IT’S good that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad confirmed a special motion warranting a mandatory declaration of assets by lawmakers from both sides of the political divide will be tabled tomorrow. It is hoped that every politician will support this motion.
Once approved, it will be compulsory for members of parliament as well as their family members to declare their income and assets to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). This would deter them from using their influence and abusing their positions to get financial rewards.
Prior to this, chief secretaries and heads of departments are required to declare their assets to the Public Service Department while cabinet members would declare theirs to the prime minister. This raises some questions, as failure to place this issue under an independent body results in reduced transparency. Moreover, the disclosure of assets requires expert evaluation and a monitoring agency to verify the information and take action against those who fail to comply.
There was action taken by the new government when Pakatan Harapan parliamentarians declared their assets to MACC. The information is posted on MACC’s website (https://mydeclaration.sprm.gov.my/). However, the declaration is confined to their monthly income and assets, and does not contain details about the assets, income sources and liabilities. As seen on the website, Dr Mahathir’s income is RM75, 861.57 and total assets are RM32,357,900. The monthly salary of a prime minister is RM20,544 and an MP, RM16,000. The monthly salary of a minister is RM13,416.
Penang state executive councillors publicly declare their assets online, in line with the competency, accountability and transparency principles.
Making an asset and income declaration public enables society to detect violations of financial disclosure requirements. It allows the public to hold leaders accountable, providing additional scrutiny and complementing the role of official oversight bodies.
Many studies reveal that an asset declaration that is open to public scrutiny is a way to ensure leaders do not abuse their power. Without a doubt, making a public declaration of assets is an effective anti-corruption tool.
Disclosure of assets should not only be done before and after taking office. Periodic net-worth analysis should also be conducted, with the records kept by forensic accounting experts and investigators. The administrator of the asset disclosure will be required to monitor, collect and evaluate information on the assets periodically.
An asset profiling system should be introduced to determine how much assets a personnel is expected to have based on his position, years of service and present and past emoluments.
Asset profiling should also include their spouses, dependents and immediate family members along with any business interests or institutions they may be part of. Those who fail to comply will be probed.
The repeated calls for transparency and full public disclosure of assets of elected and public officials go a long way towards improving the confidence of Malaysians in the integrity, accountability, transparency, trust and good governance of public administration and the government. This is also to prevent corruption, conflict of interest, collusion, and uncover illicit enrichment and false accusation of their wealth, and monitor wealth of politicians and public servants.
A good asset declaration law requires all public officials to declare their income, assets, liabilities and financial interests.
This is a valid demand because they hold power over allocation of resources and their salaries are paid through the public tax contribution. One of the steps to overcome this problem is to request the leadership of the three branches of government — the executive, legislature and judiciary — to declare their assets to the MACC.
Besides that, the MACC chief herself should declare her assets to Parliament. The declaration is in line with the belief that transparency and accountability starts at the top.
Studies show a growing trend in many countries requiring public officials to declare their assets and income. Across the world, members of the public expect their top leaders to publish information about their assets and liabilities with full transparency.
In order to improve transparency of public service and comply with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the Macau government established the Legal Regime of Declaration of Assets and Interests in April 2013.
This covers all public office-holders, including the chief executive, the commissioner of audit, the commissioner of the unitary police service, members of legislative council, judges and public prosecutors, members of the executive council, directorship and senior management officers of public services and funds and other public legal persons, as well as chairpersons and boards of directors, administrators and supervisors.
All Commission against Corruption (CCAC) staff submit their declaration forms to the Secretariat of Court of Final Appeal while the other staff of public administration submit their forms to the Declaration of Assets and Interests Division of the CCAC. This is one of the best and most effective asset disclosure systems.
Thailand’s 1999 Organic Act on Counter Corruption requires all political office-holders and high-ranking public officials to make full disclosure of their assets and liabilities, including those of their spouses and minor children.
The National Counter Corruption Commission is responsible for publishing the financial disclosures of a number of highest-ranking public officials in the government gazette.
The asset declaration framework of Indonesia is a good and effective model which requires public officials to submit a wealth report within two months of taking office, getting promoted or transferred.
Today, Filipinos have the right to review the financial disclosures of all public officials and employees, including their spouses and unmarried minor children living in their households, pursuant to Section 8 of the 1989 Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. The Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism also posts the asset declarations of the congress and the cabinet in an online database.
This issue is more apparent now as averting corruption and questioning the rich lifestyles of various personalities have become a favourite topic of conversation in our country.
If leaders are seen to live beyond their means, which is the most common red flag, an asset declaration can be a starting point for investigations.
Economically, corruption leads to the depletion of national wealth, and integrity is an important element in a nation’s success and survival. Failing to do this may also contribute to further negative impact on the perception of corruption in our country. As such, its implementation should be without delay.
The government should also consider amending Section 36 of the MACC Act to make it easier for the MACC to compel an individual to declare his assets without having to first initiate an investigation. If this section is amended, anyone suspected of having unusual wealth would have to explain to the MACC. The amendment should top the government’s to-do list this year because it would enhance public confidence in the MACC.
There is nothing wrong with being rich as long as the accumulated assets are obtained legitimately. As such, it becomes very necessary for politicians and public servants to be honest and maintain their integrity.
Above all, senior government servants, members of the administration and political leaders must not only be corrupt-free but also seen as corrupt-free.
The writer is Malaysia Association of Certified Fraud Examiner president and director of Institute of Crime & Criminology, HELP University