The toothless watchdog syndrome

11 Feb 2019 / 19:35 H.

WHEN I was young, my parents left it to us, the children, to do what we needed to do. This would be in the context of taking care of ourselves, organising our school work and chores we had to do. And of course, to always take note of, and strictly adhere to, the dos and don’ts set out by them.

We had our “SOPs” to adhere to failing which the dreaded thin rotan would be be taken down from the top of the cupboard to mete out punishment.

My parents used to say that we did not need to have a “tandil/mandor” to supervise us or look over our shoulders. As far as they were concerned, we had to supervise ourselves. Brush our teeth, do our homework, clean our white school shoes. Or else.

Life outside the family was no different. We do not need others to look over our shoulders to check whether we are following the rules and procedures, especially in the workplace.

We should have the discipline to follow the prescribed path and not circumvent the route to seek personal gain or benefit, or deceive an organisation.

Clearly in today’s environment, there are concepts and notions that tend to be liberally bandied about when discussing governance and accountability. Words and phrases are uttered by all and sundry, eg transparency, check and balance. SOPs set out how things should be done whether in decision making at any level, day-to-day operations, and most importantly the use and disbursement of monies.

Theoretically the SOPs should serve as strict guidelines with penalties for any violation.

It cannot be denied that organisations whether in the public or private sector do have their own SOP as well as lines and levels of authority.

The problem is do some people care for those SOPs and directives? Do they choose to ignore and find ways to circumvent them? Do they operate in tightly knit “gangs” who scheme to commit fraud and abuse authority? Find loopholes to embezzle and defraud? Outwit the “mandors” who are supposed to monitor, supervise and report. The “mandors” would be the board of directors, accountants, internal and external auditors, and the legal people.

Much of that “mandor” work revolves around fiduciary responsibilities and obligations.

Still, we continue to be confronted by abuses of authority in public sector companies and organisations.

Those in authority regard public funds and assets as their private chattels to covet and use at their whim and fancy almost with abandon.

The question is what were the “mandors” doing? Did not anyone notice a few million missing? Or that acquisitions of goods and services were obscenely overpriced? That those responsible for buying or selling were much too chummy with those with whom deals were negotiated?

Were the “mandors” not aware or were they simply turning a blind eye; not one but both eyes? What and how were they “auditing“ the accounts?

What were the boards doing? Were they just warming their seats or was it the case where some board members themselves were benefiting through giving their own companies contracts that were being awarded for the supply of goods and services (or through companies in the name of cronies)?

Or practising the culture of “scratching each other’s backs” to fraudulently benefit together in a hush hush manner?

It is often alluded to that in our (eastern) culture people either fear to comment, raise the alarm and report, or are too polite to ruffle feathers lest the vultures strike back.

I always say that undue and misplaced “politeness” can kill.

We talk of whistleblowers to stem the abuse of authority. But who wants to blow the whistle when your rice bowl might be in jeopardy. Which mouse wants to bell the cat and get mauled?

Often authority gives some people a semblance of “impunity” against law and order.

Also straight talking is often seen as “jarring”, and the person concerned is labelled as “blunt”, “frank”, “bold” and “laser tongue” implying that being open and frank is not the norm. Some are merely part of the flock of sheep nodding their heads reciting “yes, sir, yes, sir” in a disgusting chorus.

We can no longer tolerate such distortion in our society.

People must adhere to all rules. Penalties must come swiftly as a deterrent. No one cares what a person does with his or her own or the grandfather’s money.

But we the rakyat care when it is public money and held in public trust.

It is expected that the many layers and groups of “mandors” appointed to supervise and monitor public sector agencies and organisations must be vigilant and responsible to ensure public monies are used for the good of people and nation.

And they must have strong enough teeth to ensure that those out of line are penalised. They must crack the whip. SOPs and rules must be reviewed to make them tighter and crystal clear with no room for circumvention and ambiguity.

Of course everyone must “mandor” himself or herself first.

Only then can we begin to be free from the scourge of corruption in its many forms. And that corruption will only be occasional but abhorred.

Sejahtera Malaysia kita.

Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz believes in speaking from the heart, mincing no words. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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