Jomo: Fix abuse of political funding first

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 28, 2018.

Khairy (left) and Jomo discussed key reforms that the country needs to move ahead. Photo by Sam Fong

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KUALA LUMPUR: All parties must agree to tackle the deep-rooted corruption in political funding for the country to move ahead, said eminent economist Professor Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram.

“This reform must be at the top of the list,” he said at a talk on “The Way Forward for Malaysia” in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday night.

“We have a system of political financing which has been so abused that we cannot get ourselves out of this, unless we develop a legitimate, accountable system of political financing,” Jomo said.

“We have a very decadent and corrupt political financing system. Unless we get an all-party consensus on what needs to be done in moving things forward, we’re not going to make very much progress,” he said.

In his opening remarks, Jomo identified four persons who were key to the first change of government since independence.

The first was PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who spent over two decades on the difficult task of building a political opposition, beginning in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, said Jomo.

Second was Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose decision to switch over to the then-opposition helped accelerate the movement for change.

The third was former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who was responsible for two factors. Firstly, the policy direction that he took in the last decade created the conditions that culminated in the vote swing in the 14th general election, said Jomo.

Secondly, he introduced a new electoral strategy involving three-cornered fights that made a critical difference.

“We had a situation where Pakatan Harapan secured less than half of the popular vote, and if the other two parties (Umno and Pas) had been able to combine their votes, we would not have seen the outcome that took place on May 9,” Jomo said.

The fourth person was the former prime minister’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, who became a symbol of the decadence of the then-government.

Noting that Malay women voters formed a large support base for Barisan Nasional, Jomo said that this electoral group saw the contrast between Rosmah and

Dr Mahathir’s wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is Anwar’s wife.

On economic policy, said Jomo, it was very important to address the deindustrialisation that had set in, as continuous industrialisation was needed for the country to progress.

Calling the current “obsession” with the size of the national debt well deserved, he noted that in the past decade, government debt had doubled while government guarantees had tripled.

This was a concern because it was not productive debt, he said.

Shadow finance minister Khairy Jamaluddin, the other guest at the event organised by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Alumni Network Malaysia, said that for the country to move forward, the focus should be on reforming the political system to ensure the proper functioning of both the governing coalition and the checks and balances role of the opposition.

On Umno’s direction, the Rembau member of parliament said it “needs to decide what kind of party it wants to be”.

“While the party appears to be moving to the right, not everybody in Umno agrees with that trend,” said Khairy, who described himself as a centrist.

“The Umno general assembly, to me, was rudderless and showed a desperate need of direction,” he said. Khairy lost the contest for the Umno presidency against Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in June.