Funds must go to party accounts: Minister

Mr Paul Low.
Mr Paul Low. PHOTO: ST FILE

Comments come as $960m linked to PM Najib continues to raise questions

Political funds should be deposited into a party's account and not into its leaders' personal accounts, the minister in charge of governance and integrity Paul Low said.

Mr Low's comments came as the US$700 million (S$960 million) allegedly linked to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) that was deposited into Prime Minister Najib Razak's personal bank accounts continued to raise questions. While the anti-graft agency has said US$681 million was donations from the Middle East, and not linked to the debt-laden state investor, it is still probing another RM42 million (S$15 million). The government has called the funds political donations.

In an interview with Malay-language daily Sinar Harian published yesterday, Mr Low said: "We must ensure that funds are not channelled into personal accounts but enter party accounts because if the money goes into personal accounts, it will be difficult to account for."

The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, who is pushing for legislation on political funding to ensure transparency, also said donors should be screened to avoid abuse of power by politicians when the donors demand "payback".

"We can allow corporations to donate to parties but it must be revealed because the public needs to know," Mr Low added.

Separately, Mingguan Malaysia editor Ku Seman Ku Hussain challenged the government's propaganda chief Puad Zarkashi and newly appointed Multimedia and Communications Minister Salleh Said Keruak to a televised debate.

The two men had criticised a column in which Mr Ku Seman pointed out that the US$700 million could not be considered party funds as Umno leaders, aside from Mr Najib, who is party president, were not aware of their existence.

"The responses by Najib's two generals give the public the impression that senior Umno leaders are so idiotic they don't even know what is going on with the party accounts," he wrote in a blog posting.

The huge amount of money has people asking if its donor or donors would be able to exercise undue influence over the Najib administration.

Culture and Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz, a senior Umno official, insisted yesterday that the donation came from a "brotherly nation" in the Middle East.

"It's like a cousin who wants to see a party win the general election," he was quoted as saying by the Malaysiakini news website.

It would not have any undue influence over the government because it is not a superpower like the United States, Datuk Seri Nazri added.

But the minister disagreed with plans for stricter Internet laws mooted by Mr Najib and Datuk Seri Salleh, saying the government must learn to counter negative postings on social media instead of censoring them.

Meanwhile, Mr Reezal Merican, a former member of a parliamentary commission investigating 1MDB, said that new members should be appointed to the bipartisan Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as soon as possible so that it can resume its work.

The PAC's probe was suspended after its chairman and a few members, including Mr Reezal, were appointed to the Cabinet recently.

Mr Reezal, now Deputy Foreign Minister, called for a special parliamentary sitting to be convened this month as the next sitting of Parliament does not take place until October. "There is still a large amount of work to be done by the PAC if we are to restore the public's confidence," he added.

Electoral reforms group Bersih, which has led three major street demonstrations since 2007, said yesterday that it had notified the police of its plans to hold an overnight rally in Kuala Lumpur from Aug 29-30, the eve of Malaysia's National Day.

It is calling for Mr Najib to go on leave until after investigations into the 1MDB are completed.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Funds must go to party accounts: Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe