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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Lawmakers should declare assets and income



In November last year, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission launched a dedicated web portal which published the assets and income of Pakatan Harapan and Warisan lawmakers, as well as members of administeration.
The information contained in the portal included information on the income received by the lawmaker and the total assets held under his or her name, as well as their spouses. It also included income and asset declarations for the political secretaries of the various ministries.
This is one of the more significant measures taken by the government to ensure good governance and transparency. The asset and income declaration by government lawmakers and members of the administration was a policy decision, as at that time there was no specific law to compel it.
Then in July of this year, members of the Dewan Rakyat and the Dewan Negara approved motions to compel Members of Parliament and Senators to declare their income and assets. Again, these were to be published in the portal.
Opposition members voiced their objections to the motion when it was debated, claiming, amongst others, that the motion was not a law that could be enforced. Yet they did not vote against the motion.
As it has been approved by both Houses, failure to comply could mean that the offending lawmaker would be referred to the Parliamentary Rights and Privileges committee of the House, for violating the rights and privileges of the house.
However, it was recently reported that opposition lawmakers have refused to declare their assets, specifically those from Umno and PAS.
Malaysiakini report quoted the Jelebu MP from BN (Umno) that the opposition bloc has decided that its MPs would not declare their assets. The MP, Jalaluddin Alias (above), an Umno Supreme Council member had quoted several reasons for their refusal.
According to him, the motion was unlawful and would pose a threat to the safety of lawmakers’ family members. "There is no reason for us to declare to the (Dewan Rakyat) speaker because we are not in the ruling government, so we are not in any position to abuse our power," he opined. "Furthermore, we have declared our income with the Inland Revenue Board (IRB)."
In response to this, Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) president Muhammad Mohan said that the reasoning given that the lawmakers have declared their income with IRB was inaccurate, since the IRB can only track the lawmakers’ income, and not assets.
Indeed, civil society has long called for the elected representatives and members of the administration to declare their assets. Such declarations would ensure transparency and accountability on the part of those who hold public office.
Even though backbenchers and lawmakers are not members of the administration, they are accountable to the people who voted for them, as well as the public. This would include informing the public of the assets that they, and their spouses, own.
The issue of safety and privacy also does not hold water. The identities of the spouse and family members are not published in the portal. We do not have a history where lawmakers are targeted because of the wealth they own.
There is, thus, no good reason for any lawmaker or member of the administration to refuse to declare his or her assets or income for public scrutiny.
In fact, questions have been asked as to whether these lawmakers have anything to hide, in light of their steadfast refusal to participate in this exercise of transparency.
Members of the public and civil society must continue to push all lawmakers to comply with the motions.
At the same time, the law should be amended to make the declarations compulsory.

SYAHREDZAN JOHAN is a civil liberties lawyer and political secretary to Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang. - Mkini

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