Give no room for money pol­i­tics

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - By Ra­mon Navarat­nam

MOST Malaysians are won­der­ing why the chair­man of the Na­tional Con­sul­ta­tive Com­mit­tee on Po­lit­i­cal Fi­nanc­ing (NCCPF) Datuk Paul Low (min­is­ter in the Prime Min­is­ter’s De­part­ment) and his com­mit­tee mem­bers have rec­om­mended the re­moval of the cap on fund­ing and spend­ing dur­ing fu­ture elec­tion cam­paigns?

Is it their pur­pose to pro­mote and ex­pand money pol­i­tics, in­stead of con­trol­ling this some­what cal­lous and cor­rupt­ing bad elec­toral prac­tice?

Does this new elec­tion rec­om­men­da­tion help to pro­mote “state cap­ture”, where the rich and pow­er­ful will be able to pro­vide lim­it­less po­lit­i­cal fund­ing, that is even tax free, to elect favoured can­di­dates of the rich and to keep them in power ad in­fini­tum?

Low suc­ceeded me as the for­mer pres­i­dent of Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional and so he would know that we were all op­posed to likely and real abuses, that oc­cur in elec­tion cam­paign fi­nanc­ing. The elec­tion abuses and the re­sul­tant rot get to be ex­ces­sive and in­tol­er­a­ble, par­tic­u­larly when there are no lim­its what­so­ever on elec­tion fund­ing and ex­pen­di­ture.

Presently, there are clear-cut lim­its on cam­paign spend­ing of RM200,000 for fed­eral elec­tions and RM100,000 for state elec­tions, for each elec­tion can­di­date.

Low and his com­mit­tee have rec­om­mended that the sky is the limit for elec­tion fundrais­ing and spend­ing. Fur­ther­more con­trib­u­tors to po­lit­i­cal fund­ing can also en­joy tax ex­emp­tion. Good grief, please ex­plain – what has hap­pened to the prin­ci­ples of good gov­er­nance?

Al­though the NCCPF claims that it tries to pro­mote trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity, it would be throw­ing the vi­tal pre-req­ui­site and re­quire­ment of in­tegrity in elec­tion fi­nanc­ing, to the winds, if the cap on elec­tion fund­ing and ex­pen­di­ture is re­moved.

The NCCPF also states that tax ex­emp­tion will also be lim­it­less, if and when the cap on elec­tion fi­nanc­ing is re­moved. We would then have whole­sale tax avoid­ance, some tax eva­sion and even pro­vide greater op­por­tu­ni­ties for money laun­der­ing for those in­dulging in shady busi­nesses. Is this what we need when we have so many so­cioe­co­nomic chal­lenges?

We need to fol­low the essence and spirit of the 1954 Elec­tions Of­fences Act.

This Act was based on the ex­pe­ri­ence and wis­dom taught to us by the his­tory of elec­tions around the world and we should learn from this knowl­edge rather than be in­dif­fer­ent to re­al­ity and good gov­er­nance.

If the present elec­tion bud­get cap of RM200,000 for fed­eral con­stituen­cies is con­sid­ered too low by Low and his com­mit­tee, by all means in­crease the limit real­is­ti­cally. But do not throw the baby out with the bath wa­ter and cause the elec­tion sys­tem to drown in money pol­i­tics. This will surely raise cor­rup­tion and lower in­tegrity in the elec­tion process. The 32 rec­om­men­da­tions are gen­er­ally use­ful; they have in­tro­duced sev­eral im­prove­ments to the elec­tion sys­tem. But sadly, they are se­ri­ously negated and badly un­der­mined by the pro­posal to re­move the cap on elec­tion ex­pen­di­ture.

Nev­er­the­less the fol­low­ing rec­om­men­da­tions are pos­i­tive and wor­thy of more com­ment:

» The in­tro­duc­tion of a new Po­lit­i­cal Do­na­tions and Ex­pen­di­ture Act is wel­come, if it can be im­proved to pre­vent more money pol­i­tics and pol­i­tick­ing, and if it re­duces cor­rupt prac­tices and elec­toral abuse and vote buy­ing. But this is not to be. Abuses will rise and shake our elec­tion foun­da­tions to the very core.

» The cre­ation of the new Of­fice of Con­troller of Po­lit­i­cal Do­na­tions and a board are use­ful pro­pos­als, if we will ap­point men of real in­tegrity. The non-in­clu­sion of politi­cians would help pro­mote pub­lic con­fi­dence in the con­troller and his of­fice has to be strictly apo­lit­i­cal.

» The ban on cash do­na­tions from for­eign sources will cer­tainly help pre­vent any for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in our pol­i­tics and na­tional man­age­ment. But why is the ban im­posed only on cash do­na­tions? What about other forms of fi­nanc­ing?

» Both the lim­its on do­na­tions and the lim­its on elec­tion spend­ing are closely re­lated and must not be re­moved but could be more real­is­ti­cally mod­i­fied. It’s not dif­fi­cult to de­fine rea­son­able spend­ing lim­its, to ad­e­quately cover gen­uine cam­paign ex­pen­di­tures, any­where in the coun­try, in­clud­ing re­mote and large con­stituen­cies.

» The pro­posed re­for­ma­tion of the gov­ern­ment’s con­tract­ing pro­cesses, to re­move pos­si­bil­i­ties of po­lit­i­cal favours, is also laud­able. But this prom­ise has been made so long ago and yet not fully en­forced. That is one ma­jor rea­son for our low per­for­mance in the In­ter­na­tional Trans­parency In­dex, as Low is well aware of.

Fi­nally, if gov­ern­ment and all our po­lit­i­cal par­ties re­ally want to have clean, fair and free elec­tions, as a mat­ter of pri­or­ity, then all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties should co­op­er­ate and col­lab­o­rate and even col­lude to in­tro­duce these new elec­tion laws, suit­ably mod­i­fied, as soon as pos­si­ble. This can and should be done and ac­com­plished def­i­nitely, be­fore the next gen­eral elec­tion.

Surely it is not be­yond the abil­ity and ca­pa­bil­ity of our elected gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion lead­ers to ful­fil the gen­eral as­pi­ra­tions of vot­ers, to have cleaner elec­tion laws, to bet­ter serve our peo­ple, sooner rather than later.

So let’s all, as ded­i­cated and pa­tri­otic vot­ers rally round the ban­ner to se­ri­ously mon­i­tor how and what ex­actly our Cab­i­net and all our elected lead­ers will do next?

They need to re­spond to our col­lec­tive chal­lenge to them to im­prove elec­tion laws and to re­ject ex­ces­sive money pol­i­tics, by not re­mov­ing the lim­its to elec­tion spend­ing.

We have had enough of money pol­i­tics and so it’s le­git­i­mate for our peo­ple to ap­peal to all our lead­ers to re­ject money pol­i­tics.

It’s not too much to ask our elected lead­ers to safe­guard the fu­ture of democ­racy in our beloved coun­try. God Bless Malaysia.

Tan Sri Ra­mon Navarat­nam is chair­man of Asli’s Cen­tre for Pub­lic Pol­icy Stud­ies. Com­ments: let­ters@the­

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