Why merely crippling the cartels are never good enough

By Julian Tan


FIRST of all, props to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for uncovering a cartel that monopolised government procurements to the tune of billions of ringgit.

Never in the history of the graft-busting agency has it seized not just allegedly ill-gotten gains like cash, luxury cars and watches, but two helicopters. This shows just how far-reaching the tentacles of the syndicate extended to.

God knows for how long the cartel, which is linked to top civil servants, has been in operation and how substantial the leakages from this rent-seeking practice is. At the end of the day, it’s the taxpayers who are robbed of millions, if not billions that could be put to better use, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.

But it is too early to pop the champagne over the unravelling of this sophisticated criminal ring that leads all the way to the top of the civil service. History has shown that for every criminal ring busted by the authorities, another will sprout in no time.

For decades, the authorities have been playing whack-the-mole with the crime lords, who are backed by well-oiled machineries that include expert advice on how to cover their tracks and launder money using their extensive international connections

A case in point is the fugitive 33-year-old “Datuk Seri” who, according to media reports, was often tipped off by senior bureaucrats when running his multi-billion scam networks.

Calls to enhance transparency and accountability in public procurement over the decades often end up with some window-dressing exercises that often leave enough loopholes for leakages to gush out again.

There is a need for systemic changes in the way public procurement is carried out – changes which leave little to no room for rent-seekers to ply their trades. But therein lies the problem: the lack of political will to push through such reforms.

Rightfully, public procurement is an administrative process that should run its course based on clearly laid out guidelines that place transparency and fairness at its core. It should also be imbued with check-and-balance features, with no interference from policy makers.

But in reality, politicians often want their fingers in dishing out lucrative government largesse. And why not? Political ascendency is an expensive business in Malaysia. Political patronage is the surefire way to build one’s political war chest.

Lest we forget, Malaysia became an international laughing stock over the 1MDB scandal which saw a intricate global network of corrupt barons pull off a multi-billion ringgit heist which led all the way to ex-Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak, who has been convicted and sentenced to 12 years jail and a RM240 mil fine.

They were operating in an ecosystem which allowed political masters to pull the strings. For that, we gained the dubious honour of being labelled a “kleptocracy” by the international media.

Now, with the general election just around the corner, the temptation to dip in the cookie jar becomes more alluring, especially given the political flux right now. So, unless we get the benefactors of a flawed procurement process to plug the loopholes, we just have to brace for cartels to continue milking this country in the future. – April 12, 2021


Julian Tan is a FocusM editorial contributor

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Focus Malaysia.

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