Such disclosures are a vital form of checks and balances in the battle against endemic corruption, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
There’s something peculiar about the brazenness of 62 opposition lawmakers defying Parliament’s order for all MPs to declare their assets.
It is as if these MPs from Barisan Nasional, Pas and Gabungan Parti Sarawak are giving the middle finger to the principles of transparency and accountability, which are integral to good governance and, equally vital, personal integrity.
Such behaviour also seems to suggest that they are scoffing at the bitter experience that our nation underwent when it was inflicted by the scourge of corruption in the recent past, when misappropriation of funds was largely brought about by lax institutional scrutiny and unethical practices among top public officials.
This unwillingness to declare assets could also raise public suspicion, rightly or otherwise, that the lawmakers concerned may have something sinister to hide.
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The Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4), therefore, was not asking too much when it called for more severe punishment to be meted out to the 62 MPs for their defiance.
On 1 July, Parliament unanimously passed a motion to make it mandatory for all MPs and their family members to declare their assets. Lawmakers who fail to comply would be referred to the parliamentary Rights and Privileges Committee under Standing Order 80 of Parliament.
By virtue of their public position, lawmakers are subject to public scrutiny, whether they like it or not.
Asset declarations would enable the rakyat to know how and when the lawmakers acquired assets and to know whether their political representatives are “unsoiled” or not.
While opposition politicians may not get their hands on institutional funds, their access to such financial resources is enhanced – and subsequently the temptation to reach for the till – if and when they get voted into power.
Besides, asset declarations are a standard practice in many western countries and such countries in our region as Singapore, Thailand and South Korea in their endeavour to combat abuse of power and corruption.
It can hardly be more emphasised that asset declarations are a vital form of checks and balances in our effort to fight against endemic corruption, particularly among politicians who are misguided by the notion that political power opens the door to easy and immense wealth.
As it is, we have already seen several political leaders and lawmakers from the past administration who have been dragged into the court and charged with corruption, embezzlement and criminal breach of trust. To be clear, such alleged unethical practices are the cause of our drained national coffers to the extent that they undermine national development and security. They have also spiked the national debt.
These are politicians who have unashamedly flaunted lavish lifestyles to the chagrin of taxpayers and especially the dispossessed, whose only dream is to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty.
In opposing this parliamentary order, Pas president Abdul Hadi Awang reportedly insisted that sincerity was more important than asset declarations.
But then, sincerity in politics can be as elusive as a runaway bull. Certain politicians are ever ready to swear to plunge into politics for the one and only purpose of serving the ordinary people – and yet, they have no qualms about selling their souls to the devil.
It is our hope that lawmakers in general would come to realise that declaring assets is as crucial as measuring up to the title of “Yang Berhormat” (Right Honourable).