Politicians must stop giving festive cash handouts

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On 29 March, Umno’s youth wing chief, Dr Akmal Saleh, uploaded a video of himself distributing envelopes containing money to police personnel in Jasin, Malacca in conjunction with the upcoming Hari Raya celebrations.

He later said he would be giving similar donations to local council officials and the Jasin district land office the following week.

The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) condemns such practices. No matter the reason, the culture of informal gift-giving from people in positions of power to public servants is unjustifiable as it legitimises money politics and the use of wealth to garner influence.

Cash handouts have become the standard modus operandi for political parties and politicians to gain supporters throughout the course of Malaysian history, especially in times of unstable socioeconomic conditions.

Most recently, cash handouts were the main form of government aid during the Covid pandemic as opposed to funds being used to strengthen infrastructure and welfare services, with some federally allocated funds allegedly diverted into the accounts of political parties.

The present case involves a prominent political figure distributing cash directly to police officers in full view of the public.

On this, Inspector General of Police Razarudin Husain had already stated in February that police officers are forbidden from receiving cash packets in order to preserve the integrity of the police and their ability to act impartially, explicitly stating that such cultural practices had to be kept away from the police.

Akmal’s defence of his actions, like so many politicians in similar situations before him, falls on the basis that his actions were not strictly unlawful, while also contending that the gift-giving was done openly in the presence of department heads.

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However, such actions still fall within the wider definition of “corruption” – at the very least, such actions are considered detrimental to good governance practices. The act of giving money, no matter how small the amount, to police personnel and other civil service workers could inadvertently create bias in the execution of their duties.

Many politicians refuse to acknowledge that their standing as a public figure involved in party politics allows them to potentially leverage their influence to benefit themselves and their party.

Gaining the support of the civil service and police in particular greatly benefits their political ambitions as both these groups are in advantageous positions, being entrusted to carry out government policy and are thus the ‘red tape’ in government bureaucracy.

Such practices by community leaders implicitly endorse the view that giving money is an acceptable form of network-building, with this endorsement being extended on behalf of their political party as well.

The Covid pandemic also coincided with the 2022 general election, which saw a spike in cash handouts during election season.

The proliferation of this culture, both in and outside of election campaigning season, has additionally resulted in a culture of expectation of cash handouts by members of the public, even though that is ultimately not the duty of state legislative assembly members or MPs.

Unregulated political funding remains to be a major problem in our current system, with the conflation of business and politics ever growing. Money earned from politicians’ private enterprises is funnelled into parties and ultimately funds those parties’ outreach activities.

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Many of these activities are conducted under the pretence of “charity” as well. The exploitation of charitable organisations and foundations has also been well documented in the political funding process.

Hence, the culture of money politics and gift-giving is, in fact, supported by the notion that politicians need to be in business in order to fund parties’ activities.

C4 Center continues to condemn the actions of politicians who attempt to use their wealth to influence and form crony relationships with members of enforcement agencies and civil service workers.

Akmal Saleh, along with many other politicians must be made to realise that such “cultural practices” are not free from criticism especially when they have been proven time and time again to be exploited as a vehicle for corruption to take place – something which must be discouraged and eliminated at all levels of government.

Furthermore, the enactment of a political funding law should be re-prioritised by the government to cut off the avenues through which parties can channel money to gain power and influence.

The practice of ‘gift-giving’ by individuals with wealth and power only serves to reinforce the accumulation of power by these individuals, while the public see their interests less and less represented in politics. – C4 Center

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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