RM59m payment to dead unacceptable
Published on: Sunday, December 29, 2019
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IN the second series of the Auditor-General’s Report for 2018, the AG reported that subsidies were paid not to one but to 11,712 dead farmers! And 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 to support claims of subsidies given to poor farmers?

I for one cannot understand how such payments to dead and fictitious farmers were made. And the report revealed that RM57.92mil were paid out as subsidies and incentives to deceased farmers between 2016 and 2018.

Our country is faced with a huge amount of debt, and we are told by our present leaders that these debts are not of their making but the previous administration’s. Well, we have to live with that, but what about these subsidy and incentive payments to farmers who are dead, and who are obviously not tilling their land? Why is there no public outcry over these ghostly mistakes that have cost taxpayers nearly RM59mil?

I suppose we have to accept small errors by our civil servants but this cost is too much. If the auditors could do the simple verification analysis of names of farmers against identity card details with the National Registration Department, why oh why could not the officers in the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry do a similar verification exercise during the handouts? A very big question of governance and integrity arises.

And reading the AG’s report further on, we see that these payments to farmers were not carried out by ministry officials but were contracted out to a company or companies. The report states that “between 2016 and 2018, claims by companies for the padi fertiliser scheme had exceeded their contract value by RM178.23mil”. I see a horror story unfolding if and when this report gets reported formally to the authorities. Of course, it is hoped that the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament will pursue this matter to the very end.

Who is in charge of this scheme in the ministry? Are steps now being taken to verify every claim by the contractors? If fraud is involved, the matter should be reported to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, our corruption fighters, and to the police. I am sure the working papers of the AG’s office can be really useful in the subsequent investigations.

This subsidy scheme is vital to our (living!) farmers, but the money is 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. Famously, a cut off thumb was even used to claim the monthly pension.

Did the ministry prepare a detailed plan of implementation for this very helpful scheme for our farmers? Some time ago, I drew 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 implementation of very vital programmes matter, as the poor and needy are being literally robbed of their pittance by fraudulent submission of dead or fictitious farmers’ names.

Our prime minister has repeatedly talked about integrity. There is even now a new National Anti-Corruption Plan 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:

1. Identification of challenges during policy development, including identifying, assessing and advising of risks, record keeping and accountability;

2. Governance: Considerations for senior officers’ roles and responsibilities, including contingency measures, steering committee and, most importantly, monitoring and review;

3. Risk management: Identifying and assessing risks, managing risks, and managing risks through implementation;

4. Planning of implementation: Government considerations, consideration of costs, and managing changes to plans;

5. Procurement and contract management;

6. Resources: Consideration of staffing, financial resources and systems resources;

7. Communication: Developing a communication strategy and making communication an integral part of implementation;

8. Monitoring and reviews: Review of progress and whole of government consideration; and

9. Senior officers’ checklist.

I am a retired auditor who will be 81 in January 2020. It took me two days to draft this letter. I had the help of my granddaughter. I told her I am writing this with hope that her future in this wonderful country of ours would be even better.

Kanason Pothiniker

Auditor-General’s Office (retired 1992)

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