Reforming Political Funding

The recent news of the RM2.6 billion found in the bank accounts of Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak has caused the majority of the people in the nation to be in anger especially when the source of the funds is still undisclosed. Although it has been announced by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) that the funds were political donations, Malaysians generally feel suspicious of the financial transaction.

At the height of all these issues happening, I believe it is time to reform and regulate political funding in Malaysia. There are many laws and regulations that we can refer to other countries in terms of political financing.

Looking at the political parties in Malaysia, there are different ways that they are funded. The most basic contribution is through their party members via annual membership fees and subscriptions. Most of the larger political parties operate an investment arm or own corporate companies to generate funds for their political activities. Besides that, business people also fund the parties through different types of donations including gifts of money, property, sponsorship of events, fundraising dinners and many more.

In foreign countries, some organizations which share the same political views with a party will contribute funds as well. Take it as an example, in the United Kingdom, the Labour Party is formed by the trade unions and socialist societies. These trade unions pay an affiliation fee to the Labour Party and in return, they and their members receive the privileges of affiliated membership. Some governments in other countries such as Germany also fund directly to political parties for their political activities in what they call public funding.

Of course, some of these foreign methods of political funding may not be agreed by the people or practical in our country. But let’s look at the basics of certain political funding regulations that should be proposed.

The first would be the financial disclosure of political funding and expenses. What is the minimum value of donations that should be reported? Who are the funders who have contributed to the political party or candidates?

Should we also implement limitations to the donors? Is there a ceiling on the amount a donor may give to a political party over a particular time period? Who or what organization is allowed or denied from making political donations? Are Government Linked Companies (GLC) or companies that work on Government contracts allowed to fund as a donor?

Currently there are already laws and regulations on finance in Malaysia’s electoral process. However, the laws and regulations are not empowered. Malaysians only start to pay attention when there is a huge amount reported such as the issue of the RM2.6 billion. What about the fund-raising dinners that have been organised by DAP over the years? The amount for each fund-raising dinner may not rise up to billions, but there have been so many dinners organised in parliamentary and state assembly constituencies throughout the nation. DAP managed to build their multi-million headquarters in Penang within two years of ruling the government. Who is funding the development of the headquarters?

Of course, the implementation of such political funding regulations must come together with the political maturity of Malaysians. If a corporate company donates to one political party, will the company take action when the opponent takes over as the Government? If an individual donates to one political party, will the person be condemned and threatened due to difference of political views?

Not only the leaders and politicians should be matured politically; the voters and the people must set a new approach towards politics. Probably the young Malaysians today who are so keen in discussing current issues should start to set the benchmark of new politics.