A million ringgit in allocations per constituency from the Prime Minister’s Department adds up to RM 222 million each year – and that is a huge amount of money, notes K Perumal.
The Prime Minister’s Department makes generous annual allocations to all the Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament. In 2006, RM2 million was allocated for each constituency, and in 2007, RM1 million. Another RM 1 million was allocated for 2008.
Opposition parliamentarians have been raising the issue of constituency funds during question time in Parliament. Why are we not given these funds? Are you attempting to punish the constituencies that voted for the opposition? Isn’t this contrary to the principle of non-discrimination as enunciated in Article 8 of the Federal Constitution? A ministerial spokesman from the PM’s Department replied that the constituency funds are for all constituencies, including those won by opposition politicians. The opposition politicians are free to apply and their applications will be considered.
The PSM MP for Sg Siput, Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, brought this issue to Sungai Siput. The availability of this fund was made known and was discussed at the Sungai Siput Peoples’ Consultative Meeting. NGO groups were invited to put forward their requests. Based on the responses from the Sungai Siput public, the PSM put forward a formal application for RM108,000 on 1 August 2008 for the following causes:
- Asrama Anak Yatim Nurul Ihsan RM50,000
- Rumah Orang Tua Wa Kiew Yi Shea RM10,000
- OKU Kuala Kangsar RM5,000
- Sekolah Gandhi RM25,000
- Sekolah Methodist RM10,000
- Three Orang Asli kampungs RM8,000
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The idea was to follow-up with a second round of applications once the first batch was approved.
After a long silence, the State Development Office of the Prime Minister’s Department replied in a terse letter dated 24 September 2008 stating “Dimaklumkan bahawa cadangan permohonan ini tidak dapat dipertimbangkan” which means “You are hereby notified that your application cannot be considered.”
The people of Sungai Siput were disappointed and dissatisfied with this response. A 30-member delegation accompanied Dr Jeyakumar to the State Office of the PM’s Department on 17 October 2008 to register a formal protest and at the same time to submit a set of supplementary applications totalling another RM110,600, which represented the additional proposals that had been put forward by groups in Sungai Siput after the first proposal was submitted.
There was no response to the second application. But to a question that the Sungai Siput MP submitted, the PM’s Department replied in March 2009 that RM952,550 was given out to 123 projects in the Sg Siput constituency between 8 March and 13 December 2008. Apparently, the PM’s Department had been responding to applications submitted by BN leaders from Sg Siput (despite the fact that they had not been elected)!
The Sungai Siput MP then wrote in asking for a full list of these 123 projects and the amount allocated to each. The State Development Office (the state level representative of the PM’s Department) has been coy on this one. They first refused to answer, but when several voters from the constituency also wrote in officially asking how the RM952,550 was allocated, we finally got a vague answer – the funds were given to residents’ associations, farmers’ associations, disabled peoples’ association, single mothers’ association, schools, and village committees. The actual organisations were not identified nor the amounts disbursed to each.
Belling the cat
An application for RM345,000 for 12 projects in 2009 and for RM650,000 for 13 projects in 2010 was also not entertained by the State development Office. We then decided that someone had to bell this recalcitrant cat! We obtained the assistance of Sreenevasan, the legal firm helmed by Dato Ambiga (former Bar Council President) to file for a Judicial Review of the Prime Minister’s Department’s decision to turn down our 2010 application.
A million ringgit per constituency adds up to RM 222 million each year – and that is a huge amount of money! It is more than 25 per cent of the total annual budget of Penang state government. This sum is not a personal contribution from the Prime Minister. Neither is it drawn from BN funds. It represents the peoples’ money that is held in trust by the government, and it is totally unacceptable that it is being used in such a partisan, non-transparent fashion. It should be made available to all MPs equally – for MPs need funds to carry out their duties properly, offices have to be maintained in the constituency, full-time assistants and researchers have to be paid, meet the people sessions have to be organised. All this will help in bringing democracy to the people, and it will not require RM1 million per constituency!
Meanwhile, a proper system of accountability has to be put in place to ensure that the MPs use this allocation properly. All expenditure from this fund should be open to public scrutiny. Only then will people be reassured that funds to service the constituency are not channelled into the pockets of the MP and/or his cronies! There has probably been a high level of pilfering of the more than RM3.3 million allocated to Sg Siput since the 2008 elections – which would explain why the Prime Minister’s Department is so reluctant to divulge details as to how the funds were used in Sungai Siput. Imagine the political fall-out!
At the press conference after filing the application on 29 October 2010, one of the reporters asked Dr Jeyakumar if we had any chance of winning. The Sg Siput MP smiled and answered that that was the same question asked when he stood against Dato Seri Samy Vellu. “We take our inspiration from Che Guevera who said – Be realistic and do the impossible!” he added.
Three decades of mismanagement has led to a situation where the pilfering of public funds has become ‘standard operating procedure’. Re-establishing a culture of accountability is going to be a long haul struggle. We need more of this sort of actions to sensitise the Malaysian civil service as well as the general public as to the proper management of public funds so that our people will expect and demand transparency and accountability from the administration.
Gone to the BN, every cent
When will they ever learn, when will they ever change?