Say no to removal of spending cap

Many Malaysians must be wondering why the chairman of the National Consultative Committee on Political Financing (NCCPF) Datuk Paul Low and his able committee members have casually recommended the removal of the cap on funding and spending in future election campaigns.

Is it their purpose to promote and expand money politics instead of controlling this somewhat callous and corrupting electoral practice?

Does this new recommendation help to promote state capture – where the rich and powerful will be able to provide limitless political funding, which is even tax free, to elect favoured candidates and keep them in power ad infinitum?

Low succeeded me as president of Transparency International and he would definitely know we are all opposed to likely and real abuses that usually occur in election campaign financing. The abuses and resultant rot get to be excessive and intolerable particularly when there is no limit whatsoever on election funding and expenditure. This is where we could go wild in financing elections.

Currently there are clear-cut limits on campaign spending – RM200,000 for federal elections and RM100,000 for state elections for each candidate. Now, Low and his committee have happily recommended that the sky be the limit for election campaign fund raising and spending. Furthermore, contributors to political funding can also enjoy tax exemption! Good grief, please explain to us simple voters what has happened to the principles of good governance!

Although the NCCPF claims that it tries to promote transparency and accountability, it would be throwing the vital prerequisite and requirement of integrity in election financing to the winds if the cap on election funding and expenditure is completely removed!

The NCCPF has also stated that there will be no limit to tax exemption if and when the cap is removed. We would then have wholesale tax avoidance, some tax evasion and even provide greater opportunities for money laundering for those indulging in shady businesses! Is this what we need when we have so many socio economic challenges staring us starkly in our faces?

For the reasons stated above, we need to follow the essence and spirit of the 1954 Election Offences Act. This Act was based on the experience and history of elections around the world and we should learn from this rather than be indifferent to reality and good governance.

If the present election budget cap for federal constituencies is now considered too low, Low and his committee should, by all means, increase the limit but by a realistic amount. But please do not let the election system drown in money politics. This will surely enhance corruption and lower integrity in the whole election process!

Their 32 recommendations are generally useful and, to be fair, they have introduced several improvements to the election system. But sadly, these are seriously negated and badly undermined by the dangerous proposal to remove the cap on election expenditure.

Nevertheless, the following recommendations are positive and worthy of more comment.

1. The introduction of a new Political Donations and Expenditure Act is welcome, if it can be improved, to prevent more money politics and politicking and if it reduces corrupt practices and electoral abuse and vote buying.

2. The creation of the office of controller of political donations and a board is a useful proposal if men of real integrity will be appointed as its members and the office is strictly apolitical.

3. The ban on cash donations from foreign sources will certainly help prevent any foreign interference in our politics and national management. But why is the ban imposed only on cash donations? What about other forms of financing?

4. The limits on donations and election spending are closely related and must not be removed but they definitely could be more realistically modified. It’s not difficult to define reasonable spending limits to adequately cover genuine campaign expenditures anywhere in the country.

5. The proposed reformation of the Government’s contracting processes to remove possibilities of political favours is also laudable but this was promised long ago and is still to be fully enforced. This is one major reason for our low performance in the International Transparency Index, as Low well knows.

Finally, if Government and all our political parties really want to have clean, fair and free elections, then all political parties should cooperate, collaborate and even collude to introduce these new election laws, suitably modified, as soon as possible. This can and should be done before the next general election.

So let’s all, as dedicated and patriotic voters, rally round the banner to seriously monitor how and what exactly our cabinet and elected leaders will do next. They all need to respond to our collective challenge to improve our election laws and to reject excessive money politics by not removing the limit to election spending.

We have had enough of money politics and so it’s fair and legitimate for our people to appeal to all our leaders to reject money politics! It’s not too much to ask our elected leaders to safeguard the future of our democracy.

Article published in The Star.

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