Show me your assets!
Writer: Lord Bobo
Published: Fri, 04 Jan 2013
Lord Bobo, do you think election candidates should declare their assets to the prime minister, instead of to the public? (Open Book, via email)
Elected representatives living way way beyond their means is unfortunately a common and very prevalent phenomena in Malaysia.
Requiring election candidates to publicly disclose their assets is in principle one good way to try and exclude corrupt persons from running for office. The devil, as usual, is in the details.
Should the disclosure extend to cover the assets of the candidate’s immediate family (without requiring fathers to be sexually intimate with their sons)? What about the assets of the companies in which the candidate and his family have a stake in? In that case it is not enough for a candidate to declare his shares in a certain company – he must also declare the assets of that company.
What about assets held by proxies who are not in the immediate family, and by companies in offshore tax havens with minimal transparency rules?
What is the level of detail required in the disclosure? Just the total value of the assets? Or detailed descriptions of each asset, together with their value?
And of course, who should the disclosure be made to? The ruling coalition suggests that the disclosure be made only to the prime minister, with the implication that only he will have the power to decide whether to accept or exclude a candidate based on the disclosure.
For this to be workable, the PM must be a person of the highest integrity, untainted in any way by any corruption scandals of his own, and who will not abuse his power to reject candidates outside his camp in his party even though their disclosed assets are in order. Never mind that then.
There is also a proposal from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) that they should vet the candidates.
However, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 does not give the MACC the legal power to vet election candidates.
Also, for vetting by the MACC to be workable, the MACC must be an organisation of unquestionable integrity and independence, untainted by a reputation of witnesses skydiving out of their buildings and officers watching pornography while on the job. Never mind that then.
Last but not least, what is the penalty if a candidate does not accurately and comprehensively disclose his assets?
If there is no penalty, the whole exercise of requiring disclosure will be futile. How many corrupt candidates, with their sense of self-preservation intact, will voluntarily make a full and accurate declaration if there is no risk of serious repercussions for not doing so?
And for those who boldly declare that all BN candidates are “clean” – perhaps we should start strongly recommending “politician” as a top career in our schools, seeing how so many of our politicians can live in luxurious mansions, drive the very latest luxury cars, shop at the most expensive shops around the world, and send their children to international or private schools.