KUALA LUMPUR: It is not necessary for candidates standing in elections to declare their assets, former minister Zaid Ibrahim said today.
However, he said it was more important for those appointed ministers to declare their assets, and for systems to be in place to ensure enforcement agencies and the judiciary were graft-free.
The federal opposition should be more concerned about how to reorganise public institutions so that they could be competent and trustworthy.
Zaid, a DAP member, said this in his blog in commenting on the work of Invoke Malaysia headed by Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli to help selected candidates win at the upcoming general election.
Zaid said Invoke was even promising financial help to these candidates if they satisfied conditions imposed by Invoke, and that many who aspired to be elected representatives had accepted Invoke’s offer of help and were willing to declare their assets.
“However, I am not sure that this is a good idea, simply because some good candidates may have a lot of debts they do not want the world to know about.”
He quickly added that being ‘indebted’ did not mean a candidate was not suitable to be a MP nor did it mean the candidate would be corrupt when he or she became a backbencher in parliament.
“In a parliamentary system, the ones who are most vulnerable to corruption are the ministers because they make commercial and policy decisions – backbenchers only meet 42 days in a year.”
He also noted that Malaysian backbenchers did not have the same level of influence or clout that “lobbyists” of the United States Congress had to enact laws.
So, he said, “we don’t need to know how rich they are”.
He said Invoke’s policy of asset declaration would put the other candidates in the opposition camp in a difficult situation.
“It opens the door to the Barisan Nasional asking questions about why other Pakatan candidates are also not declaring their assets. ‘What are they trying to hide?’ Umno will ask. They may want to know why some candidates are getting financial help from Invoke and not others.
Umno will create unnecessary issues for the Pakatan to deal with.”
Zaid said the issue of asset declaration should be dealt with collectively by Pakatan Harapan, and that Invoke should have waited for the PH council to decide on it.
While it was useful for ministers to declare their financial assets, it was “really not necessary for all aspiring MPs to do so”.
Candidates, he pointed out, might not even win the election, and the PH coalition might also not succeed in forming a new government.
“Declaring assets is a useful and necessary step under the right circumstances, but shouldn’t we worry first about how to reorganise our public institutions so that they can be competent and trustworthy? We need to start talking about reforms that Pakatan will need to implement to achieve a truly professional public service.
“What are the changes we will undertake to take care of Jakim, Felda, Mara, Khazanah and Petronas, for example? These reforms are surely a more pressing matter.
“Before we start with MPs being truthful about their assets, should we not first make sure that the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission are free from the influence of corrupt elites and underworld bosses?
“Should we not talk first about how to make sure the judiciary is not scared of the new prime minister and is manned by competent judges?”
Zaid said when he was a candidate in Hulu Selangor, the BN and Umno were busy telling the people that he was a rich man and that it was Umno that had make him rich.
“This was pure fiction, to make Umno voters hate me for being ungrateful. Would it have made any difference if I had declared my assets and liabilities while this prime minister was handing out millions every other day to the voters? No it would not.”
Zaid said even if he were to be picked as a candidate in GE14, he would not declare his assets.
“It’s unnecessary, and I must admit, embarrassing to my family to let the world know how much I still owe creditors. Being ordinary is painful when the world thinks you are rich.”
He noted that MPs in other modern parliaments were also not required to declare their assets.
“It’s a different matter if someone is given a ministerial portfolio – then the government and the new prime minister may want ministers to declare their assets and liabilities for public viewing. That is when asset declaration should become a relevant issue for Pakatan.”