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Crying foul over findings


IT IS that time of the year again for public outrage over the Auditor-General’s (AG) Report.

While many Malaysians cry “corruption” over the 2012 report’s findings, this may be too grand a word to describe a more disconcerting pattern; one of negligence, apathy, and sometimes, a lack of common sense.

An example is Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s (UMS) handling of its Computerised Maintenance Management System, a computer database meant to help manage maintenance work and reporting of contractors’ workmanship.

After spending a total of RM400,000 on the system between 2008 and 2012, the audit found that data on the system was either not keyed in or updated because “the officer in charge had no IT knowledge”.

UMS has since assured that a qualified officer has been put in charge earlier this year. These sort of oversights may not look like much on their own, but could add to millions of ringgit down the drain.

Murky issue

Aside from the issue of errant security firms supplying substandard guards to schools, the AG’s report also focused on the 1Malaysia Milk Programme (PS1M).

The original budget allocated for the programme was RM188.33mil to supply milk for all 3.1 million primary school pupils across the country.

However, this amount was later revised to RM170.93mil, where only those from rural areas and the urban poor will receive two boxes of milk every week.

Through direct negotiations, four contractors were appointed for the project — Hybrid Allied Sdn Bhd, Dutch Lady Milk Industries Berhad, Konsuma Sdn Bhd and Sabah International Dairies Sdn Bhd.

According to the AG’s report, less than 40% of the allocation had been spent as of 2012, and only around 21.9% of milk had been distributed.

One reason why the programme was disrupted is the number of suspected milk poisoning cases; 97 in 2011 and 78 in 2012.

The programme was temporarily suspended in May 2007, after a spate of food poisoning cases linked to the milk supplied was reported.

When the programme was reinstated just a few months later, more pupils were rushed to the hospital over reportedly contaminated milk. This subsequently led to an indefinite ban of the programme.

There were even a few cases of food poisoning after the ban, as some teachers seemed unaware that the programme had been suspended. The PS1M was then announced in 2010, and was carried out in schools from 2011 onwards.

The issues highlighted in the AG’s Report however indicate that similar problems were still apparent, from the lack of representatives (from the vendors) when delivering the milk to improper milk storage by schools.

To its credit, the Education Ministry has established stringent guidelines and contracts with vendors from the way the programme has been carried out this year.

State of despair

In the five public universties and six community colleges audited, there appears to be disregard for basic procedure and record-keeping — one university even signed contracts for additional building projects without any date stamps.

At Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM) in Johor, the cost of three building projects ballooned by 8.9% to RM85.44mil from the original RM78.48mil offered. All the projects also faced severe delays in terms of completion.

The report questioned in particular the appointment of the contractor for the building of UTHM’s mosque and Islamic Centre, saying that the contractor was supposedly chosen for offering a reasonable price, having enough workers and the relevant expertise.

However, in the university’s own report on the project’s almost two- year delay, it was found that the contractor could not manage the site efficiently and lacked experienced workers.

What is more shocking to learn is how allocations for the setting up of universities do not seem to take into account the need for basic student necessities such as hostels and libraries.

Universiti Malaysia Perlis (Unimap) was meant to have nine academic blocks, two administrative buildings and 14 support buildings.

Despite a total of RM438.64mil allocated for setting up Unimap under the eighth, ninth and 10th Malaysia Plans, only 25% of these campus plans have come to fruition, which the university said is due to budget constraints.

Although Unimap started operations in 2002, the AG’s Report notes that the institution has yet to have student hostels of its own; from 2002 to 2012, Unimap has spent RM138.4mil on hostel and bus rentals for its students.

Student accommodation seems to be an issue at Universiti Malaysia Kelantan (UMK) as well; while its hostels can only accommodate 800 students, UMK currently has 1,379 students in residence.

One rather comical picture included in the report illustrated just how cramped some of the dorms are — a man squeezing himself in between the slight gap between two cupboards in the room.

The other pictures of UMK’s campuses in Bachok and Jeli are more worrying as entire spaces are either unusable or just plain dangerous with the lack of fire barriers, water leaks in switch rooms, and at least three roof collapses between 2011 to 2012.

Due to budget constraints, UMK also does not have a purpose-built library in either of its campuses.

Instead, what serves as a library in Bachok is a lecture hall, while a sidewalk area in Jeli has been converted into a library — these can only accommodate 45 and 50 students respectively at any one time.

Among the 11 “shifts” for transformation outlined in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 is the need for “maximising every ringgit” and greater transparency of the ministry itself.

Only the next report will tell whether these aims will finally be realised, or if there will be yet another predictable uproar.

   

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