COMMENT | Klepto-economists: Class-action ultimate recourse?

The beauty of klepto-economics is that no one acknowledges it applies to them and every action is ‘justified’.

COMMENT | My earlier article on this subject, The cost we pay for our klepto-economics, received almost universal positive reviews from the Malaysiakini community and beyond, including overseas. Generally, there was a gloomy sense of deja-vu, citing the well-entrenched klepto-economics, insidiously 60 over years in the making. This is the issue I will address here; all is not lost.

But before that, let me respond to some often raised comments by readers. I am sharing my thoughts not to influence anyone, but more for self-reflection. But anyone is at liberty to share, translate or target any community, hopefully with due credits.

I have no affiliation with any political party, institutions or individuals. Freedom of association and wants is the basis for freedom of thoughts. I am just a commoner addressing fellow commoners, who are frustrated with the current state of affairs and hoping for a better Malaysia.

Accordingly, I don’t have to be an expert to write on any subject, just relying on common sense, logic and rational thinking without any baggage. I write exclusively for Malaysiakini for the one and only reason they publish my articles as it is.

Readers have been creative with off-shoots of the term I used, like klepto-maniacs and of course, klepto-crats. However, I strictly want to keep to a scientific discourse of my klepto-economics hypothesis, without any name-calling or reference to anyone.

Certainly, the governing class and the powerful will attract our attention given that every decision they make affect our daily lives. Necessarily, I have to rely on a sample of real incidents and cases, and no malice is intended.

The beauty of klepto-economics is that no one acknowledges it applies to them. Every action is justified for the noble cause of country, race and religion. What was best for the country and rakyat when launching an initiative, is still the best when terminated stillborn four years later. Some feign selective amnesia or plead they are victims of klepto-economists themselves.

Klepto-economics is much more destructive than Covid-19. It is invisible, insidious, highly infectious, spreads like wildfire, affects the masses, causes untold damage, but no one admits they are infected or carriers.

Even though it is as old as mankind, it became a pandemic as humans became more developed and supposedly civilized. Technological advancement acts like facilitators and carriers to extend its reach worldwide. I am digressing here.

Class-action

Class-action broadly refers to a group of distressed or oppressed ordinary people acting in concert against the government or the powerful. The public interest issues include the environment, health, other social issues, defective products or services, where law and order are compromised. One should distinguish between people-centred and political actions/rallies; the latter is a tool of klepto-economists.

The most effective recourse is legal class-action suits. But it is inherently the riskiest. Klepto-economists, with their power and wealth, will continue to use their might to compromise the system and threaten the public. They have an ever-willing legal profession who are trained in arguing in equal favour on both sides, but only the well-endowed can afford their services.

The significant hurdle in class-action suits is that any remedy should first be exhausted based on relevant laws and regulations. The applicant should prove this requirement. If against the government, it has to be through ‘judicial review’, a very restrictive system designed to protect the government from frivolous legal suits. Through parliamentary control, the executive has sought to close even that avenue by seeking exemption in the laws they enact.

I will now elaborate very briefly why class-action suits against klepto-economists may qualify within this narrow window of opportunity. I am not a lawyer, and write in common terms and language, expecting not to get involved in legal polemics.

Please note that this is not wishful thinking. More and more we see such class-action suits: Gombak voters against their member of Parliament, potable water disruption, taxi-drivers’ grouses, and violation of pre-election anti-hopping agreements (klepto-economists vs klepto-economists).

Constitutional safeguards compromised?

As explained, klepto-economics is a science where the people entrusted with the wealth of the nation themselves plunder it. Corruption and abuse of power are just symptoms, and the specific laws are no match or remedy to contain it. Klepto-economists will not only shut down any investigations against them but also use the law selectively to persecute the public.

In a democracy, voters are the ultimate authority to elect the government they want. Still, we witnessed how democracy has failed. People elected Pakatan Harapan, political frogs soon crossed sides and brought down Harapan.

We now have Perikatan Nasional as the unelected government but not willing to test its legitimacy. The sanctity of one vote is exploited to the fullest, and the government roughshod the Parliament into voting in their favour. The ruling party will never entertain anti-hopping laws for obvious reasons.

It is clear the executive has compromised the Parliament. The Public Accounts Committee, for example, could have addressed the abuse of klepto-economists, but we know where their recommendations end up. Even the unusually brave and upright Auditor-Generals’ report is dumped. Is it any surprise why clearly documented financial abuse occurs year-in-year-out in government, and yet no effective action is taken?

Having said that, the voters should not lose hope of the voting process. Every vote counts and GE14 shows change can happen. It can happen again if voters are sensible enough to see the devastating effects of klepto-economics and klepto-economists (aka party hoppers) and vote irrespective of party, race and religion. Watch out, Klepto-economists are itching for a general election, to escape conviction and charges and continue their plundering.

Our last refuge is the constitutional monarchy, but whose authority is encumbered by the Constitution. Even when the Yang di-Pertuan Agong exercises due diligence on his ‘discretion’ to appoint the prime minister, or on his ‘satisfaction’ that a grave emergency exists, critics speedily question the extent of his authority.

The hitherto defenders of the royalty have filed a lawsuit challenging the Agong’s decision to deny the proclamation of emergency. The Sultan of Perak had voiced out succinctly on the klepto-economic state of our country when he said: “It is a historic failure of political leadership to have a 3rd Menteri Besar in as many years since GE14, and that a politician’s true character is shaped adversely by position and wealth.”

Financial mismanagement

In any public interest suit, the matter has to be specific, the aggrieved parties clearly identified, damages incurred proven, and a reasonable remedy sought. The legal system rests on law and facts.

The Financial Provisions (Part IV) in the Constitution, and the Financial Procedure Act 1957 (Act 61) provides the enabling legal and factual framework for the financial management of public funds. Even foreign funds or donations for public purposes have to be declared and managed through a trust fund.

When Parliament passes a supply bill, it is bound by the legal and accounting procedures in these laws. Every expenditure has a stated purpose and target group. Not one sen can be unaccounted for or mismanaged. The Treasury issues an allocation warrant to every controlling officer outlining details of the amount approved, for what purpose, the target group, and the proper accounting of these funds.

Therefore the aggrieved parties will be the taxpayers and those who are to benefit from public funds. Any pilferage will damage the interest of the aggrieved parties. The law is clear, and the financial accounting system can easily prove these unlawful misdeeds.

The unlawful financial misdeeds are aplenty as we read the news every day. But it seems nothing can stop the klepto-economists. As a chartered accountant, it pains me to see multinational financial institutions and multinational auditors pawn their professional and personal ethics to these klepto-economists.

Every right-thinking Malaysian should ponder on this option for class-action suits. This is our legal right. Win or lose is immaterial. Hopefully, with such a suit pending, klepto-economists will be more guarded and accountable for their actions.

By : Raman Letchumanan – MALAYSIAKINI

*RAMAN LETCHUMANAN was director, Environment/Conservation, Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (1993-2000), head of Environment/Haze/Disaster Management, Asean Secretariat, Jakarta (2000-2014), and senior fellow at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (2014-2016). He is a subscriber of Malaysiakini. Email: raman.asean@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Stringer

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