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Dangerous to mix party and government affairs

The inability or refusal to observe the distinction between party and the state may give rise to a conflict of interest

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It seemed like a storm in a teacup for some people when criticisms were hurled against Local Government and Development Minister Nga Kor Ming after he presented mock cheques to Chinese schools in Perak bearing not only the national coat of arms but also the DAP and Pakatan Harapan logos.

Nga handed out mock cheques to 17 Chinese primary and secondary schools recently as part of a RM1.8m government allocation for repair and upgrading work.

In what was termed as friendly fire, MCA deputy president Mah Hang Soon and Umno youth wing chief Dr Akmal Saleh objected to the use of the party logos. The parties of the two leaders are part of the “unity government”.

It is more than just a storm in the teacup because, as rightly pointed out by Mah, conflating party interests and government’s affairs may lead to an abuse of power by ruling politicians. To be sure, there is a vital distinction – even if it is a fine one – to be made between the two. Blurring the line has serious implications for the integrity of a sitting government.

Given that the funds for the schools are allocated by the government, the political parties concerned do not have the moral ground to claim credit for such a gesture. To reiterate, such funds come from the national coffers, not the kitty of the parties concerned.

Offering financial aid to the schools may provide an excellent photo opportunity, but it also comes with the expectation that the benefactor is prudent.

Besides, in a highly charged political environment such as contemporary Malaysia, putting the DAP logo on the cheques could be read as DAP’s lingering attempt to reinforce its position as the champion of Chinese interests, much to the chagrin of Malay nationalists.

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Moreover, such optics is not good for Umno, now a strange bedfellow with former nemesis DAP within the unity government.

The inability or refusal to observe the distinction between party and the state may give rise to a conflict of interest, which could bring into question a sitting government’s integrity, trustworthiness and professionalism.

For example, ruling politicians would be tempted to use government machinery for their party affairs, such as misusing government vehicles for party purposes.

The directive given by caretaker Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari to all members of the state executive council not to use their official vehicles for political programmes following the dissolution of the Selangor assembly was a step in the right direction.

An exemplary figure in Islamic history, Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, the eighth Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate, should serve as a useful reminder as well as an inspiration to our politicians as he was very particular about ethical conduct, prudence and justice. In his office, the caliph had two candles. He would use the candle belonging to the state for writing things regarding state affairs. On the other hand, he would use the other candle, which he bought using his own money, to write his own personal letters.

Making the distinction may sound trivial for some, but it makes a crucial difference in governance. – The Malaysian Insight

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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