The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) notes with deep concern recent developments in the campaigning for the upcoming state elections, which indicate a backslide to unsavoury methods previously used in Malaysian political history.
On 28 July Rural and Regional Development Minister Zahid Hamidi was widely reported to have announced certain federal allocations to Terengganu youth groups, wherein he expressly indicated that the amounts might be increased depending upon the results of the Terengganu state polls.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has also defended this initiative, stating that the allocation had been preplanned and maintained there would not be any misuse of funds during election campaigning.
In response to this, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief Azam Baki stated these grants were not an offence as they were approved by the federal government and therefore had no element of bribery.
Further, he has noted that there is no need to issue new guidelines to govern the provision of government aid and allocations during elections, as the Election Offences Act 1954 (EOA), specifically Section 10, is sufficiently clear and stringent.
To understand the absurdity of Azam Baki’s response, an examination of Section 10 of the EOA is necessary. Section 10 covers the “corrupt practice” of bribery and includes the offering or promising of any money or valuable consideration for any elector or voter, which could reasonably be interpreted in a manner which covers Zahid’s actions.
Further, certain EOA offences are deemed to be “prescribed offences” under the MACC Act 2009, over which the MACC is empowered to exercise all investigative powers available to it.
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Given that credible information on Zahid’s announcement has been widely reported, specifically mentioning the potential for an increased amount of funding to particular youth groups depending upon the results of the election, it is incumbent upon the MACC to at the very least initiate investigations into the alleged offence.
Azam’s assertion that allocations approved by the federal government have no element of bribery does not have any legal basis and flies in the face of the spirit of both acts, ie to combat corrupt practices in their myriad forms.
If the MACC itself, which has been tasked with the responsibility of investigating corrupt practices under the EOA, refuses to take action when a potential instance of election bribery has occurred, who else can be relied upon to enforce the act?
Azam is right in stating that Section 10 of the EOA clearly stipulates the “do’s and don’ts” which must be complied with by election candidates.
However, his firm belief that the Zahid’s actions do not contravene any laws, without even conducting any inquiries into the matter, reflects a fundamental misreading of the very legislation he cites.
Further, it is highly disappointing that Anwar also sees no error in his deputy’s behaviour. His bare assertion that the cabinet has decided that public funds shall not be used for election campaigning is meaningless when cabinet ministers seem to be allowed to do so anyway with no repercussions.
Each existing mechanism for checks and balances is failing to take Zahid to task, which only serves to entrench and perpetuate improper practices during election campaigning – contrary to the Anwar administration’s stated commitments.
Therefore, C4 Center urges the following:
- Investigations must be commenced into Zahid’s announcement by the MACC to ascertain whether an election offence has indeed been committed, and if not, the MACC must explain why it does not intend to address a potential offence which falls within its statutory mandate, and
- Urgent reforms must be implemented to ensure the independence of the MACC, including the immediate replacement of the chief commissioner, as Azam has shown repeatedly that the credibility of the MACC has dwindled under his leadership.
– C4 Center