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Tuesday April 29, 2008

State assemblymen should be accountable for every sen they get

TWO weeks ago the new Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government disbursed RM500,000 to each of its 36 assemblymen.

This large amount is not a gift from a grateful government; rather it will be used for the benefit of the people and the respective constituencies. Tellingly though, the amount is to be used at the DISCRETION of the assemblymen.

Last month, State Local Government, Study and Research Committee chairman Ronnie Liu raised the issue of the 54 Barisan Nasional assemblymen in the previous state administration who used up a combined allocation of RM27mil for 2008 in just two months.

“We want to know how they could spend a huge sum in such a short time and about the projects and beneficiaries of the funds, including associations,” Liu was reported to have said.

Liu is right. There should have been detailed records as to how the RM500,000 allocation was used. The amount was an annual allocation and the previous Barisan-led state govern-ment should have come up with a transparent disbursement method so that the public would be aware of how the funds were used.

The matter now resides with the state legal advisor who may compel the assemblymen involved to disclose details of the money spent.

One person who kept detailed records of his expenditure was former Subang Jaya assemblyman Datuk Lee Hwa Beng. A visit to his website - http://hwabeng.org.my will show that the two-term representative has listed in detail how his RM375,000 was spent. (The balance is with the Petaling District Office).

“It is illegal to put the money in your own pocket. This (using his website to show details) has been my practice over the last few years,'' he said.

But just how does the disbursement of funds work? The RM500,000 is parked in the district office of the assemblyman. He or she has to apply to the office for allocations. For instance, if an orphanage was in need of RM10,000, the assemblyman is able to apply for the sum and disburse it. The elected representatives are also allowed to use their own money for their constituents and claim it from the fund later.

The money can be used for a wide variety of reasons - non-government organisations, resident associations, guilds and schools - are just some of the beneficiaries, and the funds are also used for infrastructure works, in times of calamity, like floods and fire and also for scholarships.

Subang Jaya assemblyman Hannah Yeoh should also be commended for taking the initiative to put up her funds distribution in her weblog - http://hannahyeoh.blogspot.com. Yeoh says the poor will be her priority.

“In terms of maintenance, the Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) has more than enough funds. I will ensure more prudent spending and that no organisation is given money more than once,'' she said.

How this money is spent will of course be a source of concern to the people, but questions must also be asked about constituencies and NGOs that are dependent on allocations from their elected representatives. It is well within the rights of the present state government to only disburse funds to Pakatan Rakyat assemblymen. But what about the 20 constituen-cies that have Barisan assembly-men?

First time Kuang assemblyman Abdul Shukur Idrus feels that the distribution of RM500,000 is un-fair. “Why should only Pakatan Rakyat assemblymen be given RM500,000? If the money is given to me, I will use it to initiate a poverty eradication programme in Kuang. At the end of the day, the money will benefit the people, not us,'' he said.

The new state government, with Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim at the helm, has so far preached accountability and moderation in all its under-takings, but I believe the time has come for Selangor to walk the talk. In short, each assemblyman must account for every sen of the RM500,000 spent for their constituents.

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