Malaysian PM Mahathir to require Cabinet members to declare wealth, refuse gifts

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is also drafting a law to ensure political parties do not return favours to financial donors that support them.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is also drafting a law to ensure political parties do not return favours to financial donors that support them.PHOTO: REUTERS

PUTRAJAYA (BLOOMBERG, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is putting safeguards in place to prevent graft in Malaysia by requiring his Cabinet members declare their wealth and refuse gifts more valuable than perishable food and flowers.

"We will do everything possible," Tun Dr Mahathir told reporters in Putrajaya. "We are in the midst of formulating laws and ways of administration so that we can reduce corruption and maybe even eradicate corruption in Malaysia."

The requirement applies to his entire government, including himself, all his ministers and MPs, with a deadline for the asset declaration to be set soon, he said on Tuesday (July 10). 

Dr Mahathir said corruption could only be successfully curbed if the top leaders in government, including the prime minister, ministers and elected representatives were truly free from corrupt practices. 

He added that his Pakatan Harapan (PH) government was also mulling over whether to make it compulsory for family members of elected representatives to also declare their assets to the country's anti-graft agency. "This involves a lot of persons, including family members of the elected representatives," he said.

Asked whether the asset declarations of elected PH representatives would be made public, he said the government was assessing how much information could be made public. "We are considering how much we can reveal to the public, because it may affect the privacy of a lot more members of the family." 

He said, to his knowledge, no PH elected representative had made the declaration to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) so far. 

Last week, former premier Najib Razak was charged with several counts of criminal breach of trust and corruption related to 1Malaysia Development Berhad, the state fund that lies at the centre of a multi-billion-dollar scandal.

Raids by the police at sites linked to Najib found RM1.1 billion (S$369.6 million) of cash, jewellery and luxury handbags, which has prompted public outrage in the country where the median household income was RM62,736 in 2016.

Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing and entered a not guilty plea on all the charges.

Dr Mahathir is also drafting a law to ensure political parties don't return favours to financial donors that support them, citing the US model as a cautionary tale.

"We see the US which has a system of lobbyists and they are paid to influence the government to do certain things for the people who paid the money," Dr Mahathir said. "That, to us, is corruption. We will not allow that in Malaysia."

He is considering whether political funding could come from the state budget.

Dr Mahathir, who is also the world's oldest elected leader, turned 93 on Tuesday. Asked by the media what his birthday wish was, he responded: "My wish is for the press to help us overcome corruption."