These are cover your eyes awful:
- RM2 billion in dubious security services
- RM3,800 wall clocks
- RM600,000 in unused footwear
- RM550,000 in unverifiable claims
- Lost cars!
- RM8 million in double subsidies
- RM16 million in uncollected performance bonds
Not much can paper over the amount of waste that goes on in government. The only one that I can understand is item 2, which was part of a lowest bid contract awarded by open tender. That’s fairly typical of tenders conducted even in the private sector – contractors hide their profit margins any way they can. But the rest look more like cases of inefficiency, incompetence and outright corruption.
Unfortunately, this is par for the course (I especially like the one about US$3.9 million for rearranging desks and chairs).
Governments are by construction inefficient, since they provide public goods that the private sector will not or cannot provide. Since there is no market discipline (where’s the competition?), there’s no tendency to economic or financial efficiency.
Secondly, based on public choice theory, this behaviour is perfectly rational. Despite what some believe, changing the faces at the top won’t change these essential characteristics (though you might get rid of the more egregious abuses and abusers). That has led many public choice theorists to support smaller governments i.e. since waste will happen whether you like it or not, you should reduce the opportunities for waste.
But in the Malaysian instance, that covers many areas which might not be palatable for many. Free market liberalism is a bad word for some. We are in some ways heading in that direction already (for example, reduction in subsidies), but that requires a social consensus that is still lacking.
I’m somewhat bemused by Malaysian political economy – on the one hand, we demand efficiency and transparency in governance. On the other hand, we demand a scale of government social and economic support that essentially undermines any hope of government efficiency.
I’ve no doubt many civil servants do their job the best they can, with the interests of the public at heart. But I’ve no doubt just as many don’t care, and see public service as just another job. Part of the problem I’m sure is the low scale of wages – we get the level of government we paid for.
I’m reminded of my experience sitting on the Joint Management Body of the condo I stay in. Pretty much the same issue – we demand a certain level of competence, but aren’t prepared to pay for it. The result was a revolving door of property management companies (and service contractors) with less than salutary results, as you might expect.
Are there any solutions? The GTP is one – culling ineffective programs, putting outcomes over budget compliance, for example. Better audit monitoring, as the A-G is moving towards, would surely help. Just bear in mind that none of these change the leopard’s spots. We’re still talking about the same animal here.
Kudos to the National Audit Department for an honest and frank assessment of government finances. You can read the Auditor General’s 2012 Federal Government report here.