Force public officials to declare all their assets

An asset declaration should cover the public official’s assets and income, and those of his spouse and dependent children.

By Kua Kia Soong

The torrid exposure of the ostentatious wealth seized from residences linked to former prime minister Najib Razak and the mantra of transparency by the new Pakatan Harapan government points to the urgent need for full asset declarations by all public officials.

To presume that corruption and ostentatious wealth are only afflictions that affect BN and not PH politicians is the ultimate in naivete.

Corruption is a key threat to the growth of our nation and its institutions. Fighting corruption and promoting good public governance must be the top priority of the new government.

Making it mandatory for all public officials to declare all their assets, including those of their spouses and children, is crucial to the campaign to prevent corruption in politics.

The leaders of the three branches of government — executive, legislative and judiciary — and senior civil servants should be required to file asset declarations before and after taking office, as well as periodically while they are in office.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (Uncac), which has been ratified by 166 countries, requires a legal framework for asset declarations by government officials.

Asset declarations that are open to public scrutiny is a way for citizens to ensure leaders do not abuse their power for personal gain, the corollary of corruption.

What asset declarations should cover

We have seen some state administrations carrying out tokenistic “asset declarations” by their ministers involving just information about their salaries and allowances as state representatives. This is far from the best practices expected of asset declarations.

An asset declaration should cover the public official’s assets and income, the assets and income of their spouses and dependent children, from all homes, valuables and financial portfolios, as well as liabilities, such as debts and mortgages; all sources of income from directorships and investments to consulting contracts; gifts and any potential conflicts of interest, such as unpaid employment contracts.

For a start, the new PH government should stop the dubious practice of appointing peoples’ representatives as directors of federal and state corporations.

All public corporations must be run by independent and qualified professionals and not government lackeys, an obvious conflict of interest.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) can be put in charge of this asset disclosure programme. It can monitor and evaluate the information and can investigate, prosecute and sanction those who fail to comply.

Thus far, only the leaders of Parti Sosialis Malaysia have periodically declared their assets.

It is time for the prime minister to lead by example and ensure he and all his ministers and representatives fully declare their assets upon taking office.

Kua Kia Soong is the adviser to Suaram.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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