Friday, October 19, 2012

Political Funding: A Reality Check.


WHEN Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz recently made an announcement in Parliament reflecting on the decision ofthe Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in clearing Datuk Seri Musa Aman of the alleged corruption charges, cynical smile cracked my face: the opposition must be finding themselves in a very awkward position now.

While previously they have had a field day attacking Musa's alleged abuse of power and corruption, the same announcement has coerced them into changing their 'attack-with-extreme-prejudice’ strategy.

A few days after the announcement, the opposition conveniently shifted the attack from Musa to political funding for UMNO. Source of the condemnation - this time around - includes calls that such funding is preposterous, labeling such funding as unacceptable and that the RCI must be called in instantly.

While I leave the opposition to their agenda, let’s peel some underlying truth within the fabric of Malaysian politics. It is not illegal for any Malaysian to give money to a political party of his or her choice – or to anybody for that matter. Should the donor wish to remain under the cloak of anonymity, the request should be respected as long as the donation stays within the confines of the law.  


But the opposition’s world thrives on the axis of inequality and double standardsAllow me to illustrate my point. When the donation falls into UMNO’s coffer, the source must be revealed immediately. But have you heard the opposition declaring the sources of donation they have received so far? We all know that the opposition, too, receives political donations from all and sundry. How ironic!

For in instance, take the spanking new multi-million ringgit DAP headquarters in Penang, which DAP decided to acquire within two years after assuming office in Penang. The DAP Penang Headquarters building is reported to have cost about RM3.5 million. According to Penang DAP’s chairman, the money was collected through donations. Apparently millions have been collected to date.

When I asked a senior DAP leader on Twitter who financed the building, he replied in no uncertain terms that the millions collected were from DAP’s well-wishers and loyal supporters. It is interesting to note that when individuals give money to DAP, it is called sincere donation” but when the same treatment is accorded to UMNO, the opposition cries “Foul!” and accuses UMNO of cronyism, corruption and abuse of power.

Ironically, while Musa is accused by the opposition of looting and pillaging Sabah’s rich timber areas, it was his incessant drive to protect the timber and the forest from being plundered by irresponsible few that made him the darling of environmental groups from around the world. These organizations consistently heap praises on Musa’s forest conservation programs. Forest areas are being replanted at record pace under Musa’s watch, making hundreds of thousands of previously logged areas green again within 30 years time.

In fact, during his tenure as Chief Minister, Musa gazetted more forest areas with lucrative timber profits and placed them under the protection of the State Assembly to ensure that no Chief Minister - including himself - could unilaterally give permission to log the protected areas without express approval from the State Assembly!

The same fervor is seen in Musa’s handling of the state’s huge reserves of minerals such as coal, silica, gold and limestone which, if mined, is potentially worth billions to the state's coffer.

When asked why he does not utilize these resources, which could potentially increase the state's revenue instead of spending effort and money on his conservation agenda, Musa frankly replied, “Sabah at the moment is already blessed with oil money, so let’s keep the forest and minerals for our children’s and grandchildren’s future.”

Now if you go by what is being alleged by the opposition in Parliament, you would think Sabah finances were in utter mess - plundered by corrupt leaders and the same time causing millions of its people to go destitute and live in a broken society.

That is far from the truth. The fact of the matter is -under Musa as the Chief Minister - Sabah has grown by leaps and bounds. The cash reserves of the state is at its all time high, surpassing even the two most industrialised states in Malaysia (Selangor and Penang) and still growing strong as we speakIf the Chief Minister was corrupt to the core as painted by the opposition, the state would be penniless. It doesn't take a genius to empty the state coffers if one is a “vacuum cleaner” as alleged by the opposition.

Apart from the cash reserves, Sabah under Musa has achieved new record when he presented a RM4 billion state budget for 2012. It was the biggest in terms of revenue and allocation, again surpassing Selangor's and Penang's budget. As icing on the cake, the Sabah government under Musa was cited by the Auditor General’s Report as the state with best financial footing and best financial management for 12 years running! Of course, the opposition chose to be oblivious to this fact. But I digress.

In so far as political funding is concerned, while there is no specific law preventing funding of political parties by well-wishers and supporters, the MACC has made it clear to all political parties that the monies received as donations by must be recorded, made known to the leadership of the party and accounted for when audited by the authorities, including by MACC. And UMNO Sabah did exactly that.

I have listened countless of times in Parliament when the opposition praised Hong Kong’s ICAC as the best graft-buster agency in the world. They even demanded that MACC emulates ICAC's methodology in conducting anti-corruption investigations. Unfortunately, when the very same ICAC vindicated Musa, the opposition shamelessly called the decision doubtful and highly irregular’. Such audacity!

Let’s face it. All political parties, including opposition, receive donations and contributions from their supporters. Otherwise how would they carry their vast organization and nation-wide activities, which need to be sustained throughout the 5-year gap between elections?

Let's play a number game, shall we? Let's assume PKR has branches in all 222 parliamentary areas and spends a minimum of RM10,000 on each branch for office rental, staff salary, utilities, office supplies and activities. That means top leadership of PKR needs to fork out RM2.22 million a month or RM26.6 million a year. That’s a whopping RM133.2 million for 5 years to finance its branches throughout the nation!

Even if PKR only has half of the branches, the amount needed by PKR to ensure the running of its branches is still a mind-boggling figure of RM66.6 million for 5 years! These astronomical figures do not even include PAS' and DAP's expenses for their own branches.

So what was the fuss about the RM40 million funding again?

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