Down2Earth - A taxing time

YES, it's that time of year again people, when you start rummaging through your receipts, making that awkward call to the human resources manager of your last job, which you had quit, to request for your EA Form and where siblings wrestle each other for the receipts of their parents' medical bills for much needed relief.

It is also the time when you pat yourself on the back for the brilliant decision to get books as Christmas presents. The bookstore receipts are your ticket to a return on investment.

All jokes aside, it is also the time that most people curse either loudly or under their breath as they realise how much of what they make is going back to the government.

Yes, nothing is more certain than death and taxes.

While many responsible Malaysians pay their dues, acknowledging the oft-spewed mantra that it is necessary for the nation's development, what is also certain is that those of us who do pay our taxes, do so under protest – especially when the mismanagement of our money and the abuse of the public trust make it to the front pages regularly.

As we are reminded of the April 30 deadline by the Inland Revenue Board, the blatant disregard of proper financial practices, also stares us in the face.

After six years, we are only now finding out about the embezzlement of RM100 million in the Youth and Sports Ministry.

As we are coming to grips with this, the government had on March 22 tabled a supplementary supply bill to add a further RM3.3 billion to last year's federal budget. In essence, the government has overspent almost RM6 billion and is asking the people for more money.

The people do understand that an austerity drive is necessary in light of falling global oil prices. But what they will not stomach is the leakages that keep making it into the record books – the Auditor-General's Report. And that year in and year out, no one seems to pay the price for requesting for and approving inflated costs as well as items and services which are questionable.

These range from screwdrivers, laptops for areas that do not even have electricity much less Wi-Fi and contracts given to inexperienced dam builders and fly-by-night RM2 companies, which in one's personal observation have made themselves at home in the corridors of ministries and government agencies.

No, the people have the right to feel they are being ripped off and held to ransom when they are required to fulfil their legal obligations, while others leech off taxpayers' blood, sweat and tears through corrupt or clueless officials.

The number of those who were made to account does not seem to correspond to the instances of mismanagement in the annual report.

Even the latest RM100 million debacle has only seen the suspect transferred to another ministry – not even a suspension with pay that is provided for under the General Orders.

Perhaps the blatant disregard for procedures and the sheer contempt for decency that they are dealing with people's hard-earned money stems from these officers witnessing the embezzlement at higher levels. No one is accusing any ministry or individual but it is not illogical that this is not just a case of the fox guarding the chicken coop but the watchdog having first bite of the fattest fowl.

It is laughable that some of those expressing disgust and calling for action were themselves subject to scrutiny and criticism for the shenanigans committed under their watch.

In the meantime, while the impression of an investigation is being offered, the rest of us continue to get the mickey taken out of us as we struggle through heavy traffic to work, pay increased toll, and then make way for the escorted rides of those who make the unpopular and questionable decisions that affect all of us.

Yes, it is a taxing time indeed for Malaysians but what is more difficult to stomach is the way public funds are handled and the continued impotence of those charged with keeping the crooks at bay.

Terence is usually grumpy around tax month. Feedback: letters@thesundaily.com