identifying, assessing and advising of risks, record-keeping and accountability
- Governance considerations for senior officers, roles and responsibilities, including contingency measures, steering committees and, most importantly, monitoring and review
- Risk management – identifying and assessing risks, managing risks, managing risks through implementation
- Planning of implementation – government considerations, consideration of costs, managing changes to plans
- Procurement and contract management
- Resources – consideration of staffing, financial resources and systems resources
- Communication – developing a communications strategy, making communications an integral part of implementation
- Monitoring and reviews – review of progress, whole-of-government consideration
- Senior officers’ checklists
Finally, I would like to say I am a retired auditor, who turned 84 last month. It took me two days in 2020 to draft this article with the help of my granddaughter. I told her I was writing this piece, with the hope that her future in this wonderful country of ours would be even better.
Kanason Pothinker is a former assistant auditor general of Malaysia, who was directly responsible to the auditor general for the planning, audit and reporting on all statutory bodies, both at federal and state levels. After a career spanning 33 years from 1959 to 1992, he headed a team in 2005-2006 to review financial management policies and procedures in the public sector. He has previously contributed articles to Aliran