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In blueprint, think tank flags political financing regulation as potential turning point for reform - The Leaders Online
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In blueprint, think tank flags political financing regulation as potential turning point for reform

In blueprint, think tank flags political financing regulation as potential turning point for reform

KUALA LUMPUR, March 1— In its blueprint on reform released this week, the think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) has underscored the need for urgent reforms in Malaysia’s electoral and political landscape, emphasising enhanced monitoring of political financing.

Titled “Reforming Our Institutions: Blueprint for Reforms”, the document highlighted the imperative first step in its reform agenda as the re-enactment of the Parliamentary Services Act (PSA). This move aims to empower MPs by fostering an independent and robust Parliament, potentially leading to much-needed reforms such as enacting a Political Financing Act (PFA).

Its chief executive, Tricia Yeoh, said the interconnectedness of various reform initiatives stating that the Political Financing Act and monitoring was one of the hardest reforms to make.

“One of the main challenges IDEAS has faced in our effort to push for the PFA is in situating political finance reform in the midst of other much needed reform initiatives. Political financing reform cannot be accomplished in isolation, as no reforms work in a vacuum.

In fact, many reforms are interconnected, which is precisely why this blueprint is so crucial. Many other reform efforts must be undertaken simultaneously, if the PFA is to be meaningful and impactful,” she said in an accompanying press release.

The PSA, originally enacted in 1963 but repealed in 1992, granted the federal legislature control over its administration, staffing, and finances. Its revival is seen as crucial for reinstating parliamentary autonomy. Additionally, the proposed PFA aims to regulate funding sources and expenditures of political parties and candidates, ensuring transparency in political financing.

The previous administration agreed to revive the law, but before the Bill could be tabled in Dewan Rakyat in 2022, the Parliament was dissolved to pave the way for the 15th general election.

On February, 19 this year Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Johari Abdul said the Bill for a parliamentary services law to provide the federal legislature authority over its own affairs will be tabled this year no later than the second meeting of the year.

Apart from that, IDEAS also addresses concerns regarding the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), advocating for better regulation to ensure equal allocation to both government and opposition constituencies. Moreover, it calls for transparency in the appointment process for Election Commission (EC) commissioners and stresses the need for stronger regulation under the Election Offences Act.

Regarding the CDF, IDEAS flagged its problematic distribution, lack of transparency, and executive discretion in allocation, which can be exploited for political gain. These issues hinder effective public scrutiny and equitable resource allocation.

In addition to the PSA, CDF, and PFA, IDEAS underscores the interconnectedness of reforms, proposing the enactment of a declaration of assets act, mandatory for elected representatives and senators. Furthermore, it advocates for a government procurement act to ensure transparency and accountability in public procurement processes.

Moreover, IDEAS underscored the symbiotic relationship between the PSA, CDF, and PFA, advocating for complementary reforms such as the enactment of a declaration of assets act to mandate asset disclosure for elected representatives.

In January, the Prime Minister’s Office said the National Governance Cabinet Special Committee is planning a new format for MPs and other government officeholders to declare their assets, in line with the government’s aim to promote transparency.

The blueprint also advocates for comprehensive government oversight and transparency measures, including the establishment of a government procurement act to ensure accountability in public procurement.

To add to that, IDEAS’ blueprint further champions the establishment of an independent investigative body under the Ombudsman Act to address public grievances, drawing inspiration from Sarawak’s landmark legislation on the matter. However, concerns linger regarding the delay in tabling crucial bills, such as the proposed Ombudsman Bill, which remains pending despite assurances of progress.

Last May, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reforms) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said the proposed Ombudsman Bill, which will codify the handling and resolution of complaints about public service was in the final stages and would be tabled in October but it has yet to be tabled in Parliament.

In urging meaningful consultation with civil society and experts, IDEAS highlighted the pivotal role of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) on Human Rights, Election, and Institutional Reforms in being involved in the reform process.

“Specifically, we express hope that the PSSC on Human Rights, Election and Institutional Reforms will be closely involved in the process of drafting and amending any laws needed in the reform process. This is especially the case for the PFA which has been IDEAS’ priority over the last few years.

“The PSSC’s involvement is important in ensuring the contents of various versions of the PFA, which require bipartisan support, are compared with each other. This legislation will fundamentally transform Malaysia’s political system and make it more transparent and accountable. We also stand ready to assist the government in effectively implementing these critical institutional reforms,” she said.

Apart from that amending the Whistleblower Protection Act to encourage and facilitate disclosure of improper conduct and strengthen whistleblower protection and enacting a Freedom of Information Act to establish clear parameters for accessing information from public bodies and the government were also mooted as necessary reforms.

The IDEAS blueprint places as the highest priority 13 reforms in total, which fall into four categories: Electoral and political system, government oversight and transparency, independent and strong Parliament as well as independent and strong institutions.

It worked with civil society organisations and activists like Agora Society, Bersih, Coalition for Business Integrity Berhad, Projek SAMA, Rasuah Bustersm Sinar Project, Transparency International-Malaysia, Wo Chang Xi and Maha Balakrishnan to deliver the blueprint.