The government-formed National Consultative Committee on Political Financing has proposed that a law on political financing be enacted.
Its Chairman, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Senator Paul Low Seng Kuan, said the committee had made 32 recommendations to the government, including the enactment of an Act called the Political Donations and Expenditure Act (PDEA).
This Act would, among other things, ban donations from foreign sources. This will include “individuals, companies, foundations, organisations, associations or any registered or non-registered entities that are not domiciled in Malaysia”.
It would also require all donations to be deposited into specifically designated bank accounts, and for them to be properly recorded as well as reported to a proposed new body called the Office of the Controller of Political Donations and Expenditure.
“In this report, we identified six key guiding principles which are: the supremacy of the rule of law, the enhancement of civic participation, the protection of civil rights, transparency, accountability and integrity, and healthy political competition,” said Low at the unveiling of the proposal here today.
He added that although the committee wished to see the Act enacted and implemented by the 14th General Election, this might not be possible if the elections were to be held before 2018.
Low is, however, optimistic that if all goes well, it will come into effect by the 15th General Election.
“I will try to table the report to the Cabinet within the next two weeks. But there is still a long way to go. If the Cabinet approves our proposal, then an Act will be drafted, which may take some time as it is a completely new Act, not just amendments.
“After the Act is completed and again tabled in the Cabinet, the minister in charge will bring it to Parliament to be debated,” he explained.
The committee has also proposed that limits on party or candidate spending be removed and that no cap be placed on the amount of donation a single donor can make.
“We emphasised on transparency and accountability, so we feel there is no need to cap the spending limit as this may not be fair to certain candidates.
“(And) The effort to create a level playing field should not include steps to bring everybody down to the lowest common denominator,” he said giving an example of two candidates, one contesting in an urban area, and another in a rural area.
“If you are a candidate in an urban area, you may need to spend only RM70,000 on your campaign. But in the rural areas you have a lot more land to cover and transport alone may cost more than RM70,000.
“So it would be unfair for these candidates if we put a cap at say, RM70,000. One of our principles is to ensure that fairness and democratic process are enhanced, not limited.”
Noting concerns that some potential donors might be deterred from donating for fear of having their identities disclosed, Low said that was why the disclosure was required to be made to the controller, which would be an independent oversight body overseen, in turn, by a proposed Parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Financing.
“Discretion must be given to the controller who will be the one to know the names and details of the donors and donations. They can decide to publish the information without revealing the donor’s name.
“But we believe that the donors must also be disclosed to the public and we hope, in time, we will all be mature enough to have people making donations without being victimised.”
The committee was formed late last year following the uproar over the exposè of Prime Minister Najib Razak receiving a RM2.6 billion donation, said to be from a member of the Saudi royalty.
Although the Opposition cried foul at the non-disclosure of the ‘donation’ until after several media had highlighted it, Barisan Nasional leaders rallied behind Najib, claiming that no wrongdoing had been committed as there was no law requiring the prime minister to disclose any donation, no matter how big.
Nawar Firdaws@FMT Reporters Online