Thursday, March 26, 2009

Balkis must answer

Balkis must answer
26 Mar, 2009

(The Malay Mail) - THE Special Select Committee for Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat) in Selangor appears to have blown the cover off what appears, at best, to be a series of deeply embarrassing financial irregularities affecting the highest levels of the Selangor administration.

However, the apparent beneficiary of this largesse — the Wives of Selangor Elected Representatives Charity Organisation (Balkis) — has not yet had a public opportunity to defend itself and we should not therefore deny unchallenged the existence of a perfectly reasonable explanation for its expenditures.

Then again, what conclusions can we draw other than that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong?

Nearly a million ringgit spent on four dinners? RM25,000 on chocolates? RM207,000 for “souvenirs” from China consisting of artificial flowers and 2,700 hats?

We are hard pressed to determine precisely how “charity” involves hosting lavish dinners in expensive hotels and giving away bogus bouquets and hats that surely ought to be easily available from the nearest discount hypermarket in, for example, Shah Alam.

We cannot understand how paying for business class air travel for the former Menteri Besar’s wife to visit her son privately in Melbourne falls, however obliquely, under the category of “compassion” which must surely be Balkis’ goal, or how a new RM3,600 suit for then Permodalan Negeri Selangor Bhd chairman and Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo in any way benefits the people of Selangor.

We are also at a loss to account for how State-owned enterprises such as Kumpulan Darul Ehsan Bhd and PNSB should find themselves compelled to fund such baroque extravagance when the charters of these organisations ought expressly to forbid activities not in the public interest.

And yet there they are: The details, as they have emerged in the Selcat inquiry, stare blankly into our incredulous faces and the fact that these “discrepancies” have gone undetected for so long points to what seems like a cascading failure involving several State organisations and the very principle of public accountability.

Unfortunately, these events add immensely to the erosion of public confidence in government at all levels: If mismanagement can occur here, they can occur anywhere and involve anyone, and public officials of every rank should not therefore be surprised if they continue to find themselves objects of undiluted public opprobrium.

We must not, however, prejudge the matter: If the Selcat inquiry leads eventually to allegations requiring civil or criminal action, then the proper course is to allow Balkis its day in court or at least the right of reply.

The authorities must also investigate the claims uncovered by Selcat in order to determine their truth — for if they are proven to be inaccurate, then we should have cast into unjustifiable doubt the good character of all those involved.

For now, however, we heartily congratulate the Selangor State government for its honesty and bravery, in the pursuit of greater transparency and accountability, by opening and keeping open what may well turn into a political hornets’ nest.

Such inquiries, however painful, are necessary if we are to put the evils of corruption behind us and forge ahead with a clearer and brighter future.

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