Malaysia near bottom in survey on money in politics

Malay Mail Online
July 17, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, July 17 — Malaysia ranked fifth from the bottom in a survey of 54 countries on the integrity of campaign financing in elections, amid allegations that Barisan Nasional (BN) abused government money to fund their Election 2013 campaign.

The “Checkbook Elections” study by the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP), based at the University of Sydney, Australia, in collaboration with Global Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation for the Money, Politics and Transparency Project (MPT), also showed Malaysia with an average score of 19 out of 100, compared to the highest score of 79 by Georgia, and to its Southeast Asian neighbours like Thailand (50), Indonesia (47), and the Philippines (43).

“Reporting requirements are light: according to the law, parties must report on their finances annually, and candidates must do so only once, in a single post-election report,” the MPT noted.

“Reports are not completely itemised, and in practice, do not disclose a complete list of donors or donations. Of the information that is submitted, no party reports are made available to the public, and candidate reports, in practice, are accessible only in hard copy for a period of six months after the election,” the MPT added.

According to the survey, Malaysia’s “in law” and “in practice” scores were 26 and 15 out of 100 respectively.

A country’s “in law” score provides an indication of how stringently a country’s laws regulate political finance, while its “in practice” score assesses practical enforcement within a country. The composite score is the average of all scores on a country’s scorecard.

The scorecard was based on five sections: direct and indirect public funding during campaigns, restrictions on contribution and expenditure, reporting requirements and public disclosure, third-party actors (defined as those who independently solicit contributions and spend on candidates’ election campaigns), as well as monitoring and enforcement.

Malaysia’s ranking at 50th out of 54 countries in the survey, which was conducted between July and December last year, comes even as US paper the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported last month that acquisition payments made by state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) were channelled to special charities for BN’s election campaigns, specifically in Penang, in the 13th general election in 2013.

The international business newspaper had cited the example of Yayasan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (YR1M) headed by Prime Minister and BN chairman Datuk Seri Najib Razak, which it said received RM35 million in donations from Genting Plantation soon after 1MDB’s acquisition of Genting Sanyen.

WSJ also said in another report that US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) from 1MDB had ended up in Najib’s personal bank accounts two months before the 13th general election in May 2013. A taskforce is currently investigating the paper’s allegations.

MPT noted that although there is a limit on the amount spent by election candidates in Malaysia, party spending is not capped.

“Malaysia’s political finance system does not provide any type of funding, direct or indirect, for parties or candidates. Restrictions on contribution are likewise largely absent, though anonymous donations to candidates are not permitted,” said the MPT, noting that political parties generally rely on business ventures and membership dues for funds.

The MPT also noted that “third-party actors”, who are not candidates or political parties, appeared in Election 2013, but were not required to report on their financial activities and that there was no information on their independent contributions and expenditure.

The MPT said the Election Commission (EC) does not have investigative powers, its appointees are not appointed based on merit and the body’s independence is not fully guaranteed.

“The body does not conduct investigations, lacks the capacity to do so, and never imposes sanctions on parties or candidates who violate the law. In Malaysia, not only is the regulatory framework fairly weak, enforcement is less than rigorous,” said the MPT.

Polls watchdog Bersih has repeatedly told EC officials to step down, claiming that the EC is biased towards BN and has failed to address malpractices in Election 2013, where the ruling coalition recorded its worst-ever electoral performance by losing the popular vote to the opposition.

The EIP said previously in a separate study that Malaysia’s 13th general election was ranked 66th out of 73 elections across the globe, as the polls were perceived to have low levels of integrity due to problematic electoral boundaries and election laws.

The “Checkbook Elections” study released today ranked US fifth, better than other Asian nations, including Japan (21) Indonesia (25), Philippines (28) and India (42).

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