Bersih Questions Use of Aid Packages Featuring Names and Faces of Politicians

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Electoral reform group Bersih is concerned with the act of several politicians from both sides of the political divide plastering their own image on items intended for Covid-19 relief.

“Bersih expresses grave concern on the faces and names of elected politicians appearing on Covid-19 gifts for constituents such as rice and hand sanitiser, as some may involve abuse of government funding.

“We call on all involved representatives to publicly declare the cost and source of such gifts.

“If government funds are abused for politicians to seek gratification, it may warrant investigation by the MACC under Section 23 of the MACC Act,” it said in a statement yesterday.

It has listed 19 politicians and classified them into three categories with different issues.

The categories are:

  • Category A: Whereby federal and state frontbenchers have obviously abused their positions as ministers or state excos to provide Covid-19 gifts to their constituents.
  • Category B: Whereby elected representatives may have used constituency allocations to distribute these items
  • Category C: Those who fork out their own money to distribute Covid-19 gifts to their constituents.

“In the most clear-cut cases, two federal ministers (Annuar Musa, Saifuddin Abdullah), a federal deputy minister (Ikmal Hisham) and a state exco (S Veerapan) have their faces and/or names featured on the gift pack, in both their capacities as federal/state minister and constituency representative.

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“In the grey area, menteri besar, Mukhriz Mahathir and Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail, provide gifts printed with their portrait in the name of their state government.

“If the gifts involve funds for state-wide purposes but are given only to their own constituencies or very selected recipients personally connected to them, and not for all qualified recipients across the state, they too should be investigated for abuse of power,” it said.

Bersih also slammed Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari for using his portraits to promote Selangor’s stimulus package, calling the practice inappropriate.

“This should not happen because Selangor has a parliamentary government. There is no MB without the state government. And there is no state government without the confidence of the state legislature,” the group said.

“Amirudin must not mistake himself to be the state president of Selangor with a statewide personal mandate.”

Bersih questioned why the rest of lawmakers used their images on the care packages if these were bought using their constituency development fund (CDF).

They include Azmin Ali, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Noraini Ahmad, Summugam Rengasamy and Najwan Halimi.

“Regardless of party, why should lawmakers take the credit when the funds come from taxpayers and not the representatives’ own pockets?

“This is why Bersih 2.0 has constantly highlighted the need for constituency allocation to be rigorously regulated and transparently administered.”

In eight of the 19 cases, it was not clear whether their gifts came from personal funds or from CDFs.

These are: Nga Kor Ming, Khalid Samad, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Lim Lip Eng, Fahmi Fadzil, Chan Ming Kai and Young Syefura Othman.

It added if the leaders funded the aid relief from their constituency funds and distributed them in that capacity, then there is no legal issue.

Likewise, if they had paid from their own pocket, then that is also not an issue.

“It is not unlawful for politicians to seek name recognition after forking out their own money to aid their constituents.

“However, this nevertheless still encourages clientelism and erodes democracy.

“The ultimate solution is to have first, professional, impartial and responsive state agencies to sufficiently provide for constituents’ needs for local development and relief; second, a strong civil society to allow members of society to support each other,” it said.

Bersih urged politicians to stop advertising their photo and name on relief goods and make public the expenses and source for the Covid-19 relief items.

It also called for a rigorous oversight mechanism and the lifting of excessive restrictions on NGOs doing relief work doing the Covid-19 crisis.