First published in The Star Online

By Wan Saiful Wan Jan , (c) 2016, Star Media Group Berhad (c) 2016

The issue is much broader than just what should be allowed and what should be banned.

I WAS appointed to the National Consultative Committee on Political Funding in August 2015. The committee, chaired by Minister Datuk Paul Low, is making progress and work is still ongoing.

Separately, I have been meeting with several groups and individuals to get their input.

I have also gone through the work by Transparency International Malaysia that was published in 2010, as well as the more recent work by Professor Edmund Terence Gomez.

But for this article, I want to appeal for help from the readers so that I can make a more meaningful contribution to the committee’s work.

Please allow me to write as an individual, as this is not a statement from the committee. I would welcome your comments using my contact details below.

Let me start by articulating some issues that I have not been able to solve in my own mind just yet.

As soon as the topic of political financing is raised, many would jump to the issues of what should be allowed and what should be banned. These are usually all well and good.

Yet I cannot help but feel that sometimes the consideration is too simplistic and aimed more at resolving current problems instead of creating a long-lasting policy.

Take foreign funding as an example. Is foreign funding for a political party morally right or wrong?

Many believe it is wrong. They say foreign funding would put the country at risk because politicians would be indebted to their paymasters.

But how important is the geographical location of the donor? If donations can buy politicians, why do we distinguish between foreign and local donations?

Are we suggesting that foreigners must not be allowed to buy our politicians but local donors can? Where is the logic in that?

Maybe, in reality, the geographical source of funding is not the real problem. Maybe we should focus on whether or not there are strings attached to those funds instead.

Yet, even in such cases, let me tell you that the strings can come from Malaysian donors too.

If a recipient wants to sell himself to a donor, the location of that donor is really irrelevant.

In fact, there are perhaps more locally vested interests who would love to have a grip on powerful politicians.

Maybe then the answer is to ban all donations and force political parties to rely on funding from the Government only.

Surely if we want a neutral source of funding, then the best option would be to take Government money.

Now let’s put aside the trust deficit suffered by our current administration. Let us assume that we have a totally trusted Government.

Even though I know many countries have opted for the Government funding system, I am uncomfortable with the morality of such a policy because it is coercive.

The Government gets their money from taxes. So it is not the Government’s money, but rather the money that in reality belongs to you and me.

The Government takes money from us, whether we like it or not, through taxation. We have no choice but to pay.

And now the Government, that takes money away from us through coercion, wants to spend it on political causes that we may abhor. How can that be justified?

Let us take a simple test. Would you voluntarily donate to a racist party? I hope you would say no to that because if you say yes, we have a much bigger problem!

So, assuming you say no, how would you react if I forced you to make a donation?

If you don’t like being forced to give money to a party you dislike, why would you support a law to force others to fund causes they don’t like?

We are talking about direct funding here. Through this committee, I can propose a law to take your money and directly redistribute it in cash to people who believe that you, your parents, your children and all your descendants are lower class citizens.

My law would make you give your income to a party that could cement racism into all aspects of public policy.

The reality is Government funding of political parties will force you to fund causes you dislike.

Even if the majority of the countries around the world are doing it, how is this morally defensible? Morality is not determined by a majority decision.

Or would it be better to just push for transparency for all donations, but allow voters to decide whether or not they want to vote for a politician who has received money from a particular source?

If voters have sufficient information, why should we interfere any more? Are we saying that the Government knows better than the rakyat?

I must admit that I have intentionally exaggerated some of my comments above in the hope of eliciting responses from you. I sincerely hope this article will spark a flame, urging you to let me know what you think.

Please do drop a line to me at wansaiful@ideas.org.my or throu­gh my Facebook page.

But do not limit your input to just the things I write here. I would welcome comments on anything at all related to political funding.

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