Blow to whistle-blowers R. Nadeswaran
FROM Day One, it had been explicitly stated and repeated several times that this columnist will not touch on race, religion or politics. Last week, I sat back, thought about it, and discussed with colleagues and friends whether I should make the exception. Over the weekend, there was some soul-searching to do over three issues – education, misuse of public funds and corruption. The course of events over the past two weeks has been disturbing indeed. And they related to politics and race. I was advised that I would be “acting against national interests” if I questioned the education policy. But I support the affirmative policies to help down-trodden fellow-citizens and have always maintained that I do not have an agenda. If I had chosen to keep my vows and remain silent as if they did not exist, the conscience would say that silence is acceptance of the wrongdoing. So, in all honesty, I have decided to seek your indulgence to touch on issues that need to be addressed in a manner befitting their importance. Last week, commenting on the PKFZ fiasco, I wrote: “Never in the history of this country has there been so much vigour in the demand from the public to get to the bottom of a scandal-ridden project. The country has never seen the enthusiasm and openness of a minister who is bent on seeing justice to a problem which he inherited. Never has a minister committed himself to seeing the cornerstones of good governance – transparency and accountability – being practised.” Just when you thought the minister’s courage will set a precedent for not only his cabinet colleagues but also civil servants to follow suit when someone drops a clanger and attempts to destroy one form of the “whistle-blowing” concept. All kinds of accusations are levelled against him in the name of politics and political donations and even appointments of key personnel are questioned. But those making the accusations are the same people against whom the special task force alleged had short-changed the government of between RM500 million and RM1 billion. While right-thinking people will take such claims of parting with RM10 million with a generous helping of salt, it has put a premature end to attempts to create a new culture of “whistle-blowing” within the higher echelons of our government. It has certainly put a dent on efforts to give civil servants confidence that they should stand up to politicians who sometimes stray from the standard procedures. It also destroys the present government’s policy of being open and transparent in all its dealings. Why should anyone stand up and expose wrongdoings when false and unsubstantiated accusations are made against him or her? Will the system protect such people or just sit and watch as one accusation after another is made? Faisal Abdullah (Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd deputy CEO) goes to great lengths to question the legality of the appointment of the Port Klang Authority chairman, but he should be looking at his backyard first. Wasn’t he the Klang municipal councillor who built his bungalow in Kampung Raja Uda in Port Klang without getting the necessary approvals? Wasn’t he one of the 24 councillors who turned a blind eye when Istana Zakaria was being built? Wasn’t he one of the councillors whose terms were not extended? The minister had been consistent from the very start when he took office. He made repeated assurances that the PKFZ scandal would be investigated and that the audit reports would be made public. Even then, there was no talk of RM10 million or free plane rides. The question to ask is: Why now, especially immediately after the reports of over-billings and high costs. This column has been consistent on corruption and wrong-doers. There will be no sympathy for either. But the key point is that “whistle blowers” are being systematically targeted. Talking about whistle-blowers”, one cannot put in words the courage of the supposed officials of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) against one of their bosses. What they wrote will remain mere allegations until they are proven, but from my experience, there appears to be some semblance of issues worth investigating. It is unfortunate that I cannot make public what is within my knowledge lest I am accused of being judge, jury and executioner. However, for the sake of justice and the truth, I am willing to talk to any competent enforcement authority. Not one which wants to know where my information came from but to one who wants to get to the bottom of it all.
Now, to the issue of education. I have read and scrutinised the answer scripts of at least 20 wannabe lawyers which was the subject of this column last Wednesday. I described them in some detail. At least 18 of them will fail the simple test we have for those wanting to become a journalist. I wouldn’t even employ them as our office boy! Malaysians have a right to be worried. Are these the qualities of future magistrates who are going to sit and decide on our fate? Are these the people you turn to for justice and fair play? It is a frightening scenario indeed. Everyone I talked to washed his hands by saying: “This involves the national education policy. No one can do anything.” But this policy, although giving priority to sections of the community, does not encourage the setting up of “sure-to-pass” universities. Neither does it specifically state that incompetent students must be made to pass by altering marks or lowering standards. Are our educationists interpreting this policy wrongly? I don’t know and answers must be forthcoming.
Last Monday, I wrote about the Mathematics preparatory examination paper for Standard Six pupils and the amount of grammar mistakes in it. I did get a response – a call from the Selangor Education Department. All the caller wanted to know was where I got the examination paper. “Yang hantar itu guru atau ibubapa?” (Who sent it to you, a teacher or a parent?) she asked. I had to explain to her that it arrived in a brown envelope, sent anonymously. Is there going to be an official response? “Itu Pengarah akan jawab. Saya hanya ditugaskan untuk mengenal pasti macam mana kertas soalan boleh dapat diedarkan.” (It is for the director to reply. I have been tasked to establish how the examination paper was circulated.” Thirty-three mistakes were identified in 40 questions and all the authorities are worried about is finding out how it ended up in the hands of this writer! Someone should explain how the mistakes came about; someone should trace the teachers responsible for the mistakes and the supervisor who is responsible for the lapse. All they are interested in is nabbing the whistle-blower! At a time when our leaders are going on lawatan sambil belajar to make Malaysia the regional education hub, we have subordinate officers making our standards a laughing stock. How many officers do you need to investigate the source of the mistakes? A dozen – 11 to find the source of the leak and one to sign the disciplinary note against the whistle-blower. So much for an integrated learning system! R. Nadeswaran is editor (special and investigative reporting) at theSun. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.