KUALA LUMPUR, May 28 — To combat corruption and gain public trust, a public policy think tank is proposing that it be mandatory for politicians to declare their assets for public record.
Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) said that ministers and Members of Parliament should be legally required to declare their assets to a special committee in Parliament and be crosschecked by various agencies.
“Currently, we do not have any legal requirements for parliamentarians or cabinet members to declare their assets nor is there an independent mechanism to verify the assets declared.
“Not to mention, no public access to the information except in instance where politicians have voluntarily declared their assets in Penang and Selangor,” said its chief executive Wan Saiful Wan January
He said the emergence of controversial photos of lavish wedding reception and images of politicians leading extravagant lifestyles highlighted the need for a reform of the current system.
Last month, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had criticised Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for the latter’s daughter’s lavish wedding reception, calling it the “wedding of the century”.
The former prime minister had also commented on Najib’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s fondness for expensive jewelry and handbags.
Describing the current asset declaration system as having “deep systematic weaknesses,” Wan Saiful said it is not comprehensive, lacks transparency, and does not have a strong verification mechanism to ascertain the accuracy of assets declared.
The proposed new public policy would give a mandate to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to verify and monitor asset declarations and cross-check the information with other agencies like the Inland Revenue Board and Bank Negara Malaysia’s Finance Intelligence Unit.
He said privacy concerns in the country could allow for the information to be made available only upon request.
“But if the politicians believe in the system, they should opt for automatic public access. In other countries like the United States, Hong Kong and Indonesia this information is publicly available, I do not see why Malaysia cannot provide this information” he said.
Wan Saiful said that studies have proven that good asset declaration laws result in lower levels of corruption when coupled with public access and a solid verification mechanism.
He said public officials, particularly politicians, are public figures whose lifestyles will inevitably be subject to public scrutiny.
“The public will start questioning if they see politicians living beyond their means. The public then begins to accuse them of corruption and loses their trust in public institutions,” he said adding that trust in the ruling parties are currently extremely low.
“Under such circumstances, any good policies the government comes up are pointless. If the current government and administration want to regain public trust, they should take the recommendation of this paper to reform their asset declaration systems seriously.”