Billions in cash handouts akin to vote-buying, critics say in report

PUTRAJAYA has handed out RM2.5 billion to low-income Malaysians since July last year, in what critics decry as a vote-buying exercise ahead of the 14th general election, reported the Straits Times.

It said money dished out to the poor, farmers, fishermen, civil servants, religious teachers and village chiefs was on top of the RM6.3 billion to be paid out under the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) programme this year.

“Money is being promised all over. There’s absolutely no restraint,” lawyer and activist Ambiga Sreenevasan was quoted as saying.

The handouts follow a pattern of Barisan Nasional’s moves ahead of elections.

A year before the 2013 general election, the government allocated RM300 million for a 3G smartphone package for youth aged between 21 and 30.

It also gave civil servants a six-week bonus and allocated RM60 million to raise the minimum civil service pension level by RM100 to RM820 a month.

The year after the polls, civil servants got a half-month bonus, while pensioners received a one-off RM250 payment.

Political science professor Bridget Welsh said the BN government spent RM57.7 billion, or RM1,923 per person, on election-related incentives from 2009 to 2013, an amount she described as “the most expensive in its (election) history”, according to the report.

It noted that even opposition-led state governments were taking a leaf out of BN’s playbook, albeit on a smaller scale.

In Pakatan Harapan-ruled Selangor, the state government funds a RM250,000 annual handout programme for the poor in PKR’s Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen’s constituency.

In the DAP-ruled Penang, flood-hit households got a one-off payment of RM700 after last year’s devastating storm.

The Straits Times said despite these payments being legitimate aid programmes, they were still perceived as vote-buying.

On February 2, photos of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Noh Omar handing out cash at parent-teacher association meetings in his constituency caused a furore on social media.

Noh, who is also Selangor BN chairman, said the money was from a RM328 million government programme, called Schooling Assistance, to help 3.2 million students during the back-to-school season.

But, critics say the money is supposed to be channelled to schools as grants, before being distributed to parents.

Activists said the minister’s actions created the perception that politicians were fishing for votes.

“It’s money politics legitimised. These direct cash handouts are akin to bribes, especially during election times,” Cynthia Gabriel, director of anti-graft watchdog Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism, told the daily. – February 28, 2018.

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