Oct 18, 2016

    Malaysians can have a say in political funding

    POLITICS is an expensive vocation. We acknowledge the fact that there is no transparency, accountability and integrity in the securing of funds for political purposes in Malaysia.

    But other than the existing Acts involving the Election Commission, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and other relevant authorities, there is no law specifically governing political funding.

    Money politics is widespread yet least talked about.

    Similarly, every political party views political funding from its own perspective.

    There are instances where money is suspected to be coming from suspicious sources or foreign countries.

    There has been a lot of public interest over how money is flowing into the coffers of politicians and political parties, especially of late.

    There are voices to ban political funding altogether.

    The argument is that however well monitored political funding is, there are loopholes and ways to beat the system.

    In many instances, politics and business are inseparable.

    Political parties control businesses. And businessmen are beholden to politicians and political parties.

    There is a need for a sea-change in attitude on how political funding should be addressed.

    The National Consultative Committee on Political Funding (better known as JNMPP) believes that with new rules, appropriate structure and the commitment of all stakeholders, we can create a new political culture.

    Others have done it.

    There are models that can be followed, especially in more mature democracies and advanced nations.

    JNMPP was formed by Prime Minister Najib Razak on Aug 14 last year.

    It has completed its work.

    There are 32 recommendations, from the introduction of a new Political Donation and Expenditure Act, the creation of a post for a "Controller" to the setting up of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Funding.

    It recommends the banning of all cash donations from foreign sources, confiscation of money from "unknown sources" and the need for political parties to have an organisational bank account at all levels.

    The one that has created a lot of interest is Recommendation number 20 that reads: "There shall be no cap on the amount that can be donated to a party or a politician."

    Many argued for a cap but the committee's view is that the effort to create a level playing field should not result in bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator.

    There are, however, three other significant recommendations that most observers and critics have missed out.

    Recommendation 27 refers to the need for state funding to support the offices of elected Members of Parliament and State Legislative Assembly members regardless of their parties.

    Recommendation 28 states that state-owned enterprises of all types at all levels, and all subsidiaries, should be barred from making direct, indirect or in-kind contributions to politicians or political parties.

    Recommendation 29 simply says companies receiving government contracts or concessions should be banned from making political contributions.

    In a nutshell, it is the first ever attempt at monitoring political funding.

    All stakeholders and the public have every right to comment and even suggest improvements. It should be regarded as a work in progress.

    In a country where cynicism abounds and the political divide is so jarring, understandably the report is met with various degrees of rejection and approval.

    Some even have perfected the art of speed reading, reacting to the 50-page report and recommendations without even batting an eyelid.

    Others are giving due attention, even engaging in a healthy discourse on the subject. That should be the case for it warrants serious discussion and scrutiny.

    The road to perfection is arduous but we must take the first step with sincerity.

    The Malays have a saying, tepuk dada tanya selera (ask yourself what you really want).

    We should be asking ourselves: Is this what we want?



    Johan Jaaffar is also a member of the National Consultative Committee

    on Political Funding.