Amid RM2.6b donation storm, integrity minister concedes ‘urgent need’ for law on foreign funds

Low joins a growing number of voices from both sides of the political divide demanding legislation who have criticised existing laws on election campaigning as insufficient.
Low joins a growing number of voices from both sides of the political divide demanding legislation who have criticised existing laws on election campaigning as insufficient.

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 6 — Minister Datuk Paul Low called attention today to the lack of regulation on foreign political funding and said the government must plug this loophole quickly, as debate rages over a recent finding of RM2.6 billion cash deposits into the prime minister’s personal bank accounts ahead of Election 2013.

The former president of the Malaysian chapter of graft watchdog Transparency International joins a growing number of voices from both sides of the political divide demanding legislation who have criticised existing laws on election campaigning as insufficient.

“There is an urgent need to enact legislation to prohibit all political funding from foreign sources or from donors that are not Malaysian entities or citizens.

“All political donations must not be given into accounts of individuals but only into accounts of the political party and all donors must be publicly disclosed,” the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department tasked with government reforms was quoted saying by The Malaysian Insider news portal in a speech at the Malaysian Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators this morning.

Umno’s Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak was another federal minister who had admitted to the need for laws governing political funds even as he defended Datuk Seri Najib Razak from critics who have demanded the prime minister disclose the source of the RM2.6 billion donation after the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) announced the money was not from state-owned 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) as alleged but from donors which it said hailed from the Middle East but refused to name.

“The Prime Minister said there should be political reform ... we will work on it,” Salleh was quoted saying in an exclusive interview with The Star daily yesterday.

Najib said Saturday that he would only reveal the source of Barisan Nasional’s funds if the opposition was willing to do the same, amid allegations that public money had been used to fund the ruling coalition’s election campaigns.

The Election Commission (EC) has also called for legislation that requires all political parties to declare their sources of funding to make elections more transparent.

EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Yusof told Malay Mail Online in a phone interview this week that the election agency does not have any investigative powers to find out if election candidates spend more than the limits of RM200,000 for parliamentary seats and RM100,000 for state seats, as they only rely on receipts submitted by the candidates.

Malaysia ranked fifth from the bottom in a recent survey of 54 countries on the integrity of campaign financing in elections, conducted by the Electoral Integrity Project based at the University of Sydney, Australia.

The study noted that reporting requirements for political funding in Malaysia are light, as parties are only required to report on their finances annually and such reports do not disclose a complete list of donors or donations.