Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bar says not the time to indulge in side issues - investigate corruption allegation against Najib first?

Bar to snub Putrajaya’s political funding reform committee
Monday, 17 August 2015 10:28am
Image©The Malaysian Insider

The Bar Council said today that it would not be part of the committee to study the regulation of political funds, adding that it wants investigations into the RM2.6 billion found in Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's private accounts be completed first.

Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said that the current focus should instead be on an independent and comprehensive investigation into the allegations against the prime minister.

"The discourse on these new laws should await the completion of the ongoing investigation into the transfer of the funds. This is, in particular, because a donation is still within the definition of ‘gratification’ under the MACC Act 2009.

"This is not the time to indulge in side issues that could be perceived as a smokescreen to cover up wrongdoing in this matter," he said in a statement early this morning.

In fact, Thiru said, the proposal made by Najib himself on Friday could be seen as an attempt to divert attention from the investigation into the prime minister and the money deposited into his accounts.

"Indeed, the proposal to set up the committee will invariably be seen as an attempt to divert attention from the investigation, or to create a convenient distraction from the serious allegations of corruption as well as the ramifications of these allegations, if proven to be true. 

"The proposal should not be a device to diminish the importance of the investigation," he added.

This comes after Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Paul Low told The Malaysian Insider that the Bar Council and Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) would be among the groups taking part in the national consultative committee on political funding.

Low, who is the minister in charge of governance and integrity tasked with heading the committee and selecting its members, said the committee would be apolitical and would include those with strong knowledge on the subject of political funding.

However, Thiru said that the Bar had yet to be approached to serve on the committee, adding that although it had worked with the government and continued to do so on other areas of law reform, it did not intend to participate in this one.

"It has been recognised for some time that there is a need for laws to govern political funding. However, no steps appear to have been taken on the matter," he said.

"The subject has now been brought up, rather suddenly, after the recent disclosures by The Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report concerning the transfer of funds to the prime minister's private bank accounts, and the declaration by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) that RM2.6 billion of the funds were a 'donation'."

Former Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee also warned that the majority of Malaysians saw Najib’s announcement of the panel as an attempt by the prime minister to shift the spotlight from the RM2.6 billion found in his private accounts.

Lim, who is a member of MACC’s Operations Review Panel, said given the circumstances leading to Najib's announcement, the majority of Malaysians saw it as an insincere move to divert attention from the perceived wrong of the alleged donation.

In announcing the committee, Najib said that the national consultative committee on political funding would develop a plan to ensure transparency and governance over party funds.

He said it was a necessary move to ensure healthy politics, adding that he had mooted proposals to regulate political funding since 2009 but did not receive any response.

News of the panel came amid debate over political funding practices in Malaysia, which has no laws to regulate the amount of donations or disclosure of donors' identities.

Controversy was triggered after MACC said that the RM2.6 billion in Najib's personal bank accounts was political donation.

Najib and other Umno leaders have said there is nothing wrong with him as party president holding such funds in his personal accounts for the party. – August 17, 2015.

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