Malaysian MPs approve move to declare assets in bid to clean up politics

The skyline of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital, on March 11, 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

KUALA LUMPUR - All Malaysian MPs must declare their assets or face censure by parliament's disciplinary panel, as the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government won a unanimous vote on Monday (July 1) that should ease criticism of walking back on promises of reform.

Despite claiming of the parliamentary motion being "unIslamic" and defective, opposition lawmakers eventually did not vote against it after five hours of debate.

The motion was tabled by de facto law minister Liew Vui Keong yesterday afternoon for all 222 MPs to declare their wealth and that of their spouses, adult children and trustees to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

"Anti-corruption initiatives are not just limited to preventive and punitive actions, but from the perspective of the public, the efforts must not only be done, but be seen," he said, adding that the move was one of the reforms promised in PH'selection manifesto.

This will extend the ruling coalition's self-imposed commitment - all ministers and their deputies have made their declarations - to opposition lawmakers.

It was reported that as of May, up to 15 of the government's 139 MPs had yet to submit their forms to the anti-graft agency. But analysts say this reluctance will ease now that the requirement will also apply to the opposition.

"This levels the playing field for political financing, as Malaysia's democracy has always featured handouts and aid that require substantial resources," Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun told The Straits Times.

Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man had insisted asset declaration was against Islamic teaching.

"If God gives us wealth, you do not reveal it to the public, because it will cause envy," he told reporters, citing security concerns.

PAS secretary general Takiyuddin Hassan said it was unclear how MPs would be punished for not declaring their wealth, calling the motion "irregular and I therefore move to reject it. I will not declare and will be the first to defy it".

An MP that does not declare his assets by Oct 1, can be referred to the Rights and Privileges Committee, which is Parliament's disciplinary panel.

His stance was supported by Umno representatives, and Santubong MP and former minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar from Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu, which controls the state of Sarawak, advised the government not to "act in such haste until you veer into the drain".

The Mahathir Mohamad administration has been criticised by its liberal supporters for backing away from promises such as ratifying various international human rights conventions, abolishing mandatory death penalties, and repealing draconian laws such as the Sedition Act.

Next on the government's legislative agenda is to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, but it will require the support of opposition members, as it requires two thirds, or 148 of the 222-strong Parliament, to mandate the necessary constitutional amendment.

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