Saturday, April 13, 2013

Assets declaration: PSM set the Precedence

Assets declaration

On 11 April 2013, Comrade Arutchelvan, PSM candidate for N24 Semenyih, declared his asset. This is the fourth year he has declared his asset since he was selected as MPKj council member in 2008. He hold a press conference in the morning and later at night another session with the residence committee in Semenyih. About 100 people were present.
Arul Asset Dec
It should be noted that the first political entity in Malaysia to undertake such a declaration exercise was the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).
In 2008, PSM had approved a policy that all its elected and appointed representatives must declare their assets. The statutory declarations have been made available to the public and the press every year since then.
“We’re trying to put the message across that this is not our money,” PSM secretary-general S. Arutchelvan said. “It is people’s money. And we have to be responsible and accountable.”
The principles of honour and and responsibility demand that any one who chooses to stand for office, especially by seeking support of others, allows himself or herself to be scrutinised by the very public that has entrusted him or her to assume such a powerful and sensitive position.  
The rakyat must demand and ensure that people who hold public office are accountable to them and do not misuse their position to enrich themselves.
The public  are still awaiting for all politicians in power to declare their asset prior to the GE13. Will they do so?
Practices in other countries.
In Latin America, senior officials in eight countries – Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua and Paraguay – are required to make full assets declarations every year. In Mexico, over 100,000 public declarations are filed every year; in the Bahamas, summaries of financial declarations are published in the Government Gazette.
In Ecuador, declarations must either be made public or authenticated by a notary. In Belize, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela, financialdeclarations must include information for spouses, children and other financial dependants.
Also in Belize, Brazil, Chile, Jamaica and Nicaragua, there is public access to financial declaration information regarding spouses, children and financial dependants.
Conflict of interest code
In Canada, the financial disclosure law requires that public officials – from ministers to officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – must disclose their financial assets yearly.
This is important as the Canadian Parliament is adopting the Conflict of Interest Code, in which transparency is crucial. To ensure public officials do not misuse their position, the declaration of financial assets is compulsory.
In United States, in response to ‘Watergate’ and other scandals and a weakening of public trust in government, the Congress has enacted the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. It requires detailed financial disclosure by high-level employees in all three branches of the federal government.
Every country in continental Europe has some form of financial disclosure requirement for public officials.
Latvia has one of the most comprehensive systems, which has arguably led to the reduction of once-rampant corruption in this post-Soviet democracy. In Romania, there is a robust system of publishing public officials’ assetsdisclosures, grounded in the constitutional right of access to information.
Moving to the African continent, South Africa has implemented a comprehensive conflict of interest policy and has enacted a number of conflict of interest codes requiring disclosure of financial interests by public officials.
Since 1983 in Australia, conflict of interest laws and regulations have required members of parliament to disclose their financial interests, including those of their spouses and dependent children. The House of Representatives and Senate have published these disclosures in a registry since 1984 and 1994 respectively.
Other Asian nations do it, too
But is this an Asian way? Well, it is.
In India, politicians who contest elections to Parliament or a state legislature are subject to a more rigorous regime.
A 2002 Supreme Court judgment requires all electoral candidates to submit on oath, details of movable and immovableassets owned by them, their spouses and their dependents. This also covers liabilities like loans from public sector banks and unpaid bills for public utilities such as electricity, water and telephone connection.
Their affidavits must be submitted along with the nomination papers. The Election Commission uploads these on its website in order to inform voters about the background of the candidates.
In Philippines, citizens have the right to review financial disclosures of all public officials and employees, including spouses and unmarried minor children living in their households, pursuant to Section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. These financial disclosures are made available for scrutiny at reasonable hours.
In 1989, the constitutional court of South Korea held that citizens have a constitutional right to freely access information. The government began requiring public disclosure of the financial interests of public officials in 1993.
All high-ranking public officials, their spouses, and many of their lineal ascendants and descendants must disclose their ownership of real property, intangible property, and shares in non-public business entities.
In addition to examination by a Public Ethics Committee, the property declarations of most of the public officials and their families are published in a public bulletin within a month of submission.
Thailand too has a requirement for all holders of political office, as well as high-ranking public officials, to make full disclosure of all assets and liabilities, including those of their spouses and minor children. This declaration is published by the National Counter-Corruption Commission in the Government Gazette.
The next government in Malaysia must come up with a law requiring the declaration of financial assets of ministers and lawmakers?
Malaysia likes to emulate other countries in putting up the tallest building or the longest bridge; the administrative capital of Putrajaya is even modelled after Washington DC.
So why not emulate ways to fight corruption, including through public declarations of assets?
In the event that Pakatan takes over the federal government in the next election, it should prioritise legislation toward assets declaration. Only then can it ensure a clean administration.
Would they do it?

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