I ATTENDED a seminar on political funding in Malaysia on March 21 organised by Transparency International Malaysia and the Netherlands Embassy – and it was an eye opener.
Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed, the director-general of the Governance Integrity and Anti-Corruption Centre (GIACC), said that the Special Cabinet Committee on Anti-Corruption chaired by the Prime Minister, at its meeting in July last year, tasked the GIACC with drawing up legislation on political funding to curb corruption. A working draft has been prepared.
This new legislation on regulating “money politics” is long overdue.
Currently, there is no legislation on political funding. Political parties are free to do whatever they deem necessary to raise funds to defray the cost of contesting in elections. According to Prof Terence Gomez of Universiti Malaya, money politics in Umno started way back in the 1980s and continued unabated until the present period.
But while monetised elections were particularly serious within Umno, in 2013 it became clear that what had been a party issue had also become a problem during federal and state elections. Money politics within Umno had seeped into national elections.
Even though monetised elections have been a serious problem for nearly four decades, party leaders are still not bound by any rules or restrictions on raising funds to ensure they are re-elected or elected. Donations are welcome and, interestingly enough, there are no restrictions on the amount, even if they are sourced from abroad. It does not matter if the money raised went into the party’s account or into a politician’s personal bank account.
Since there are no rules in place on such issues, this has contributed to serious wrongdoings, such as vote buying.
Even after the epochal 2018 General Election, when change was expected, Gomez is of the view that the issue of money politics remained a contentious issue.
The panellists also lamented the lack of information about the role of government-linked companies (GLCs) in elections. Gomez said that the government has not revealed even basic information, such as the total number of GLCs at the national and state levels. Nobody seems to know what is going on in the world of GLCs because it is so opaque, an issue that allows for abuse.
The 64 million ringgit question is “To what extent have the GLCs been a source of funding for political parties?”
Gomez laments that, in spite of the scandal involving 1MDB, a GLC, nothing is being done to ensure that such enterprises will not be abused to finance future elections.
According to Azhar Azizan Harun, chairman of the Election Commission, since GLCs belong to the people, the income earned by them is the rakyat’s money. Should the government decide that it is OK for GLCs to give money to political parties, then ALL political parties should get a fair share based on an agreed formula.
The Election Offences Act (1954) regulates the maximum expenses allowed for candidates vying for Parliamentary seats and for state seats during the campaign period. Azhar said that the current spending limit of RM200,000 for a Parliamentary seat and RM100,000 for a state seat is indeed not realistic. In reality, a far larger volumes of money is probably being spent in each constituency.
A number of pertinent issues need to be considered when preparing the new proposed legislation:
> Should GLCs be allowed to fund political parties? If the answer is yes, how should the amount be determined for each party?
> Is it comprehensive enough to cover internal party elections?
> Should political parties continue to engage in business? If so, guidelines need to be clearly spelled out;
> Should foreign funding be allowed; if so on what terms?;
> Have the best practices of other countries, such as the Netherlands, Norway and Germany, on how to manage political funding been considered?
If and when the new political funding legislation comes into force, Malaysians will expect it to fundamentally re-shape how political parties are funded and elections are run, both internally and during federal and state elections.
This legislation should certainly change the political funding landscape to the point where it also helps to control the extent of corruption emerging from the abuse of money during electoral contests.
Whatever funds raised by political parties should be legitimate and how they are obtained should be made transparent.
Taman Tun Dr Ismail,