Bersih 2.0 today welcomed the proposals from the special panel on political funding, but said it should also consider including public funding for political parties.
Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah said such a move would lessen the burden of raising money as well as even the playing field for all parties.
“A proportionate public funding could help ease the pressure and reduce reliance on private funding sourcing, which in turn prevents conflicts of interest later on. It would mean less effort spent on fundraising too,” she told Malay Mail Online.
She said that public funding for political parties was already practised in developed countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany where they are distributed via a formula based on representation and performance at elections to all parties.
“If they set it up for all parties so that it is given either during, after or before the election — then its reduces reliance on private funding. It will mean an even playing field for new and smaller parties and reduce dependency on corporations — there is a conflict of interest there to avoid,” she said.
She also cautioned that more detailed study be done by the panel to ensure the new law will be synchronised with current election laws so that similar behaviour laws are put in place that will govern political party spending like the Election Offences Act 1954 governs election candidates.
“On top of that, the Election Commission strengthen its institution and have a better understanding of good practises. For instance, the giving out of gifts and goodies are not considered as corruption but it should be, under bribery.
“Our election commission themselves needs to be aware and educated on the subject of political financing so they can monitor and keep tabs on it lawfully,” she said when contacted by Malay Mail Online.
Earlier today, a bipartisan panel on political funding led by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Senator Datuk Paul Low said mooted 32 recommendations for a Political Donations and Expenditure Act (PDEA) which include an independent oversight body which will be overseen by the Controller of Political Donations and Expenditure (Controller).
Among its points was to compel all donors contributing RM3,000 and above to be named, ban foreign donors, confiscate money from unknown sources, and have unlimited cap on spending.
Maria and Transparency International-Malaysia President (TI-M) Datuk Akhbar Satar concurred with many of the recommendations, including limitless funding and banning foreign sources.
Akhbar, who described it as a step in the right direction for the country, viewed the proposals as positive and that it was high time there was laws governing political spending in the country.
“It will make the process more transparent than what we have now. Definitely a step on the right direction for this country,” he said.
On the full disclosure of donors, he said that it was useful for the public to be aware of who contributes to political parties to make informed decisions, which will also keep political parties in line from giving “questionable rewards” at the risk of damaging the reputation of the party.
But in order for the law to be successful, Akhbar said an environment of trust and protection for donors must be created first so that bona fide donors are not victimised.
He also said that the recommendations require a high level of transparency and accountability among political parties and politicians, in terms of political donations and their expenditures.
“Politicans must obey the law they pass, show good examples and there must be good enforcement on this law. Without that, the law is useless. We always have good law but enforcement is weak and unclear,” he said.
“They should be allowed to receive and spend any amount of money provided that those incomes and expenses are fully declared. It’s possible that this fully transparent system can work in our country if all politicians are honest and have integrity,” he said.
JULIA CHAN@The Malay Mail Online