BY RAMON NAVARATNAM
Most Malaysians are wondering why the chairperson of the National Consultative Committee on Political Financing (NCCPF), YB Paul Low, and his able committee members have casually 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 or, forever and ever, as the old song goes?
YB Paul Low succeeded me as the former president of Transparency International-Malaysia and so he would definitely know that we were all opposed to likely and real abuses that usually 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 expenditures. This is where we could go wild in our financing elections if there is a no cap policy on election campaign expenditures.
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.
Now YB Paul Low and his merry Committee have happily recommended that the sky is the limit for campaign election fund raising and spending. Furthermore, contributors to political funding can also enjoy tax exemption. Good grief, now please explain to us simple voters – what has happened to the well-tried principles of good governance?
Although the NCCPF claims that it tries to promote transparency and accountability, it would be throwing the vital prerequisite and requirement of integrity in election financing to the winds, if the cap on election funding and expenditure is completely 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 socio-economic challenges staring us starkly in our faces?
Revise the budget limits, but don’t remove them
For the reasons stated above, we need to follow the essence and spirit of the 1954 Elections Offences Act.
This 1954 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 now considered too low by Low and his committee, please, by all means increase the limit realistically. But please do not throw out the baby with the bath water and cause the election system to drown in money politics. This will surely and raise corruption and lower integrity in the whole election process.
The 32 recommendations are generally useful , but…
The 32 recommendations, to be fair, have introduced several improvements to the election system. But sadly, they are seriously negated and badly undermined by the dangerous proposal to remove the cap on election expenditure.
Nevertheless the following recommendations are positive and worthy of more comment –
1. 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.
2. The creation of the new office of controller of political donations and a board are useful proposals, if we will appoint men and women of real integrity. The non-inclusion of politicians would help promote public confidence in the controller and his office. It has to be strictly apolitical.
3. 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?
4. Both the limits on donations and the limits on election spending are closely related and must not be removed but could definitely 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.
5. 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 YB Paul Low is no doubt well aware.
Finally, if the 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 Malaysian 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 government cabinet and all our elected leaders will do next?
They all need to respond to our collective challenge to them to improve our election laws and to reject excessive money politics, by not removing the limits to election spending, please?
We have had enough of dirty money politics and so it’s fair and 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 our democracy for our loving, in our beloved country.
Is it? We don’t want to cry for Malaysia but be happy for Malaysia.
We all pray – God Bless Malaysia.
*Ramon Navaratnam is chairperson of Asli/Centre of Public Policy Studies.