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Friday, September 30, 2011

Pakatan, too, must come clean on ‘covert funds’

UM Professor Terence Gomez says monetisation of politics is a dangerous trend and little has been done to curb it.

PETALING JAYA: Just like Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Rakyat must be honest about its funding if it wishes to see true reform of an election system marred by money politics.

Professor Edmund Terence Gomez of Universiti Malaya claimed that the opposition has so far failed to come clean on the source of its finances, saying such practices is a major hindrance to having a clean election.

“I have met with Pakatan leaders and told them that they must disclose their funders. They said they can’t do that or BN will go after them (funders). Fair enough.

“But when I asked them about covert funds, they were silent,” he told about 200 students at the Parliamentary Elections and Funding forum held at Sunway University here.

Gomez said Malaysia is witnessing increased “monetisation of politics” and widespread allegations of “covert funding” of political parties and politicians in an attempt to influence policymakers for vested interests.

This included possible funding by “the underworld”. “This is dangerous. Whoever funds them have control over them,” he said.

Malaysia is also among the few countries in the world where political parties are allowed to have extensive involvement in businesses.

The ruling coalition is known to appoint close associates to key positions in government-linked companies while top corporate figures are known to have close relations with leaders from the ruling parties

This creates a deep conflict of interests and corruption is rife where politicians fight for high positions in order to dictate policies to profit and finance their war chest to maintain power.

Gomez also spoke of “secret” or “special” funds by top politicians which should be outlawed.

He cited the admission by Dr Mahathir Mohamad who confessed in his blog that he held RM1.4 billion in cash and assets to finance BN’s election machinery when he was prime minister.

“And RM200 million from the amount was in cash. Look at the kind of money we are talking about,” said the political scientist.

There are also allegations that Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has similar “secret funds” and although the court had cleared him of the accusation, the stigma remains as nothing had been done to curb its existence, added Gomez.

EC’s independence key to reform

One way to counter the worrying growth of cash-driven election is for the government to fund political parties. This will give greater autonomy and equality to political parties should they rely less on private funding.

However, state funding of political parties can be subject to abuse if there is no check and balance, said Gomez. This is why institutional reforms, one of them being ensuring the independence of the Election Commission (EC), is pivotal.

The questionable method of appointment of members of the EC and its lack of enforcement power made the body incapable of acting effectively to ensure no political parties violate election laws.

Former EC chief, Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, who was one of the speakers at the forum, admitted that “given the framework in which the body could work from, it can never deliver the necessary reform”.

His statement backs Pakatan’s suspicion over the effectiveness of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to implement reforms. The PSC was set up by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak following public pressure for change in the election system.

While the panel will look into the key eight reform demands made by polls watchdog Bersih 2.0, the recommendations of the PSC will be subject to the approval of the EC which has failed to maintain a clean image.

The EC’s absolute power in determining the terms of reform implementations invited criticism that the panel was merely a “window dressing” exercise.

Pakatan leaders have agreed to send its representatives to the PSC but remains sceptical that the Najib administration would carry out any election reforms following his silent response to the demand that elections be postponed until the changes are implemented.

Abdul Rashid said he was all for electoral reforms, adding that Putrajaya must continue to strengthen democratic practices in the country.

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