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PUBLIC FUNDING FOR POLITICAL PARTIES TO CURB CORRUPTION


29 JAN 2021


KOTA KINABALU: Wisdom Foundation executive chairman Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau has proposed public funding for political parties to corruption in the country.


He asserted that the call should be made as Malaysia’s position in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has dropped from 51st in 2019 to 57th in 2020, out of 180 countries surveyed by Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M).


"I call upon all who want to fight corruption – the latest being Karangkraf Media Group Chairman, Datuk Hussamuddin Yaacub who launches Gerakan Sinar Rasuah Busters – to put public funding of political parties in the equation," he said in a statement here, today.


He said many non-politicians do not realise the lack of public funding is one key driver of political corruption.


He added that operations of contemporary parties – from election campaigns, all-year-long service centres, to staffing and maintenance of headquarters – are an expensive business.


According to Madius, there can only be four possible consequences which are all negative if there is no public funding, such as parties depending on rich leaders to pay bills, effectively making politics a game of tycoons or their princelings.


"Secondly, parties become beholden to private funders, who may want some favour in policy decisions covering lucrative government contracts.


"Thirdly, when in government, parties may abuse power and embezzle public funds to finance election campaign, and Najib’s 1MDB scandal is the best case in point.


"Fourthly, opposition parties that do not have rich leaders or generous business funders can be easily outpowered by government parties or well-oiled opposition parties, even if they have better candidates or better policies," he explained, adding that this is also one trigger for some opposition lawmakers to change parties.


As such, Madius said: "Without public funding, party politics would be a game of the rich at best, and a ritual for kleptocracy at worst."


"For every ringgit saved from public funding of political parties, perhaps tens or even hundred ringgits are lost through corruption, mismanagement and all other forms of leakages.


"I must applaud the comprehensive research on the subject matter by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) https://www.bersih.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Bersih-Policy-Research-PublicFunding-of-Political-Parties.pdf, released on Monday (January 25), just three days before the CPI report," he said.


The author, Ooi Kok Hin, a young scholar at Japan’s Waseda University, combed through international reports and studied in details the experience of four Commonwealth parliamentary democracies: South Africa, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.


"I thank Ooi’s paper for waking up to a fact which I previously did not realise – public funding of political parties is now an international norm, found not only in the West but also in the Third World, in Asia and in the Muslim countries," he said.


"International IDEA finds that 120 out of 174 countries it surveys have some forms of public funding and Malaysia is amongst the minority 49 countries that have not. (No information for the remaining five.)


"How long does Malaysia want to buck the trend and continue to be penny wise, pound foolish?"


Meanwhile, Madius listed out three modest recommendations from Bersih 2.0: RM123 million to be proportionally distributed amongst parties based on vote share; RM10 Million to be proportionally distributed based on the number of women parliamentarians; and indirect funding namely free or subsidised broadcast airtime, printing, postage and government buildings.


"The total RM133 million is equivalent to 0.05 per cent of the median of the Federal Government’s budgets from 2011 to 2010.


"Bersih 2.0’s recommendations are to be implemented based on the outcome of the 15th General Election (GE15).


"Under the first recommendation, if the GE14 vote shares were to be entirely repeated, Ooi’s simulation shows that BN would annually get RM 41.5million (of which UMNO could claim RM 25.6 million) in contrast to RM56.1 million for Pakatan Harapan, RM 20.7 million for PAS, and RM 2.9 million for Warisan," he noted.


He said he considered these figures "moderate" as the original budget for government’s propaganda machine, JASA, was RM84.5 million.


"Under its “Rural Transformation Projects” (RTP) alone, Sarawak is annually giving every government state assemblyperson RM5 million, or a total of RM345 million for 69 assemblymen from GPS.

"At the federal level, every government MP in West Malaysia gets RM3.8 Million while their counterparts in East Malaysia gets RM4.3 Million. In 2020, all 113 MPs in Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s government were allocated RM443.4 million.


"While these moderate amounts would not suffice to dissuade parties in government to stop exploiting government resources, they are very reasonable for a new attempt," he said.


For the first recommendation, Madius who is also Tuaran MP said Bersih 2.0 suggests an eligibility threshold of 2 per cent vote share in any of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.


"If GE14 vote totals were used for calculation, this means 25,293 votes in Sabah, 26,416 in Sarawak and 207,187 in West Malaysia."


"Again, I must applaud Bersih 2.0 for recognising that Malaysia is a union of three regions and a one-size-fits-all yardstick would exclude most East Malaysian parties.


"In my opinion, public funding for political parties can be even fairer if we tweak our electoral system to allow voters to vote directly for parties besides voting for candidates," he said.


Madius who is also Upko president said suggested that some parliamentary seats to be added based on Closed-List Proportional Representation (CLPR) on top of the existing First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) seats, constituting the Mixed Member Majoritarian (MMM) or Parallel System found in Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and Italy.


"First, unless the party does not join any coalition or electoral pact, votes obtained by a Malaysian party under FPTP are actually confined by how many seats is given to the party by its coalition to contest.


"If voters can directly vote for parties, then their CLPR vote shares would be a more accurate measure of their popularity.


"Second, despite the rising number of diasporic Sabahans and Sarawakians in growth centers like Klang Valley, Penang and Johor, they do not form majority in any constituency to elect their preferred representatives to the Parliament or any State Assembly.


"In this sense, FPTP gives asymmetric advantages to West Malaysia-based parties, which have contested in and won some East Malaysian constituencies.


"In contrast, no East Malaysian parties (PBS tried in 1995) can realistically hope to win any FPTP constituencies in West Malaysia. Moving to MMM would allow East Malaysian parties to collect CLPR votes in West Malaysia and win some representation."


Madius also remarked that public funding for parties would benefit Bersatu, however he said state governments should consider introducing their own public funding if the prime minister ignores the call.


"Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan and even Sabah can lead by introducing their own state-level public funding for political parties, with some smaller amount than what Bersih 2.0 has been proposed.


"I sincerely hope all parties would support Ooi’s and Bersih 2.0’s three visionary yet realistic recommendations.


"We must create a political ecology which disincentivises parties from misappropriating public fund or depending on private funders," he said.

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