Second Sphere: Stop money politics

-A +A

ONE of the issues raised on the Malaysian political scene lately has been money politics. Since 2006, I have been writing on the need to fight money politics, which is part of the idea in my fourth book, New Politics.

Politics needs money. But it must be regulated. It becomes wrong when money is used to advance political expediency. This happens in a number of ways, involving a sophisticated system and process. Perhaps, it has become a culture or so deeply embedded in our society that some people do not see it as money politics or as something bad. Or, they simply ignore it. Worse still, some actually thrive on it.  

The effects are manifold: dirty politics, corruption, leakages, control by the rich, black money and people losing faith in democracy. Hence, I strongly support a recent proposal to formulate a law on political financing.

Such a law is needed, among others, to regulate the use of money or political funding, for example, by political parties and the individual politician. For parties, this includes the budget for administration, activities and general election campaigns.    

For the individual politician, this includes his/her budget as a party member/leader, as a candidate in a party election and general election, as a people’s representative and as a government minister or official.

At party level, regulation is needed to determine the amount of money required to cover the various expenses; the sources of income; any involvement of state officers, assets or budgets in party activities; and whether accounts are duly audited and openly presented, debated and approved at annual general meetings. The whole system and process must be based on the principle of integrity.

At the individual level, it must be known how much money is required and what the sources of funding are. There needs to be a mechanism to check if there is any misuse of official or government position for personal interests and of bank accounts, and if there is any involvement in the buying of votes in party and general elections.  

To be more transparent, some of our general election laws and regulations need to be improved. Take processions on nomination day. If a political party wants to stand in all of the 222 parliamentary constituencies, it will want maybe 5,000 people in its procession in each constituency. If its supporters participate voluntarily, it is a non-issue but if it needs to make an allocation for them, imagine the amount of money that will be spent on shirts, caps, umbrellas, food and fares.

Then, there are the posters. If there is a limit on the places where the candidates can exhibit their posters, imagine how much money will be saved.

The point is, once the need to secure funding for campaigns is reduced, that is, if there are no nomination day processions or poster wars, there will be less pressure to seek a large budget. This, in turn, will minimise money politics.

We also need a much clearer definition of party workers. Existing laws sort of allow party workers to be allocated a nominal allowance during campaigning. But what is the reasonable number of party workers in a given constituency? If a candidate declares the whole village — his/her prospective voters — as party workers, that is tantamount to vote buying.

The ceiling for campaign expenditure also needs to be defined. Current regulation states that a parliamentary candidate cannot spend more than RM200,000. I believe all the candidates declare that they spent less than RM200,000. But are we sure they spent only that much?

I contested the Temerloh parliamentary constituency twice. I won in 2008 but lost in 2013. I have my own story. People who know me will tell you that I am not a big spender. They will also tell you who the big spenders are and how much they spent. What about the by-elections? With every political party using almost everything in their arsenal, surely, their spending cannot be less than RM200,000?  

If we do not put a stop to money politics, there will be parties and individuals who will use money to gain power and use that power to gain more money in order to secure more power. This will go on and on. It will become a vicious circle.

So, we must urgently stop money politics. So, for a start, how about introducing a law on political financing?

Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation and former deputy minister of Higher Education. He is active on twitter: @saifuddinabd.

This article first appeared in Opinion, digitaledge Weekly, on Aug 3 - 9, 2015.