By Raman Letchumanan

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at a press conference after his first Cabinet meeting on 5th December, announced that he has ordered the authorities to investigate claims that “RM600 billion of government funds have been misappropriated by the previous government”. 

He further added the finance ministry has informed him there had been several breaches involving the funds.

In fact this claim surfaced during the GE15 campaign trail when a Pakatan Harapan leader made such an allegation against the Perikatan Nasional opponent. Since then this claim has taken a life of its own with Harapan supporters and media splashing this news all over. 
However, I have not read details about what was the source of these funds, and how much was actually squandered, giving the impression that all of the RM600 billion was involved.

Mind you, RM600 billion was about the government budget for the years 2020 and 2021 combined. This budget could not have been squandered in totality, otherwise civil servants would not have been paid, and the government would have declared bankruptcy.

Even Perikatan Nasional chairman Muhyiddin Yassin against whom fingers were pointing to as the prime minister in 2020/21 said he  was unsure where the figure of RM600 billion had come from, suggesting it could be a reference to the economic stimulus packages worth RM530 billion he had implemented at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So there you have it. The government has launched an investigation into a RM600 billion scandal, and the person suspected of it has questioned the source and amount actually misappropriated.

Malaysia’s sovereign investment fund 1MDB has earned infamy as the world's largest kleptocratic scam. But that was only RM40 billion. Now there is a possibility of a RM600 billion scam. 
I am surprised the government did not attempt to put a finger on this matter and let it fester and hog the headlines. It could be misinformation, to put it mildly. What would investors and businessmen think, at a time when all efforts are geared to restore and grow our battered economy?

Before all this hoo haa came to the fore in the last few weeks, I wrote this opinion piece on 15 July 2021, one and a half years back, with the caption “The 88 billion ringgit question: Where has it gone?”. 
The article was intended to question how effectively the Covid-19 stimulus packages were spent, which the current government, then the opposition, is all gung-ho about now. 
Let me quote from the said article how the RM88 billion came about and why it was the subject of my analysis then.

“I want to discuss the pandemic stimulus packages valued at RM530 billion announced by the government thus far, which includes direct fiscal injection of RM88 billion. Before that, let me make sense of the confusing technical terms used. 
The government says the stimulus relief package consists of two components; direct fiscal injection, and others variously referred to as stimulus, relief and/or benefit. I will deal with the former here, which I would call “direct cash aid”, because it is essentially the taxpayers’ money that the government hands out.”

Yes, I have separated out then, the taxpayers' funds which the government has control over, and others such as EPF withdrawals, loan moratorium benefits by banks, credit guarantees that are handled directly between the institutions and their clients/beneficiaries. 
I believe with the last 8th stimulus package, Pemerkasa accounted for, the total package will be valued at about RM600 billion, with government funds of about RM100 billion and non-government funds of RM500 billion.

I am not suggesting this to be the case, as only the government can confirm this. But as a professional chartered accountant, I am loath to write on something which I myself cannot figure out.

Let’s look at the implication of lumping RM600 billion as being misappropriated. The impression given is that private independent institutions like EPF, banks and other lending institutions have been involved or complicit in the misappropriation of their own funds, with the government. Market confidence down the drain?

Accounting and financial standards does not allow the government to spend other people’s money. Unless those funds are channeled through the government. This was how the 1MDB scandal occurred. 
The government borrowed RM4 billion from the government pension fund Kumpulan Wang Amanah Pencen for the finance ministry incorporated 1MDB and made dubious investments, or most likely was pilfered. 
Now taxpayers have to pay RM2 billion annually just to service the loans. If only KWAP had invested directly in reputable enterprise and business, we taxpayers would not be burdened with 1MDB debts, and most likely pensioners would have enjoyed multiple returns.
 It therefore begs the question, but quoting this RM600 billion, is there something brewing in these private funds and institutions that we don’t know about. It would be best if the government comes clean on this matter.

Having said that, I admire Anwar’s bold decisions made at the first Cabinet meeting. In particular to investigate the Digital Nasional Berhad 5G roll-out, which I wrote about a year ago on 14 November 2021. I believe there was a blanket ban then on any adverse report on 5G as established media refused to publish my article.

In any case, Anwar will face revolt within his unity coalition cabinet as not only the then prime minister but also his ministers, especially the finance minister, was deeply involved in these matters. But if Anwar keeps to his promise of a clean government, and strictly follows the constitution, rule of law, and oath of office, the rakyat will be fully behind him.

*Raman Letchumanan is a former senior fellow at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, a former director at the Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, and a former head of environment/disaster management at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta.*