Empower MACC to investigate election offences, says anti-graft group

Low Han Shaun Jason Santos

THE Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) should be empowered to investigate election offences, including those that involve abuse of power to gerrymander and manipulate constituency boundaries, a report released by anti-graft watchdog C4 said today.

C4, or Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism, said that corruption in elections in Malaysia was “pervasive” and despite evidence and laws available, the authorities were quick to pass the buck between agencies.

“This raises the question over whose responsibility is it to uphold electoral laws during elections,” it said in its report, The role of the Election Commission (EC) and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, released in Petaling Jaya today.

Among the corrupt election practices it cited were the culture of money politics, political financing, abuse of power by a caretaker government and manipulation of electoral boundaries.

As an example of political financing, C4 cited the admission by Prime Minister Najib Razak that he had received donations from foreign sources for the elections.

C4 in its report also alleged that the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal had a role in financing Najib’s campaign in the 13th general election in 2013.

The report proposed six recommendations to fight corruption in elections:

  • Amend the MACC Act where it defines prescribed offences to include election offences and illegal practices defined by the Election Offences Act (EOA) 1954, thus extending the powers of MACC to investigate these election offences.
  • Expand the corrupt practices under the EOA to include abuse of power by a caretaker government and manipulation of constituency boundaries by way of gerrymandering.
  • Make mandatory an enforcement team to monitor and control election activities by amending the EOA, as such a provision was currently non-existent, thus creating “a huge enforcement gap”.
  • Include civil society organisations involved in electoral reforms and anti-corruption into the training of this enforcement team.
  • Coordinate efforts between the EC and the authorities to ensure compliance with existing laws dealing with corruption.

Vote buying

In the report, C4 said vote-buying during elections had defined Malaysian politics.

“This deeply embedded culture of money politics has created an uneven level playing field and empowered the culture of impunity, thus making the quest of accountability an uphill battle.”

The report also cited analyst and researcher, associate professor Bridget Welsh, who wrote on money politics during the Sarawak state election in 2016, where she estimated RM1 billion were used to provide “free dinners” under the 1MDB label.

In addition to vote buying, the report also said that members of the caretaker government had used their positions, government machinery or funds in campaigning. This contradicted ethical conventions that a caretaker government should remain politically neutral.

“The breach of the caretaker government’s obligation to refrain from using its position and resources for political gain during election campaigning period is evident in the GE13 and the 11th Sarawak state election,” the report said.

The C4 report also alleged manipulation of constituency boundaries, gerrymandering or malapportionment in the delineation of six constituencies in Selangor namely, Petaling Jaya Utara, Serdang, Klang, Petaling Jaya Selatan, Kelana Jaya and Kota Raja.

This violated constitutional provisions on ensuring equal voting power and equal representation of votes, it said.

The report said there were already laws under the EOA that could prevent certain corrupt practices during elections, such as threatening civil servants that their vote was not secret.

This is an offence under Section 9 of the EOA, which deals with undue influence.

“A person’s vote is secret and any person who breaches the secrecy of the vote commits an offence under Section 5 of the EOA, which deals with the maintenance of secrecy of elections,” the report added.

Other sections of the EOA, such as Section 8 on treating and Section 10 on bribery, also covered both direct and indirect actions to induce any any person to either vote or refrain from voting.

The MACC Act under Section 7 on function of the commission’s officers also has a provision on examining practices of systems and procedures of public bodies, thus giving power to the commission to investigate offences related to corrupt practices stipulated under the EOA.

“In view of these provisions, the obligation to hold those who commit corrupt practices under Part III of the EOA accountable lies with the MACC,” it said.

Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah, who was present, said she had highlighted these provisions to the EC and MACC before.

“But we were told that while they can investigate, they are limited in taking action,” she said. – November 11, 2017.

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