31 July 2015
Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan
Director of Strategic Communication, Barisan Nasional
First, let’s talk facts. Political donation is legal in Malaysia.
If you have special preference for a political party and believe in their struggle, you can help them achieve their goals by donating your money and/or assets. Truth be told, you can donate any amount you like: 10 ringgit, 1000 ringgit or even a million – or a billion ringgit for that matter – if you have that kind of amount to spare.
Looking back, I used to be a member of the MACC's Special Committee on Corruption for a span of 5 years (2008-2013). I know for a fact that those fine men and women of the MACC have been trying to get political parties to agree to a more transparent procedure when it comes to political donations. MACC has said that they aspire to have all donations officially declared in the name of transparency and accountability.
When the MACC came up with the notion of political funding reforms, the first head of a political party who supported the idea, would probably surprise you. It was none other than Dato' Sri Najib Tun Razak, the Chairman of Barisan Nasional and UMNO President who publicly declared his support to the MACC's proposal and wanted it to be implemented and co-opted under the Government Transformation Program's initiative.
One of the first parties to object to the funding reform was DAP. The reason given by DAP was largely self-serving – and what a huge disappointment that had been. DAP's leaders said they feared that the reform would put DAP at a disadvantage.
On 1 December 2010, in a meeting with Transparency International – Malaysia (TI-M) with Pakatan Rakyat’s members of parliament, Tian Chua was reported in the minutes of the meeting to have said, “he feared that full disclosure would hurt their contributors and consequently the financing for the opposition, the fear is that the donors might be prosecuted by the winning coalition for supporting the losing coalition in any general election. This would result in a substantial decline of income source for the loosing coalition”. DAP’s Rasah MP Anthony Loke said essentially the same in a Bar Council Forum about political funding on 29 September 2011.
Going along the same argument, why couldn’t Pakatan Rakyat reveal since 2008 the donations they have received from businessmen and individuals in the two richest states they governed – Penang and Selangor – in Malaysia? Clearly the fear of backlash as cited by Tian Chua and Anthony Loke was just a lame excuse and not done in the best interest of transparency.
Everyone knows that the opposition parties are quite savvy in raising funds for their operations. It is also an open secret that they receive political funding from interested businesses and individuals, not to mention from the traditional but effective fund-raising dinners held almost weekly (if not nightly). While no one will be surprised if the funding comes from domestic sources, many people have been speculating that opposition parties also receive funding from foreign sources, too. Some seem to be disguised as NGO funding for the advancement of democratic ideals. Or so it would seem.
Coming back to matters at hand and with that strong objection from DAP, the political funding reform initiative was effectively shelved – it became a non-starter. It never took off. It stalled. Until now many people couldn’t believe why DAP – a political party that prides itself as reformist party – didn't accede to the idea. It seems to many people political contribution for DAP is very crucial. Thus any disruption to the free flow of political funding would be disastrous to DAP's grand plan of Malaysian Malaysia. Otherwise, an unequivocal rejection by DAP of a sure slam-dunk reform initiative like this seemed very odd indeed. No thanks to DAP, Malaysia has lost a great opportunity to address the growing concerns of secrecy regarding political funding in this country.
So, I find it rather perplexing that lately the likes of Tony Pua and Lim Kit Siang have been hypocrite enough in demanding Dato' Sri Najib to reveal the sources of political funding for BN and UMNO, when they have maliciously rejected the political funding reform initiative in the first place.
I recall in minute detail a debate I had in parliament after the 12th general election. I asked DAP MPs how did DAP get so much money to build their new spanking multi million state headquarters in Penang within a mere 2 years of Lim Guan Eng becoming the Chief Minister. After alI, I said it took Gerakan a long 12 years to build its state headquarters which happens to be just an ordinary premise. And I reminded DAP not to forget its socialist roots, which includes loathing anything that smacks of grandeur. As if on cue, several DAP MPs rose to their feet and started hackling me in the middle of my speech. One of them, Ngeh Koo Ham, DAP’s MP for Bruas, shouted across the divide, that DAP had plenty of supporters who were willing to donate their money for DAP’s cause.
On another occasion, during the Permatang Pauh election in 2008 (when Anwar Ibrahim stood as parliamentary candidate), for the first time in my whole political career, BN was absolutely out-spent in terms of logistics and election machinery e.g. posters, banners and campaign activities. I remember, every time BN party workers planted one BN flag, within 2 hours it would be drowned by hundreds of opposition flags. Whenever BN put up sizeable banners, the opposition would outdo us with twice the magnitude within half a day.
It is clear that without huge political donation, there is no way for the opposition parties to run their massive election machinery.
Based on this ethos of political funding, BN is familiar too to such pursuit. It is my hope that Tun Dr Mahathir does remember his blog posting, which was published on 13 June 2008, where he admitted that he handed over RM1.4 billion – in cash and assets – to the then newly minted UMNO president, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2003. That was the value of UMNO's cash and assets back then. Fast forward 12 years to the present day, taking into consideration inflation over the years and the greater challenges to fund UMNO and BN state liaison committees in the 4 states (namely Selangor, Penang, Kedah and Kelantan) which they lost since 2008, I won't be surprised if the leadership has to be more proactive to solicit more funding from its supporters and donors.
All said and done, there is now a louder demand to regulate political donations and the opposition especially DAP can't ignore it anymore. But until such monumental leap of faith becomes a reality within the opposition's coalition, one should never be deluded enough to hold the higher ground against another.