EC does not have power to combat abuses of political funds

The Sun
KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 30, 2009) : The Electoral Commission (EC) only has the power to regulate how and what campaign materials are used, and does not have the jurisdiction to combat abuses of political funds, said its deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar.
“The legal authority and responsibility of the EC is confined to the enforcement of S24B of the Election Offences Act, pertaining to the use and type of election campaign materials, the display of election materials and regulations and limitations,” he said.
Wan Ahmad was speaking at the Transparency International-Malaysia conference on Political Financing today. The conference was also attended by political analysts, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) representatives and civil society groups.
The deputy chairman said the current laws constrained the EC. “Although the EC is the management body in charge of elections, the power to investigate any wrongdoings by parties, and the enforcement of the laws against illegal campaign activities including political financing and corrupt practices is not with the EC, a constraint and a challenge to us which the EC has to accept,” he said.
Wan Ahmad said funds are needed for political campaigns, to print banners, literature, flyers, posters and to organise political events in order to win votes.
“Candidates now are spending thousands to campaign and win votes. Where this money comes from and how much is spent are some of the questions in everyone’s minds, including that of the EC,” he added.
Wan Ahmad said the EC is of the opinion that activities regarding political corruption should be monitored by the police and addressed by the Home Ministry. This is because the authority behind the registration of political parties in this country is the Registrar of Societies, which is under the Home Ministry.
“In the absence of specific provisions in law to charge a political party in court for illegal election practices, it is a challenge for the EC, police or the MACC to enhance transparency in political finances during elections,” explained Wan Ahmad.
Touching on the post-election disclosure of finances to the EC, which all candidates must do within 30 days of the election results being published, he said the commission was also constrained in what it can do to scrutinise the reports.
“The EC must be provided with the adequate authority to carry out its constitutional functions including dealing with money politics. The failure to ensure political transparency is due to certain factors, one of them being the attitude of certain political players in the field and due to the unwillingness of candidates to discontinue the current ways to win votes,” he added.
However fellow panellist MACC Excellence and Professionalism Director Abdul Wahab Abdul Aziz, said EC had a role to check political abuses of money.
“Under the Election Offences Act, a candidate needs to make a financial report which is to be submitted to the state EC. With this, the next issue is enforcement of two areas: expenses and corrupt practices.”
While dealing with corrupt practices is under the MACC’s jurisdiction, the EC can still look at the expenses and enforcing regulations, he said.
“One important area is monitoring, which is the duty of the EC because the report is submitted to them and they can monitor that. We don’t have the power to touch matters pertaining to expenses,” said Abdul Wahab, who called for a single agency to deal with such matters.