Does money politics constitute corruption?

AS WE approach the 14th general election, we see the "silly season" unfold and hot air generated with wasteful energy. At the same time we hear of frantic efforts by all political parties to raise funds for their politicking and electioneering.

Huge sums of money are required to finance the political party machinery. The sad part is that we don't know how much is asked for, who is asking and how much is given or forced out of donors and political supporters. We don't know how much is voluntarily given and how much is squeezed out of rich and powerful individuals, companies and corporates or even how much is exacted from foreign countries and multinationals.

These questions have now been increasingly raised by most thinking Malaysians and those who are under pressure to donate, even against their will.

» Why is there money politics?

Donors give political funding because they hope to back the right political horses in the electoral race and then gain from their bets and rewards later. What are these rewards? They are favours, contracts, licence preferences, privileges, crony deals and many other perquisites.

The poor cannot provide political funding. Only the rich and corporates, both at home and abroad, can do so. And those who are elected, as a result of political funding and money politics, will have to kickback and owe rewards to those who have financially backed their electioneering campaigns.

» What is political corruption?

Corruption is defined as the abuse of public resources or public power, for personal gain. It is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. When someone therefore wins an election, at federal, state or even local level and is indebted to some financial sponsors, then the politicians are obliged to return the favours to the political donors.

» How can we fight political corruption?

Many NGO's, intellectuals and community leaders, have tried to fight money politics over many years and past elections. But we have all more or less failed because the political parties, almost across the board, have not opposed the ugly practice money politics forcefully enough. It is because these politicians have had strong vested political interests to resist controls on political funding so as to benefit from political funding themselves.

There are no lack of ideas, as to what can be done to combat and drastically reduce money politics and political corruption in the election process. The government sponsored Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform and its many good recommendations fell by the wayside. The specific proposal to create a Political Donation and Expenditure Act also came to nothing. Why, because there was no real political will from all political parties.

Hence our leaders of all political flavours are to blame. Worse still we the rakyat are also to bear the guilt, as we have tolerated this rejection to curb and control money politics and political corruption. And yet, ironically, we ask why our Transparency International Corruption Perception Index has been declining so badly.
So does money politics constitute corruption? Yes. I believe, like many other Malaysians, that money politics does constitute corruption.

» How do we attack political corruption?

The rakyat and the MACC must unite to combat money politics and political corruption.

If political leaders do not take a tough stand to control money politics and political corruption, then the rakyat must do so. They must unite to fight money politics together with the strong support of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

For the GE14, we can all work closely together, to monitor the amount of political funding used by each electoral candidate. We will accept the election campaign spending limits of RM200,000 and RM100,000 for parliamentary and state election seats respectively. But anything that is obviously more than these amounts can be seen by us the voters. If the election spending is observed to be excessive or if money is known to be offered to buy votes, then we must resolve to Vote Against those richly financed candidates. We must also report to the MACC and hope they will investigate and take the necessary follow up action.

The MACC should also vet the election candidates and their election expenditures on its own and bring misconduct to the notice of the public. Otherwise the MACC itself will lose credibility. It is the duty of the MACC to act independently, even if it is not given full independence.

Money politics constitutes corruption and the MACC must join forces with the rakyat to fight it.

GE14 will be a watershed in our election process. It will provide the challenge and opportunity for the rakyat and the MACC and also the Election Commission, to ensure a free, fair and clean election.

We have to fight money politics and political electoral corruption, to protect the electoral process and to ensure progress for our national future and for our posterity.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Asli Centre for Public Policy Studies