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Flawed system behind Teoh’s death

DEATH threats, lawsuits and even face-offs with gangsters are some of the things I deal with in the course of my work as a councillor in the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ). These are occupational hazards that come with the territory.

On 16 July 2009, Teoh Beng Hock, a public servant like I am though serving in a different capacity, died. He met his death soon after being interrogated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) at its Selangor headquarters. Following Teoh’s tragic death, I’m now wondering if I should add a new health hazard to my job: investigation or interrogation by the MACC.

Flawed system

The suspicious circumstances that led to Teoh’s death are, rightly so, being questioned by the public. One important question that needs to be answered is this: what exactly is the procedure for questioning a person?

The reason I ask this question is that, all too often, I myself am stumped by the lack of any proper standard operation procedure (SOP) within the MBPJ. For example, most MBPJ departments have no SOP for preparing a project proposal even though the finance committee has to approve expenses above RM20,000. When councillors ask for things like cost comparison, analysis of expected use for the proposed project, and other pertinent details, the officers cannot answer.

Basically, this lack of SOP means that if the councillors themselves do not actively scrutinise each project every step of the way, opportunities for corruption and power abuse are possible.

MBPJ logoPardon my seemingly unrelated analogy to the topic at hand, but I just wanted to illustrate how ill-defined the government system is. We have laws that stipulate what we must do, but the process of how we should do something is not always clearly defined, leading to many arbitrary or contradictory decisions being made, both in the past and present.

Should the MACC suffer from the same lack of SOPs as the MBPJ, it could mean that they do not have an SOP on how an interrogation should be conducted. This would mean their officers would be left to their own devices when conducting an investigation

Should the MACC actually have an SOP for interrogation, it would not be too much to ask them to make it public, unless the SOP happens to be classified under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), which in Malaysia, could happen.

On a related matter, Kajang municipal councillor Tan Boon Wah‘s description of the interrogation that he went through with the MACC is rather frightening. I can only hope that Tan’s experience isn’t the SOP that the MACC has to conduct interrogations.

Call for change

The calls for a more transparent and accountable system isn’t just aimed at the MACC. After more than a year in power, the Selangor Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government has yet to implement any meaningful changes and is still using the deeply flawed system inherited from the Barisan Nasional.

MACC logoWhich brings us to the role the Selangor PR government played in the terrible mess surrounding Teoh’s death: the state government didn’t change the system fast enough for it to be transparent and accountable.

The MACC investigation was directed at the assemblypersons’ public expenditure fund. Each assemblyperson, irrespective of political affiliation, is allocated RM500,000 a year by the state to spend on their constituents.

The guideline on how the money can be spent, on a maximum monthly or transactional basis, is as follows:

  • Public donation: RM2,500
  • Mesra Rakyat programme: RM20,000 (recently raised from RM10,000)
  • Small development projects: RM20,000
  • Emergency funding (flood/fire victims): RM2,000
  • Miscellaneous monthly administrative expenses: RM20,000

Once the required form is filled up, the district office vets and approves the expenditure. Beyond these categories for which funds can be applied for, however, there are no clearly stated black-and-white guidelines, restrictions or mechanisms to justify the expenditure and ensure that the money is used for its intended purpose.

Had the process for fund application been more clearly defined and made available for public scrutiny, it would have prevented any corruption and served as a check-and-balance mechanism for officers at all levels.

More importantly, a clearly defined system would have prevented public accusations of corruption, and left no opportunity for easy political persecution. Fine-tuning the check-and-balance mechanisms for how public funds can be used by assemblypersons and state executive councillors then seems imperative.

In the long term, it would be as imperative as ensuring the MACC adheres to SOP that do not somehow lead to tragic events such as Teoh’s untimely death.

MBPJ councillor KW Mak believes that pressure groups can only go so far in demanding for change. Change only happens when enough good people get into government to help fix it.

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5 Responses to “Flawed system behind Teoh’s death”

  1. kahseng says:

    Councillor Mak’s proposal on the transparency and guideline for state government spending is good.

    But the only change that will make a difference with MACC is to place MACC directly under parliamentary oversight.

    Nothing else will work. MACC has increased power compared to ACA, but not increased supervision. That is a formula for big-time abuse. Any other procedural change at MACC or new laws will not make any difference.

    The fundamental issue is: MACC needs to be supervised by the parliament.

  2. ex-ROTU says:

    Could any Selangor DUN publish their RM 500,000 expenditure online (as a case of SelCAT)
    Not that detailed, just the expenditures, put a list for the sake of transparency, as being championed by SelCAT. Maybe Teng Cham Kim, as a Chairman of SelCAT can start with his constituency.

    A simple list like

    April 2008 RM XXXXX Projek Longkang
    May 2008 RM XXXXX Bantuan anak yatim

    Start with this first.

  3. Alan Tan says:

    I read with sadness yours and Tan Boon Wah’s experience. Specifically the apparent absence of any established SOPs. However, this may be the only forum where the lay public can be exposed to such glaring lapses in governance.

    WIthout procedures and standards, how can there be compliance. If there is no compliance, anything goes. And it has. Teoh’s family, among others, have paid an exceedingly high price for our oversight.

    I say, we should not sit quietly and let this one pass. It seems to me, before even the last scandal has passed and been solved to public satisfaction, another one surfaces. More horrid and callous in nature.

    This is the legacy of an apartheid government? I quote George Bernard Shaw ——
    “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” And:

    ” A government who robs from Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul …”

    On a cheeky note … from the same author …
    “Why should we take advice on sex from the Pope? If he knows anything about it, he shouldn’t!” Likewise, are we serious about expecting the regulators and the executives and the executioners to know about governance and compliance? This is their standard. These are their values. This is their legacy. Enough.

  4. armstrong says:

    Now Wee Choo Keong and Azmin, are you both happy? That your complaints are heard by MACC and the BN is so efficient in mobilising their MACC troops to investigate PR and end result, a death. I have no problem with transparency but not trouble makers in PR.

    Wee, you should be ashamed of yourself and blog, and your blog is full of BN supporters.
    Wee, if you have evidence and one to be a good citizen, please lodge an official report with police or MACC and hand over details/evidence. I hope the police can charge you if you don’t have any evidence.

    Azmin, if you want to support Wee, don’t support him blindly.

  5. Nicholas Aw says:

    It is a known fact that many government agencies do not have SOPs or they have SOPs which are not adhered to. Unfortunately no action is taken against offenders as they are all part of the BN government. A good example is the late councillor Zakaria Derus and his palatial mansion.

    The opposition states on the other hand, have to deal with selective investigations. As much as the authorities would like to deny it, we know for sure that the authorities practice selective investigations, otherwise how do you account for the eagle-like sweep of cases involving the PR government of Selangor? What about the flamboyant Khir Toyo and his 3.5million mansion? I remember this once respectable MB who was even labeled by the media as ‘Mr Clean’. What the media did not realise was a different meaning of ‘clean’. Actually the ex-MB cleaned out everything.

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