The members of the Group of 25 (G25), many of whom are retired senior government servants, are greatly impressed by the new vigour shown by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in stepping up investigations into corruption at the senior levels of the civil service.
The recent arrest of a ministry secretary-general or KSU is a clear indication that the anti-corruption agency is gaining credibility in nabbing senior civil servants whose lifestyles suggest they are on the take.
We are optimistic that the relevant authorities will exercise due diligence in their investigation, followed by proper prosecution. We also urge for the MACC to continue with this close surveillance on the top civil servants and to extend it to politicians and political nominees holding official positions in the government, the government-linked companies (GLCs) and the statutory agencies at federal and state levels.
The recent arrest of the KSU has also raised troubling questions on how he was promoted considering that there were strong suspicions about him in his previous positions, as reported in the media. We urge the Public Services Department (JPA) and the chief secretary to the government (KSN) to explain publicly whether there was omission and negligence in conducting proper vetting when he was being considered for promotion.
There is also a need to explain whether there was any political pressure and interference in his promotion.
There is a procedure in government which requires civil servants to periodically declare their assets and those of their family. We would like to know from the KSN how this asset declaration is implemented and whether there is any follow up on reports that raise suspicion on the integrity of the officers.
A lot of claims have been made in the media by the government that it has established integrity units in several ministries under the government transformation programme (GTP) to modernise public administration and cultivate the principles of transparency and accountability among civil servants.
Eyes and ears on officers
The Integrity Unit was introduced to ensure that each ministry and department conducts its own internal checks on compliance with the financial and administrative procedures on spending its budgetary allocations, particularly on the procurement of supplies and services. In addition, the Unit is expected to serve as the eyes and ears for reporting on the personal conduct of the officers.
The Integrity Unit can easily check from the declaration of assets such as bank balances, number of cars and houses owned and income tax returns to form an opinion on the character of the senior officers.
The idea behind the Integrity Unit is that it is an independent unit not answerable to the KSU so that it is free to file a report with the MACC, the JPA or Finance Ministry if it has reason to believe that there is unethical behaviour in the ministry, or if there are officers not following Treasury instructions on financial management.
The KSN should send an instruction to all the secretaries-general (KSUs) that they should respect the independence of integrity units to file reports on officers for disciplinary action or investigation by the relevant agencies under the law.
In the corporate and financial sectors, the guidelines on good governance practices require that the internal audit and compliance unit within the company or the bank is independent of the CEO and its findings must be reported direct to the audit and risk committees of the board, which will have the final say on whether any disciplinary action should be taken.
It is regrettable that while there has been a major improvement in the standards of governance in the corporate and financial sectors, and a corresponding increase in confidence on the local capital and financial markets, the civil service has lagged behind in adopting the same principles of checks and balance on the powers of government officers and the ministers, creating a trust deficit on the administration of the country.
The reputation of the civil service has taken a hard knock with the unresolved issues surrounding 1MDB. The recent arrests of senior civil servants have created further concerns on honesty and accountability at the top levels of the civil service.
The KSUs are top civil servants who are extremely powerful as they are designated under the Financial General Orders as the controlling officers of the budget in their ministries.
They have to sign the approval to authorise the expenditures and therefore, they are accountable for any mismanagement of the ministry budget. As their personal qualities are essential to uphold the good reputation of the civil service in managing the federal ministries, it is absolutely essential that the KSN look into the procedures of checking on their wealth and private life to ensure that only the most trustworthy are considered for promotion.