Parliament in September should pass a law in time to require all candidates in next general election to publicly declare their assets to start the country on a new era of transparency6 and culture of zero tolerance for political corruption
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Friday): In the past few days, there had been aimless and desultory talk about requiring election candidates to declare their assets after the the comment by the Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob that the people did not like to see their wakil rakyat showing off their wealth.
This led to the response by the UMNO Secretary-General Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob that any proposal to make it compulsory for UMNO and Barisan Nasional candidates to declare their assets would have to be discussed by the party leadership, which was echoed by the Prime Minister and Barisan Nasional Chairman, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad the next day.
Typical of Malaysian politics and public affairs, the real issue of public integrity and the honesty and uprightness of political leaders and a political culture of zero tolerance for corruption was completely avoided. Instead, attention was focussed on ensuring that elected representatives do not “show off” their wealth, which appeared to be more important than stopping political leaders from putting their hands in the public till to enrich themselves enormously by corrupt means. “Showing off their wealth” by elected representatives is at worst, secondary and less important issue to the larger problem of political leaders enriching themselves through corruption and misuse of their political positions in government and public life to acquire obscene and ostentatious wealth through ill-gotten means!
Yesterday’s Utusan Malaysia carried a front-page report quoting the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers’ Club Chairman Datuk Mohd Zin Mohamed declaring that if Barisan Nasional candidates are to be required to compulsorily declare their assets, the same principle should apply to Opposition candidates. He even suggested that if there is going to be more transparency, there should be a law to require all candidates (including Opposition) to declare their assets.
Here again, the primary concern of the Barisan Backbenchers Club Chairman is not about the urgent need to launch an all-out war against corruption and for political leaders to set the example of integrity in public life , but secondary considerations of whether any such new principle would also apply to the Opposition. From the notorious short memory of Malaysians, this issue is likely to be forgotten and buried, to be resurrected may be in five or ten years’ time in exactly similar circumstances.
This must not be allowed to happen and public demands for reform to ensure a new culture of zero tolerance for corruption particularly in the political leadership must be given a positive response from all political parties, whether in government or opposition.
The Opposition, in particular, should accept the challenge thrown by the Barisan Backbenchers’ Club that any law to compulsorily require candidates to declare their assets must affect the Opposition by readily agreeing and publicly demanding for such a new law to be put on the statute books in time for the next general election.
For this reason, Parliament in September should pass a law in time to require all candidates in next general election to publicly declare their assets to start the country on a new era of transparency and culture of zero tolerance for political corruption
This will also be in line with the concern of the Prime Minister-in-waiting, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his well-known speech at the Oxbridge Society on March 6 calling on Malaysians to fight corruption when he denounced the "Ugly Malaysian" and the "First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality" malaise in Malaysia.
Every political party, whether in Barisan Nasional or in the Opposition should individually declare its stand whether it supports a new era of transparency and culture of zero tolerance for corruption by the urgent passage of a law by Parliament in September to bring into immediate force the compulsory requirement for election candidates to publicly declare their assets.
If there is no such law and requirement for election candidates in the next election to compulsorily declare their assets, then all the front-page treatment and media attention in the past few days on the issue were just empty talk and wasted effort.
To show that all political parties, whether in government or opposition, are serious to combat corruption, they should join hands and co-operate to induct a new culture of political integrity and zero tolerance for corruption, starting with a Cabinet decision next week to establish an all-party committee to draft and shepherd such a new reform law in the September meeting of Parliament.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman