Political parties in Malaysia are registered with the Registrar of Societies who ensures they are run according to their own rules and regulations. Among other things, the members of each party shall elect the office-bearers according to the party constitution and each party's Receipts and Payments Account, Income and Expenditure Account and Balance Sheet are filed with the ROS yearly.
We know for sure, political parties need money to run their activities and political campaigns. They rely on donations from party members and supporters. On the ground, each branch is expected to organize fund-raising or charity dinners or other events. Each branch is expected to contribute to its state body as well as the national body. I would presume all big donations to the party are received at state or national level.
Political contributions or donations are deemed legal. Yet, the issue is not as simple as it seems.
In a recent controversial case, what we have witnessed so far is an admission by Federal Minister, Nazri that the Rm40 million alleged to be for CM of Sabah, was actually for Sabah Umno. He further added that political donations are legal, alluding to the fact that there were donations to federal opposition parties like PKR, PAS and DAP as well. But his explanation was far from satisfactory, especially when relevant incontrovertible evidence was revealed elsewhere which necessitated an official statement. Even a Sabah Umno state leader said he was unaware of such a donation! So we can presume this particular amount has never been shown in Umno's accounts thus far.
There is no dispute about political contributions to political parties. But in Malaysia, the big difference seems to be overt contributions to the ruling BN coalition parties like Umno, MCA and MIC, but anonymous contributions to the opposition parties. The political reality is such that if you are a businessman, you worry over openly supporting the opposition for fear that your business licences and/or business deals with the government departments or GLCs might be affected.
It would be nice to have full disclosure of all forms of political contributions. But strangely, though we have been an independent nation for 55 years, this financial aspect of political support has been hazy and hardly transparent and accountable, at least not to the general public. The information is privy only to the leaders (and members?) of each party, unless a search is done at the ROS. But what we get there would be the minimum required for filing purposes.
As far as Umno is concerned, being the power ruling Malaysia since independence, it was able to make use of its position and power to have a symbiotic relationship with crony businessmen. It is a well known fact that the power to distribute valuable contracts will be rewarded in one way or other by those who benefited from them. The prominent Umno headquarters in strategic locations in every state are evidence of their power of choice and their ability to finance them. Umno, unlike the opposition parties, does not need financial assistance from its members and supporters. In fact, the members expect something for nothing.
It would be admirable for the opposition parties to take the lead on the aspect of transparency and accountability. But it is not without problems when some financial supporters wish to remain anonymous. Unless we make a start, we will never get anywhere. With accountability, it is more concerned with how the money collected has been spent. Again, in the case of opposition parties, their main source of funds for operating expenses is collections at dinners and other events. All these are known publicly, so their collections and disbursements should be accounted for. In fact, I would even suggest a standard format of keeping accounts at every branch and state levels throughout the country.
Perhaps, DAP should take the lead, especially to walk the talk with its CAT (Competency, Accountability and Transparency) slogan.