The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) urges caution over Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil’s recent statement calling upon the private sector to assist MPs in ‘helping’ their constituencies.
This follows the government’s reduction of backbencher MPs’ constituency development allowances, as confirmed by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on 3 February, from RM3.8m to RM1.3m, to ease the financial constraints the country currently faces.
In principle, C4 Center agrees with the government’s move to cut down constituency development funds. We are also aware that the expectations of an MP by constituents differ from that of a policymaker, but it is time to cultivate our MPs and constituents to recalibrate their mindset towards effective policymaking, governance and management of funds instead.
While the constituency funds represent a legitimate mechanism for development and an important tool for MPs’ involvement in grassroots community development, the MPs’ main roles are as policymakers and lawmakers, not occupying a majority of their time plastering potholes and other menial tasks that should remain the responsibility of the local councils and relevant ministries to execute.
Allocations given to MPs should be used for research, staffing, advocacy, and town hall sessions to generate public participation on policy issues. There is certainly more need to empower and encourage local councils and state governments to play a more effective role in local development and to maximise any amount allocated by the government to serve the constituents.
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We acknowledge that on Monday, Fahmi had encouraged government-linked companies and companies to keep giving back to the communities through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, which is a good reminder.
At the same time, we understand the minister also mentioned he believed “we can think of ways to work closely with companies that have bigger profits, and that they would consider helping constituencies as part of their CSR efforts”. On the other hand, that should have been more intelligibly conveyed.
The minister’s statement can easily be misconstrued and lead to grave consequences, risking the perpetuation of the political-business nexus. Already, the detrimental practices of rent-seeking and political patronage have become entrenched within the Malaysian political economy.
When alluding to the idea of businesses ‘helping’ MPs in their constituencies, clarity is advised and caution is needed among all public officials in their speech and actions against giving rise to any opportunity for ‘personal relationships’ to be forged between politicians and business people, other than for the purpose of formal engagement in policy-related efforts opened to public participation and scrutiny.
In hindsight, ‘close ties’ linking federal executives with the business world have been the subject of extensive literature. Our own Malaysian history has shown how private connections between politicians and mega-tycoons behind closed doors could lead to the proliferation of rent-seeking, cronyism and patronage in the solicitation of government contracts.
One such instance of the ‘money politics’ scenario involves the ongoing high-profile court case of Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd (UKSB), which admitted to paying tens of millions of ringgit to almost a dozen politicians purportedly as ‘political donations’.
To date, many questions remain unanswered. What happened to the millions it doled out to those politicians? Where did the money come from, despite the company’s poor financial performance from 2015 to 2020?
As the country begins to embrace reform efforts in the hopes of stamping out decades of corruption and the culture of money politics, it is in the best interests of the nation and its people to ensure that our MPs’ relationship with the business community is kept at arm’s length.
In view of this, it is C4 Center’s top priority alongside other civil society organisations (CSOs) to curb the pervasive culture of ‘money politics’. What should no longer be delayed right now is for the tabling of the political funding/financing and asset declaration acts to be expedited and to be made as a major reform agenda under the current administration. – C4 Center