Declaring assets of politicians is a way to stop corruption among the elite, say critics.

PETALING JAYA: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz’s argument that public disclosure of assets by ministers and family members is dangerous has no merit at all.

“I don’t think his argument is valid at all. If he thinks that when you disclose your assets, people will think you’re rich and you become subject to security risks, he is wrong,” said Transparency International Malaysia president Paul Lau.

“Today, nobody thinks ministers are poor anyway,” Lau said, adding that public disclosure of assets is good accountability and is a positive move by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

“This would be one of the best ways to start preventing corruption and abuse. Such disclosure can show what a person has before and after, how the person has acquired large amounts of assets suddenly; all this would throw up red flags,” said Lau.

He said all assets of all federal leaders, old and new, should be disclosed to the public.

“If you look at US President Barack Obama, he is required to disclose any source of income that is above US$5,000. If he can, I don’t see why we can’t. Our leaders should also disclose any income he receives that is above RM5,000,” he said.

Lau also suggested that MACC should be beefed up in the fight against corruption.

“The MACC powers should be increased to enable them to compel leaders accused of corruption to declare their assets and liabilities to the MACC in full,” he said.

Public confusion

Yesterday, Nazri said that ministers and their family members should not be subjected to stringent requirements such as declaring their assets to the MACC. “If we make these details public, it may endanger the individuals concerned, ” he said.

However, Domestic Trade, Co-operative and Consumerism Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob welcomed the move, saying it would further prove that the government was transparent and committed in fighting corruption.

On Wednesday, MACC advisory panel chairperson Zaitun Zawiyah Puteh said that family members and spouses of Cabinet ministers will have to declare their assets to the anti-graft body soon.

Just a few days ago, Penang state executive council members declared their assets publicly and a similar declaration was made by Selangor exco members several years ago.

Nazri’s statement yesterday also drew flak from former MACC advisory panel chairman Ramon Navaratnam.

“I am deeply disappointed with Nazri’s statement. I expected him to warmly welcome the proposal and accept it good faith…,” said Ramon.

Ramon, the former Transparency International Malaysia president, said the minister should not have jumped the gun and rejected the MACC proposal as this would cause public confusion and doubt over the government’s seriousness in combating corruption.

“By only declaring your assets to the prime minister it leaves the perception that there would be internal and insider dealing. People would think that the prime minister is obliged to protect his Cabinet members..” said Ramon, who is currently Asli Center of Public Policy Studies chairman.

“If it goes public, then it will show how bad the ministers are. The people are concerned over the overall integrity of the ministers who should lead by example.

“You can’t expect the policemen to fight a RM50 bribe when top men may be hauling in much bigger sums,” said Ramon.

Clean slate

However, he agreed with Nazri’s point that there may be security concerns, saying that the wealth acquired over the leader’s lifespan can be simply declared to the MACC and kept confidential.

“We should also declare assets and liabilities to the Public Account Committee and Judicial Commission in confidence,” he said, adding that this was because public confidence in the MACC was at a low.

Ramon also said that whatever new assets a he minister or leader had acquired from the day he was appointed to office must be declared and made available online.

“We must start recording from day one. Start from a clean slate and monitor it. It must be updated once in three months or so,” he said.

He also said Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak must make clear his stand on the proposal.
“I wish the prime minister himself will make a decision on this very important matter because it affects our future outlook on how we deal with corruption.”

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