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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

‘Handouts for voters is corruption’

A day after a minister defends such financial aid, an anti-graft watchdog says giving cash and things like sewing machines is clearly an act of corruption.

KUALA LUMPUR: Any attempt to entice voters, with cash and goodies, is a form of corruption, said Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) today.

However, its president Paul Low stressed that election promises were considered “borderline” cases.

“There have been a lot of arguments on vote buying, enticing voters with money and sewing machines. We believe that this is corrupt practice.

“When you give such sweeteners, what is the motivation?” he asked. “Nothing is wrong with anti-poverty schemes but if you do it during elections, this is bribery.”

It is believed that Low’s remarks were in response to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz, who defended such handouts.

According to the minister, this was not corruption because it was the federal government’s way of fulfilling its promises and manifestos.

As for election promises, Low said: “There could be a lot of promises made especially during the campaign period, like building a bridge. These are borderline.”

“Promises are there. But you cross the line when you say, ‘Here is RM1,000, vote for me’,” he told a press conference here.

Low said it was even worse if politicians took to intimidation, by telling voters that they knew who they were voting for.

Nevertheless, the TI-M president said that voters should not buy into such promises as it was the people’s right to enjoy development.

“If someone promises you a bridge, tell them (politicians) that it is your right to development,” he said, asking why politicians were fond of making such promises only during campaign periods.

EC not independent

Low also took a swipe at the Election Commission (EC) and questioned its impartiality.

“Even though they have powers under the Federal Constitution (to be independent) but in practice the EC doesn’t seem to be independent.

“EC always tells us that they’re managing elections, but are not involved in enforcing it,” he said

Low said EC needed to come up with specific guidelines and rules, especially in the case of election promises.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have adequate laws to deal with those things,” he said.

“We cannot rely completely on EC. There are not too many do’s and don’t's over elections, and we need to strengthen EC to empower and enforce (the rules),” he said.

Low also called for more regulations to be introduced into the election process, such as open declarations of political funding, especially when it came to donations.

“The funding should be to the political party and not individuals,” he noted.

Not sending observers

In a related matter, TI-M would not send any observers for the April 16 Sarawak state election but would work closely with Mafrel (Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections) on the matter.

Mafrel, Low said, would be monitoring the electoral process, while TI-M would be watching the show unfold from here.

He also said that TI-M would hold discussions with Mafrel after the elections, and eventually send a memorandum containing electoral proposals to the federal government.

Some of these proposals, Low added, included fair media access and a level playing field, especially over resources. - FMT

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