Why election candidates must bare their assets

Mustafa K. Anuar

After Pakatan Harapan chairman Anwar Ibrahim and other politicians declared their assets, PAS' curious response to the exercise has sparked discussions on the importance of transparency as corruption eats away at the country's institutions. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 11, 2022.

Commentary by Mustafa K. Annuar

THE asset declarations made recently by PKR president Anwar Ibrahim and his deputy Rafizi Ramli was rightly welcomed by anti-graft activists, who at the same time called on other election candidates to follow suit.

Rafizi, the party’s first candidate to do so, declared that his net assets are worth RM18.85 million, most of which constitute shares in data analytics company Invoke.

On his part, Anwar declared assets worth about RM11.2 million, which consists of a house and three plots of land worth RM10.35 million and about RM829,000 in cash and savings.

Most of PKR’s election candidates have published their asset declarations on the party’s candidate website.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia candidates also declared their assets, and so have some Amanah candidates, as well as Muda president Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman.

Such declarations, however, have elicited a curious kind of response from PAS.

The Islamist party’s vice-president Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah reportedly announced that the party did not intend to encourage, let alone compel, its candidates to declare their assets.

He argued that PAS leaders are not wealthy and could be embarrassed when compared with other candidates who might have assets worth millions of ringgit.

Besides, he added, it should only apply to people holding public office.

Amar also cautioned that such an exercise would bring more harm than good, as it could put at risk those who expose themselves.

But then, one might argue that it is most likely that only the rich – not the moderately well-off or relatively less moneyed – candidates who declare their assets would get public glare or curiosity.

It seems as if PAS has sadly mistaken such declarations for a who-is-richer contest.

We should be mindful that the intention of the declaration exercise has never been to embarrass a candidate who is not rolling in wealth and blessed with other forms of material abundance.

As intimated above, a candidate who is overwhelmingly wealthy should have cause to worry or be embarrassed if they cannot convincingly explain how the wealth has been accumulated.

If wealth is indeed a crucial requirement of an election candidate, then the likes of Jose Mujica would shy away from standing for elections and winning, let alone leading a country.

The former president of Uruguay is known to have led a spartan lifestyle, living on his wife’s ramshackle farm and driving a rickety 1987 Volkswagen Beetle to boot.

Obviously, Mujica has no preference for such marques as Mercedes Benz, BMW, Porsche and (Toyota) Vellfire, which other politicians would find too difficult to resist.

Former Kelantan menteri besar, the late Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, should be a nagging reminder to the PAS leadership that possession of immense wealth should not be a required factor or criterion to play a useful and vital role in politics.

What is also important is that a candidate should have the commitment, humility and sincerity to work in the interest of their constituency – and not to occupy a position of power only to enrich themself materially.

Voters dislike candidates who would be disconnected from the rest of society in terms of lifestyle and worldview soon after being voted into power.

To be sure, asset declaration is to prevent corruption, apart from promoting transparency and accountability, and checking conflicts of interest and unlawful enrichments.

Furthermore, it would enable voters to compare candidates’ economic status prior to elections with their positions after they assume public office.

Making such a comparison is especially important in a society like ours, where corruption has become embedded in political culture.

Besides, a candidate’s credibility and integrity can also be enhanced through asset declarations.

It is hoped that unlike PAS, other political parties such as DAP and Bersatu would not be “embarrassed” to have their candidates publicly declare their assets. – November 11, 2022.

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