Combating corruption at council level

Combating corruption at council level
Transparent and fast: Speeding up various services at state and council administration levels can help prevent bribery.
PHOTO: Photo: The Star/ANN

To combat corruption, avoid cronies from getting a tender project and address disciplinary issues among staff at the local council level, the Selangor state government has sent a directive to all councils to set up an integrity unit.

The focus of the unit would be on the management of the council, integrity consolidation, detection and confirmation or malpractice, complaint management, compliance and disciplinary.

Not much details are currently available on the structural organisation of the unit but all councils have said they would soon form it.

During a Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) full board meeting, the mayor Mohd Azizi Mohd Zain said the council was setting up the Risk Management Unit under the Department of Service Management.

"This department will identify corruption risks or foresee malpractices. Subsequently the department will create a corruption risk management plan to improve weaknesses," said Mohd Azizi.

He added that the integrity aspect involved people from all walks of life including civil servants and councillors.

Among the issues mostly related to integrity were corrupt practices, wrongful use of power and misappropriation, he said.

Factors related to corruption, he said, were often linked to weaknesses within the internal system, adding that this happened during slow issuance of tender due to bureaucracy while customers want urgent service.

Due to desperate needs customers would result in offering bribe.

Weaknesses in power bestowed on a person to make important decision was another factor leading to decisions made to benefit self-interest, he added.

Mohd Aziz said a reward system based on fairness must be implemented for council staff with integrity, hardworking and responsible in executing their duties.

"The good ones should be rewarded with promotions or offered chances to attend courses overseas. This will prevent corrupt practices and abuse of power," he said.

Late last month, the MBPJ legal director was sacked after a two-year probe found he acted improperly when awarding billboard contracts to a media company.

It was reported that investigations began when councillors lodged reports with the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in 2013 after discovering that contempt proceedings had been initiated against the then Petaling Jaya mayor and deputy mayor by an outdoor media company on Nov 12, 2013.

In the reports, the director gave 13 billboard sites to the operator in 2013 on terms that were prejudicial to the interests of the city council without the knowledge or consent of the council.

An audit was started in December 2013 before the final report was unveiled last October.

The audit's executive summary said the legal department had misrepresented the status of a February 2013 Shah Alam High Court order in the media company's favour.

What stakeholders say

Former Petaling Jaya councillor and local government law expert Derek Fernandez said the creation of an integrity unit would be a waste of time unless the unit head was someone with high integrity.

"People who head the unit must have integrity and the power and support of the exco to take action against wrongdoers without fear or favour," he said.

He added that MBPJ was the first to set up such a unit known a JATU (Jawatankuasa Tadbir Urus). The unit structure was that it was independent of management with wide powers to investigate and compel attendance of staff.

The unit relied on the council's audit department to help investigations and tabled its report to the full board.

"This unit had a measured degree of success in combating corrupt practices and abuse of power and saved MBPJ millions that would otherwise be lost, " he said.

It originally comprised skilled councillors with considerable experiences in accounting, law and related disciplines.

As time went on, the unit's efforts were hampered by lack of will by the government to take appropriate action against wrongdoers and lack of commitment by the anti-corruption unit or the police to want to treat these matters seriously, said Fernandez.

"Any integrity unit is only as good as the people who sit there, who must be qualified to detect complex and sophisticated fraud and able to read volumes of documents with an understanding of commercial practices.

"They need to be able to detect one-sided agreements deliberately drafted to facilitate corruption or detect the sophisticated method of using the judiciary to validate corrupt agreements.

"Sadly such people are in short supply. Councils need more independent professionals, qualified non-governmental organisation representatives and honest capable individuals to serve as councillors," he said, adding that the selection of councillors were mostly given to those with party ties.

Fernandez cited the case of the Petaling Jaya Local Plans (RTPJ) land status draft amendments.

Despite a Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency's (Selcat) finding of wrongdoing, he claimed no action was taken against anyone.

"It is better to talk less and do more, for in the end these integrity units will end up on souvenir mugs, posters and seminar halls of little value other than to repeat the sound of the broken record that integrity is important and how we need to educate everyone," said Fernandez.

Former Kampung Tunku assemblyman Datuk Dr Wong Sai Hou said for a start the state could fine-tune good practices at all the council tender committee level.

Dr Wong, a former MBPJ councillor and MCA veteran, said the government should do away with the practice of awarding contracts to the lowest bidder.

"The good performance or the track record of a contractor should be the key reason to award a contract, instead of giving it to the one who bids the lowest.

"The performance of a contractor must be evaluated. This will also give the council a chance to know if the work is done properly," he said.

Dr Wong also want the councils to review the night market lot allocation which may be bias.

He urged the council officers to go to the ground and conduct inspections.

"Do some leg work and check if these night market or morning market traders are outsourcing their licence to a foreigner," said Dr Wong.

Petaling Jaya councillor Cynthia Gabriel said the new directive from the state government has been something many parties especially the non-governmental sectors had wanted.

Gabriel, who is from the Centre to Combat Corruption & Cronyism, said while it was commendable to have such a unit it has to be independent in order to function well.

"These units are like mini MACC. It will add another layer of protection from ill practices. However it should have outsiders such as those with expertise to ensure the unit functions without any favouritism.

If there is a problem with a councillor this unit must be able to act," she said.

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