By Wan Saiful Wan Jan. Published in Free Malaysia Today 1 October 2016
The report on political financing reform is bound to create intense debate among political actors because the recommendations have the potential to force a significant change in how our politics is funded. Before this, there were no rules regarding disclosure. The report now puts great emphasis on disclosure and transparency.
Importantly, it also recommends that should political parties or politicians refuse to disclose their sources of funding, their refusal will automatically be treated as corrupt practice or gratification under the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009. This is a major step forward to strengthen our democracy.
Minister Datuk Paul Low has promised to bring these recommendations to Cabinet within two weeks. He has already submitted them to the Prime Minister. I hope we can move forward smoothly with conviction and commitment so that the recommendations can be implemented as soon as possible.
But I am aware that we are racing against time because the Malaysian public wants to see quick changes, especially as we are heading to GE14. However, I don’t think it is realistic to expect everything to be implemented immediately.
Implementing these reforms will take time. In fact, the report even says that full disclosure should only be implemented in the lead up to GE15, not GE14. It is more realistic to demand for immediate implementation of as many of the recommendations as possible while acknowledging that some issues may require more time.”
There is a recommendation that individual politicians be permitted to collect donations too. Some might disagree with this because they would want all donations to be channeled to parties only. But this is wrong. We must allow individual politicians to also receive money as some donors may wish to support a person but not a party. We must also accommodate independent candidates. The report is more tempered and holistic than many reactionary previous proposals.
Personally, working in the committee has been a satisfying experience. Without a doubt, compromises were made to achieve a consensus. For example, I disagreed with the banning of foreign funding because I think politicians should be free to accept money from anywhere as long as they disclose it. The committee disagreed with me and I lost that debate.
But I am happy to have lost the argument because Chairman Datuk Paul Low permitted everyone to speak freely and the chance to make our case. In fact there were many times when our discussions became heated because the committee members had strong ideas and opinions. His leadership made it possible for us to come to a concensus.
We also had a good secretariat at the Malaysian Institute of Integrity supporting our work. Overall, the committee was happy with the final report. I hope that all stakeholders, especially the government, will embrace this report wholeheartedly.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs. He was a member of the National Consultative Committee on Political Financing.