EC passes buck to MACC over PM’s Sibu ‘offer’

By G. Manimaran and Neville Spykerman (Malaysian Insider)
KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 — The Election Commission claimed it had no power to probe allegations Datuk Seri Najib Razak had committed an election offence during the Sibu by-election with his pitch to solve flash floods there if Barisan Nasional retained the Parliamentary seat.
Instead, the Election Commission (EC) told DAP chairman Karpal Singh to take his complaint against the prime minister to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
“We can still take the complaint but will refer it to the MACC,” said EC deputy chairman Datuk Wira Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, adding they had no authority to investigate the alleged “promise” made by Najib, in his capacity as PM and finance minister.
The veteran lawyer has said Najib’s last-minute pitch on the eve of the by-election, when he announced an allocation of RM5 million for flood-mitigation projects in Rejang Park, was an election offence.
“If Robert Lau becomes the MP on Sunday, on Monday I will ask [for] the cheque to be prepared. Do we have a deal or not? We do! You want the RM5 million, I want Robert Lau to win,” Najib told the crowd last Saturday.
Karpal has been told to refer the allegations to the MACC.
Karpal had described the PM’s statement as “disturbing,” “shameful” and “unprecedented” because it breached the Election Offences Act.
He had called on both the EC and MACC to investigate the case.
But Wan Ahmad said the Election Offences Act only governed offences by candidates and their agents.
He also said other persons, included cabinet ministers, who make promises cannot be charged for the offence of inducement or bribery under the Act.
“We cannot investigate anything other than what’s specified under the Act… we don’t have the power.”
However, Section 10 of the Act which covers bribery during elections uses the words “every person would be liable for an offence”.
Wan Ahmad, in turn, pointed out that a 1981 court case had ruled that it was not an offence but in line with the responsibility of the government to ensure development and allocate funds regardless of whether there was an election.
He was referring to the election precedent established in the case involving the Pengkalan Kota by-election between Teoh Teik Huat and Lim Kean Siew.
The case revolved around a statement by then-finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who had said he would personally give more money for the improvement of Pengkalan Kota if Barisan Nasional won.
The incident three decades ago mirror’s what happened in Sibu.
The issue of using development to fish for votes also surfaced during the Hulu Selangor by-election three weeks ago.
But it became more pronounced in Sibu because Najib had used the word “if” while making the conditional offer to voters.
Wan Ahmad expressed confidence the PM knew the risk and the legal implications before making the statement.
“I also feel Karpal was viewing the issue from his perspective. But other legal experts may look at it from other angles and have other interpretations,” he said.