Citizen Nades (the Sun on Monday, August 4, 2014) should be commended for once again raising the critical issue of middlemen in the Malaysian procurement system. This is undoubtedly one of the major impediments in the quest for integrity and honesty in the life of our nation.

Employing middlemen or agents — sometimes euphemistically known as “facilitators” — in government procurements has become a culture of sorts. Instead of purchasing a product directly from the manufacturer or principal distributor, government ministries or departments tend to go through an agent, thus adding an unnecessary layer to the transaction. It creates an unproductive, even a parasitic, element in the economy. It increases costs. There are occasions when these costs are passed on to the consumer, adding on to her burden. It is a culture which negates the growth of genuine entrepreneurship.

The public should express its aversion towards this type of procurement. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and other agencies tasked with combating corruption should take a clear stand against it. The media which runs advertisements against giving and receiving bribes should also campaign against the role of middlemen in the procurement system.

Eliminating middlemen from the procurement system is one of five issues that concerns some of us who have been involved directly or indirectly in the quest for integrity in our society. We have also suggested that the principle of open tenders — much better now than it was 20 years ago — should be given even more emphasis. There should also be a law prohibiting the immediate relatives of Cabinet Ministers and their Deputies and Mentri Besars, Chief Ministers and their Executive Councilors from bidding for state initiated projects and contracts while their kin are still in office. The MACC has also advocated this for some time now. Electoral financing should be much more transparent than what it has hitherto been. One should even explore the possibility of a publicly administered common fund for financing general and by-elections, an idea which was mooted in the 2012 Parliamentary Select Committee’s Electoral Reform Report. All legislators at Federal and State level should also — as has been proposed since the late seventies — declare their assets and liabilities and those of their immediate family to the public. This can be done through the MACC which will also be responsible for updating the information on an annual basis.

It is a pity that the powers-that-be have been somewhat lukewarm to these proposals. They should realize that if these measures are adopted and implemented earnestly, public trust in them would increase significantly. Procurement minus middlemen, for instance, would help to curb scurrilous allegations about the involvement of leaders in shady deals.
Most of all, prioritizing measures aimed at enhancing integrity — a moral principle upheld by all communities in the country — will enhance the ethical texture of Malaysian society.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).

Petaling Jaya.

5 August 2014.