Najib sets up national panel to police political financing

FUNDING WITH INTEGRITY: The National Consultative Committee on Political Funding will produce an action plan on political funding with integrity, through necessary updates and improvements to laws within a year, which will be implemented before the 1
FUNDING WITH INTEGRITY: The National Consultative Committee on Political Funding will produce an action plan on political funding with integrity, through necessary updates and improvements to laws within a year, which will be implemented before the 14th General Election. - MR NAJIB RAZAK, on the urgent need to regulate political financing

Panel will produce action plan to develop laws on such funding for accountability

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced the setting up of a national panel on political funding, amid calls for laws to deal with such financing following a controversial US$700 million (S$982 million) political donation to his bank accounts.

The National Consultative Committee on Political Funding (JKNMPP) will come up with an action plan within a year to develop laws on "political funding with integrity", said Datuk Seri Najib in a statement yesterday.

The JKNMPP will be chaired by Datuk Paul Low, with Datuk Seri Idris Jala as his deputy. Both men are ministers in the Prime Minister's Department. The committee will also include politicians, community leaders, academics and members of government agencies, the private sector and civil society.

Pointing out that there are no current regulations to deal with political funding, Mr Najib said: "There is an urgent need to regulate political financing to ensure accountability and transparency, in order to create a healthy political practice."

He did not explain why the committee was being set up now, but noted that the matter had been raised by himself and several other parties since 2009, with "no response". Mr Najib had previously blamed the opposition for shooting down such proposals.

The committee will consider "all aspects of political funding rules", including changes to institutions, rules and legal enforcement.

"JKNMPP will produce an action plan on political funding with integrity, through necessary updates and improvements to laws within a year, which will be implemented before the 14th General Election," he said, referring to Malaysia's next polls, which must be called by 2018.

The statement did not mention the US$700 million he received from unnamed Middle Eastern sources, which led to an outcry among the public and even within his ruling party, Umno.

The revelation about the massive donation, as well as the alleged mismanagement of troubled state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) - of which Mr Najib is chief adviser - has in recent months put the Malaysian Premier under intense pressure to resign.

There have also been concerns about the economy, with the ringgit sliding further to close at RM4.08 to US$1 yesterday.

But Mr Najib appears to have withstood the onslaught for now. The component parties of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) pledged their support to Mr Najib yesterday, as the heads of all 13 parties - who include Mr Najib - met at the Prime Minister's Office.

"No one asked for his resignation," said Parti Rakyat Sarawak president James Masing.

But Mr Najib continues to face dissent within Umno, not least from deputy party leader Muhyiddin Yassin, who was removed as Deputy Prime Minister last month.

Yesterday, Tan Sri Muhyiddin urged Mr Najib to reveal the whereabouts of the donation's balance.

"What is the balance of the money when the account was closed?... If there is any money left, where is it?" he was quoted as saying by The Malaysian Insider, in a speech at a divisional meeting in Terengganu.

The news portal also reported on rumblings among the Umno grassroots, including attempts to censure Mr Najib and motions being filed to reinstate the postponed party polls.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2015, with the headline 'Najib sets up national panel to police political financing'. Print Edition | Subscribe