Will the political financing regulations be used selectively against opposition parties and its supporters?

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 3rd of October, 2016

Will the political financing regulations be used selectively against opposition parties and its supporters?

The recently released report from the Consultative Committee on Political Financing (JKNMPP) has some recommendations which are not without merit. Indeed, some of these recommendations have been supported by the opposition in the past including the recommendation for state-funding to be provided for the operations of constituency offices of elected Members of Parliament and state legislative members regardless of political affiliation. The recommendation to create a parliamentary standing committee on Political Financing merits consideration but needs to be discussed in the larger context of creating a number of parliamentary standing committees. The recommendation for greater transparency in the awarding of Public Private Partnership contracts has been reiterated countless times by opposition Members of Parliament for many years.

The recommendation that state-owner enterprises of all types, be it at the federal or state or local levels, and all their subsidiaries be banned from making direct, indirect or in-kind contributions to politicians or political parties is long overdue. In fact, this can be done with a directive from the PM or the chief executive of the state, without necessarily involving additional legislation.

But one cannot also turn a blind eye to some of the obvious shortcomings of some of the recommendations. Notably, the lack of any limits or caps on the amount which can be donated to political parties or to individual politicians and the lack of any spending limits by a political party or individual tilts an already uneven playing field even more to the favour of the ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional (BN). There were also no recommendations for public disclosure of assets by politicians, especially those holding government positions.

But the greatest shortcoming of this report is something which is outside the power and scope of work for this committee. There is nothing to prevent the BN from selectively implementing or modifying the recommendations of the committee in such a way as to enhance its own powers and put greater pressure on opposition parties and its supporters.

For example, under the proposed Political Donation and Expenditure Act (PDEA), a very powerful “Office of the Controller of Political Donations and Expenditure” will be created. Political parties and politicians must report their political donations to this Controller who will have powers to audit the accounts. In addition, this Controller also has the power to confiscate donations if they are suspected to be from ‘dubious’ sources. We have seen how institutions which are supposed to be independent have been used to benefit the BN. The Elections Commission is the most important example and we have proof of this in the recently proposed 2016 delimitation exercise. We have no assurances that when the pressure in put on this Controller, he or she will not buckle to the needs of the BN leadership.

Worse still, the proposed PDEA may be modify the recommendations of the JKNMPP by allowing the Controller to ban political parties from taking place in elections because of the non-compliance of one branch in the party with regards to political financing disclosure. A compliant Controller may then be pressured to use his or her power to target opposition political parties.

Even though the JKNMPP recommends that steps should be taken to criminalise discrimination or victimisation of donors by introducing provisions in existing anti-discrimination laws or the introduction of a complete new law, it would not be surprising if this recommendation is totally ignored by the BN.

We have too many examples of how laws which are supposed to ‘good’ for democracy and political activity be abused by the BN government. The Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 which was supposed to strengthen the right of assembly in the country, according to the establishment, ended up being used by the current regime to charge NGO activists like Bersih’s Maria Chin and Jannie Lasimbang as well as opposition politicians such as Nik Nazmi and Chong Chien Jen (among many others). Who is to say that this PDEA will not be abused in a similar manner?

While there are merits in some of the recommendations proposed by the JKNMPP, the current political climate makes it very difficult for opposition parties and politicians to trust that the BN government will NOT implement or modify these recommendations in a selective and biased manner that is in its favour and which is detrimental to opposition parties and the practice of democracy here in Malaysia.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang