Auditor-General Ambrin Buang advises the government to send a strong message to public servants about its seriousness in punishing those who flout laws and guidelines.
Auditor-General Ambrin Buang said that the PSD should regularly monitor the disciplinary committees of each government department so that punishments being meted out are adequate.
“… so that a strong message is sent to public servants that for serious cases of negligence the offenders will be severely dealt with and they will not get away with just an inconsequential verbal warning,”
Ambrin was speaking to FMT via a recent e-mail interview, where he responded to various issues, including the most recent, the 2011 Auditor-General’s Report, tabled in Parliament in mid-October.
On criticisms that his department was “toothless” in resolving the irregularities that have been highlighted annually, Ambrin said that while it has no powers to impose punishment, other agencies should take up those responsibilities.
“It is true that the department has no power to impose punishment. Punishment for criminal offences like fraud and corruption lies with the courts if the public prosecutor is successful in prosecuting offenders based on investigation by authorities like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission [MACC] or the police.”
Ambrin added that for non-criminal cases, the Treasury can impose surcharges or the various disciplinary boards of ministries and agencies can mete appropriate punishment under existing disciplinary procedures.
Asked about his position on open tenders, Ambrin stressed that open tenders, where suitable, should be preferred over direct purchase or direct negotiation.
However, the size of purchase or project needs to be considered when determining the type of tender process.
“For small amounts it is practical to use direct purchase or through price quotations as currently the practice; otherwise it becomes time-consuming. But it must be done with a high level of integrity and diligence so that the government will get the best deal in terms of price and quality,” he said.
Ambrin also reiterated that he wanted the government to re-examine the existing process to “plug possible loopholes” in terms of procurement processes.
“The government should re-examine the existing process to plug the possible loopholes and to strengthen internal controls, for example by ensuring internal audit to monitor the departmental procurement process more closely,” he said.
Previously, Ambrin suggested the government rethink its procurement system which no longer goes through the Accountant-General’s Office. Now it only relies on internal controls within ministries to ensure proper spending of public funds.
Ambrin had said that internal checks would not be able to stop those who wanted to “cheat”.
“Last time, you used to receive queries from the Accountant-General if something was not proper. I think that’s one of the weaknesses of the [new] system, especially if people don’t have integrity. So maybe the government should look at this. But, under the new system that has been in place for the past few years, the document is sent to just the ministry or department,” the New Sunday Times had quoted him as saying.
Ambrin also gave his take of the country’s performance since he began serving as the Auditor-General in 2006.
He said his department has noted two areas where both the federal government and state governments “have shown encouraging improvement”.
Opinions based facts
“Firstly is the reduction in the number of agencies given a qualified audit certificate. This means that more and more agencies are able to prepare their accounts according to government accounting principles.”
“Secondly is the increasing number of departments/agencies given excellent rating in their Accountability Index. For example, 111 departments/agencies were rated excellent in 2011 compared with 10 in 2007. This means that the degree of compliance with government financial regulations has improved significantly.”
However, Ambrin said that audit findings would normally find weaknesses by public servants discharging their responsibilities.
“Most of these weaknesses could be avoided if they are not only aware of government guidelines and procedures but actually comply with those guidelines and procedures. Our hope is that our audit findings can serve as lessons learned so that these weaknesses will not be repeated.”
“This can happen if public servants are conscious of the need to do their work with integrity and mindful that they will be audited.”
He rubbished suggestions that the Auditor-General’s Report was “toned down” or “edited”, saying: “As always, we endeavour to do our work as an independent and professional organisation without any interference by anybody and certainly not influenced by political events, like elections. We based our opinions strictly on facts and not on emotions, and as objective as possible.”
He also explained about the supposed “delay” in the report being tabled.
“Yes I have signed the report much earlier but after that there is the process of obtaining the consent from the King and to inform the Cabinet, together with the report from the Treasury regarding the feedback from the various ministries and agencies on our findings.
“After that we need time to print the report to be forwarded to Parliament and the state legislatures. We tabled our report together with the Treasury’s report. Our report was tabled about two weeks after the budget speech for the past three years because the government wanted sufficient time for MPs to debate the budget.”