MPs’ asset disclosure rule good, but pundits fear telling only MACC will make it too powerful

Chairman of electoral reform watchdog Bersih 2.0 Thomas Fann says that since the MPs are elected representatives, they should also publicly declare their assets to those who voted them in. ― Picture by Choo Choy May
Chairman of electoral reform watchdog Bersih 2.0 Thomas Fann says that since the MPs are elected representatives, they should also publicly declare their assets to those who voted them in. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 — Political observers applaud Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent announcement for all federal lawmakers to declare their net worth, and that of their immediate family, without exception.

At the same time, they suggest the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government take the initiative a step further by compelling MPs both in the ruling coalition and the Opposition to declare their assets publicly and not just to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

“We support that all MPs, regardless of government or Opposition, should declare their assets to MACC.

“But it should be made public because just giving the details to MACC would give too much power and discretion to MACC and even to the executive,” Thomas Fann, chairman of electoral reform watchdog Bersih 2.0, told Malay Mail when asked to weigh in on the prime minister’s announcement yesterday.

He said that since the MPs are elected representatives, they should also publicly declare their assets to those who voted them in.

Fann also suggested that the government table a law to compel recalcitrant MPs to disclose their assets and to give it more bite, make it a punishable offence if they refuse.

Transparency

National Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Centre media adviser Terence Fernandez on the other hand said that the government does not need to go as far as enacting legislation to make asset disclosure a reality.

He pointed out that the initiative requires the approval of Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof and that Parliament itself has the authority to censure stubborn lawmakers.

Fernandez also pointed out that asset declaration is part of the National Anti-Corruption Plan and it should begin at party level.

“If you can't even get your members, and in the case of PH, all MPs to declare them, then you should not expect much from the Opposition,” he told Malay Mail.

He said it was likely Dr Mahathir extended the asset declaration to cover all MPs without exception to provide a clear “money trail” for the authorities to follow, noting that after six decades of government under only one coalition, namely the Barisan Nasional, the existing rules had been relaxed allowing for abuses to happen.

“The government should follow the UK Parliament, where it has a Register of Members Financial Interests.

“If privacy and safety is an issue, declare to the Speaker or a committee, although I believe in the interest of transparency, declarations should be made available to the public,” Fernandez said.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun believed that prior to Dr Mahathir's announcement, PH MPs were reluctant to publicly declare their assets because Opposition MPs, especially from BN have no need to do so.

“They couldn’t do it with their own MPs precisely because their own MPs considered it to be unfair, having to lay bare their privacy with their comparatively meager assets, while their Opposition counterparts whom they perceived to have abundantly partaken of the previous regime’s many well known excesses did not have to do the same.

“So now everybody has to do it and meaningful comparisons can be made,” he said, adding that those who refuse to disclose their assets should have their names be made public.

Oh supported Ferandez and Fann in demanding that the asset disclosures be made public, but said their private information should be redacted and the specifics could be left out.

“The disclosures in general should be made public but with private information veiled, for example, a house valued at RM1 million in Kuala Lumpur, but not the actual address. The valuing fees can be publicly subsidised,” he said.