Three years on, agency no closer to unraveling secrets of political funds

The NKRA against Corruption has faced similar problems in getting politicians to declare their assets as part of efforts to promote political transparency. – Reuters pic
The NKRA against Corruption has faced similar problems in getting politicians to declare their assets as part of efforts to promote political transparency. – Reuters pic

PUTRAJAYA, Dec 11 — Politicians continue to resist attempts to throw light on the source of their finances, despite efforts by the National Key Result Areas (NKRA) against Corruption to promote transparency in the shadowy arena of political funding.

Three years since the initiative was launched under the first round of the Government Transformation Plan or GTP 1 in 2010, the agency in charge has conceded that it has made little headway in its efforts.

“I don’t really know what to say... we’ve been tracking this issue since 2010 when it was first launched under GTP 1, and now we are already in GTP 2,” said Shuhairoz Mohamed Shukeri, the NKRA against Corruption’s enforcement and regulatory sector chief, when met yesterday.

“We might think it’s a straightforward matter, but maybe some of the MPs are looking at the setbacks of such a move.”

Shuhairoz suggested that some of the reticence may stem from the suspicion that usually accompanied revelations of funding received from abroad.

Such criticisms have largely been directed at opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties and related organisations, and used by rivals to allege of plots by foreign powers to depose the Barisan Nasional government.

“But this (initiative) needs to be supported by both sides (of the political divide)... this has to be implemented by both sides,” Shuhairoz added at the Malaysia’s War on Corruption via Technology Forum 2013 here..

The initiative on political financing aims to get political parties to adhere to three elements - political donations must be made in the name of the party and not individuals or a group of individuals, every donation is issued a receipt and recorded in the party’s accounts, and that the party’s accounts are audited every year.

Shuhairoz said the government is fully prepared to implement the initiative, which includes finalised drafts of amendments to the Societies Act 1966 and the relevant regulations to compel political parties to come clean on where they get their funds.

She said they have so far engaged politicians from the ruling Barisan Nasional, whom she said had initially given a “positive” response, but have since gone quiet.

From the limited feedback that they have managed to get, the politicians raised concerns over the first element of the initiative - which only allows donations made in the name of the party - though those who even bothered to respond were sparse on the details, she added.

The NKRA against Corruption is also holding on to the hope that politicians would eventually agree to publicly declaring their assets, as the matter is closely related to political funding even if it does not come directly under their ambit.

Currently the only politicians to regularly make full disclosure of their assets are senior leaders from Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), who have done so almost annually on their own accord since 2009.

Leaders from the Pakatan Rakyat state governments of Selangor - and most recently Penang - have also made similar declarations, although the Selangor administration had been criticised for making only partial declarations that did not include assets acquired by elected representatives before assuming public office.

Shuhairoz said politicians have cited security concerns for not wanting to make public declarations, though Barisan Nasional politicians holding public office are already required to declare their assets to the prime minister at federal level and to the mentri besar at state level.

She said the aim of a public declaration is two-fold, in that they want the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) to have access to a database of assets owned by public officials and politicians to keep tabs on possible corruption, and also to help improve the public perception of politicians.

Shuhairoz noted that contrary to popular belief ― that people entered politics in Malaysia to become rich ― most politicians in BN were already wealthy before entering the political arena.

“They (politicians) say that such a declaration would jeopardize their safety and security because people would know how rich they are, but people would be more interested in how they got so rich.

“The whole point here is to encourage politicians to be transparent with whatever it is they own... if they are willing to be honest with what they have, the public will only trust them more,” she said.

Political funding is an especially murky area in Malaysia, due to the close ties between political parties and businesses as well as an established system of political patronage that is said to fund huge war chests that come into play during elections.

Parties such as Umno and MCA own millions of ringgit in both shares and assets, and are among the wealthiest entities in the country.

The tight connection between parties and corporations continue to be a source of suspicion in Malaysia, where graft remains a perennial issue and politicians are viewed as the second-most corrupt people, behind only the police force.

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