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Should penalties for offences be in proportion to one’s wealth?

It is time to reform our laws to deal with culprits with immense wealth and exalted status

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Should penalties for offences be in proportion to one’s wealth?

Imagine, if this is implemented in Malaysia, we may impose more serious penalties on the political elite, business titans and their cohorts.

It may also end the never-ending speculation about how some of our politicians and their families accumulate unexplained wealth.

A case in Finland rekindled my thoughts about moving in this direction. A Finnish multimillionaire was fined €121,000 for driving 50mph in a 30mph zone. His driving licence was suspended for 10 days.

In Finland, speeding fines are calculated based on a person’s daily disposable income, usually half their daily wage. Finland was the first Nordic nation to introduce the income-based “day fine” system in 1921, and several European nations have since followed suit.

It was not the first time the wealthy businessman was caught speeding. In 2018 he was fined €63,680 for speeding, and in 2013 he was hit with a €95,000 fine. That adds up to €279,000 over the last decade.

To his credit, he said magnanimously he hoped the fine – equivalent to half his disposable income over 14 days – would be spent usefully to fill a funding shortfall in the country’s healthcare system.

Malaysia could adapt this system from Finland, both in the judicial system and for traffic offences. Just consider the following options:

  • If the person who is fined earns RM3,000 a month, the fine for the traffic offence is RM300. That could be the baseline
  • If the person earns RM30,000 a month, then the fine is proportionately raised to RM3,000. What do you think?
  • If the individual is a business owner, look at the wealth earned in a calendar year, and fine him or her accordingly
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In the judicial system, we have these big-time national and international thieves who are getting away with disproportionately peanut fines after stealing billions.

We should consider enacting separate laws to deal with those in exalted position of power who engage in criminal acts. Such laws must be able to neutralise the advantages that such persons enjoy due to their exalted status. 

Otherwise, their immense wealth and power and exalted status could overwhelm any genuine sense or intention to administer justice.

We have cases where the accused who are charged, usually politicians, come in swaggering, sneering and strutting arrogantly like they are at an election campaign. The severity or gravity of the charges they face seem like nothing to them.

For them, it is like swatting flies. They know that the system is up against their immense power or status. They sense that the bottomless pit of their ill-gotten gains or wealth will help immunise them from prosecution or delay their moment of reckoning.

This country urgently needs to upgrade and reform its laws. Too many thieving rogues, ruffians and scoundrels are getting away with brazen theft. The inequalities have been so obvious. The thieves appear to be getting around the system.

It is time to institute a law on unexplained wealth. If individuals live in obscene opulence well beyond their apparent means, they have to justify their financial circumstances.

There must be a specific order by law stipulating that individuals whose wealth or assets are disproportionate to their incomes should be subject to investigation. They need to explain how they derived their wealth.

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The burden of proof must be on the individuals whose excess wealth is beyond their means. If they cannot provide evidence of how they amassed their wealth, then confiscation of all liquid or fixed assets must be the order of the day.

This must cover wealth accumulated locally or overseas. Proxies and families must also be included in the dragnet of laws.

Acquiring and accumulating illicit wealth must not have a timeline bar or statute of limitations. The time span for legal action should be left open.

This should apply to those in business conglomerates, government-linked companies and the state or federal governments.

Say, a prime minister earns RM400,000 a year, but in one year, he receives received illicit wealth running into tens of millions. If he is unable to provide a logical explanation, this unexplained wealth should trigger immediate action.

The penalties could include imprisonment; confiscation of liquid, movable or fixed assets; removal from all political or government positions; and suspension of all royal titles.

Economic or financial crimes have a staggering impact on the nation’s progress. Heavy penalties and jail terms should be on the cards.

There must also be uniformity in how suspects are treated, as well as a unanimous definition of illegitimate wealth. This needs to be constantly upgraded or updated.

As the world advances, so will sophisticated and complex opportunities for grand theft.

The manner in which an ex-prime minister stole from the nation amounts to treasonous treachery. The nation’s economic security was undermined and compromised.

He was charged under existing laws. But, for many observers, the inadequacy of these laws was obvious.

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So far, he and his cohorts have not expressed remorse or offered any restitution for the loss. Even a sitting judge was treated disrespectfully.

This itself suggests that hardened criminals without a conscience appear to be one step ahead of our laws.

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.

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Wally Yap
Wally Yap
4 Jul 2023 4.03pm

We believe that the punishment must fit the crime. Just because a person is rich does not mean that he/she should be penalised more for a similar crime that a poor person commits.Every one is equal before the law.
No denying that any person displaying riches beyond his means should be investigated, isn’t this what the Income Tax Department & Police supposed to do? It is not our Laws that are flawed but it is the implementation which is lacking. Our Police, MACC & AG have been given unfettered powers. The Police and MACC decide whether a crime has been committed. The AG decides whether a criminal act should go to trial. It is imperative that these positions of power should be helmed by persons of the highest integrity.

25 Jun 2023 4.19pm

fully and totally agree…the govt coffers would grow too

Jerry Alfonse
Jerry Alfonse
25 Jun 2023 12.20pm

Good write up. This will not happen here in this country, simply because of the poor political unstability. Above all, the igonarance of dreaming a better nation. Until this is achievable then above statement will be stuck in a “spider web”.

Gursharan Singh
Gursharan Singh
25 Jun 2023 11.03am

Objective for penalties is to be deterrent.

Sweden system has a sliding scale which was used by a Sessions Court Lady President in Kangar some decades ago [when I was in Alor Star Audit] and was effective but she was soon transferred after suspicion that a VVIP was imposed a high fine for speeding.

Singapore imposes deterrent penalties and they are immediate with no exceptions so all incl. Malaysians, follow the laws.

Malaysian political leaderslhip/enforcement authorities elites continuously declare to impose laws but then make the promises hollow when prescribed penalties are not paid [and later written off] and DISCOUNTS GIVEN thus COVERING UP THE INEFFICIENCIES of ENFORCEMENT resulting in LOSS TO GOV.

Bless all

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