Malaysia: Socialist Party MPs bare all
[M. Sarawathy, a representative of the Socialist Party of Malaysia, will be attending the World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, Australia, April 10-12, 2009. For more information, or to book tickets, visit http://www.worldatacrossroads.org.]
March 12, 2009 -- Prior to the March 8, 2008, polls, nobody could have predicted that the then unregistered Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM, Socialist Party of Malaysia) would see two of its leaders elected to the national parliament and the Selangor state assembly respectively.
Not only were they elected, but its candidate for the Sungai Siput parliamentary seat Dr D Jeyakumar (right) had also defeated the formidable incumbent of three decades, Malaysian Indian Congress president S Samy Vellu.
Today, the party celebrated the anniversary of its first electoral victory and to prove that power had not altered their stand, the two reps and three other PSM leaders publicly declared their assets.
Speaking to reporters at the function in Kuala Lumpur, Jeyakumar said this was in line with the party’s belief for a transparent, equitable and socialistic governance.
“What we are doing is to show that we should be honest about serving the people and not get elected to get rich. If you want to get rich, go into business. Don’t be a parliamentarian”, he said.
In his declaration, Jeyakumar said he has a house worth RM120,000 and three old cars, altogether valued at RM16,000. He also has RM25,000 in his bank account and RM10,000 in shares. [See declaration]
Apart from Jeyakumar, party president and Kota Damansara state rep Dr Nasir Hashim, secretary-general and Kajang local councillor S Arutchelvan and two other PSM leaders appointed as local councillors declared their assets.
Nasir, who does not own a house, declared a RM40,000 car in his possession and RM5,000 in savings.
Prior to the March 8 polls, PSM was the first party ever in Malaysia to have its election candidates publicly declare their assets.
Asked on the difference between today’s asset declaration and the one conducted a year ago, there appeared to be significant changes in the asset ownership of Nasir and Jeyakumar.
However, Nasir explained that it was due to “our salaries as state assemblyperson and MP”.
Yesterday, Selangor Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim announced that he and his executive councillors will also publicly declare their assets on the state’s official website beginning tomorrow.
However, unlike the PSM reps, the cabinet members will only declare assets they have acquired since taking office a year old, and not before that.
Focus is on empowerment
Meanwhile, PSM also released its activity reports on the two constituencies it has represented for the past year.
In Sungai Siput, Jeyakumar said the main focus was on empowerment programs as well as ongoing networking initiatives and consultation with various groups in addressing local issues.
“Unlike Kota Damansara, Sungai Siput being a parliamentary constituency and me being an opposition (rep), I do not have the privilege of having financial allocations.
“The poor people there are used to getting cash handouts (from ruling party leaders) to pay their bills but we instead focus on addressing the root issues as to why these people have no money to pay their bills in the first place”, he said.
He added that from the political culture angle, the PSM was leading the way with their programs that include broad participation from the locals.
These programs include consultation on how to address local problems as well as developing policies together so that the constituency would be operated not by just one person, but a community.
The same can be said about Kota Damansara but with the added advantage of having some financial backing from the Pakatan Rakyat Selangor state government.
Avoiding culture of dependancy
Despite this, Nasir (right) said he would not give out money easily in order to avoid the culture of dependancy.
“As far as necessary, items like wheelchairs, medicines and all that, we would not hesitate to give but with the condition that receipts be provided.
“But for projects, say someone asks for RM5000, I would only give them half and tell them to work harder for the other half. They would refer to me as the scrooge”, he said.
Nasir explained that although his approach may not be popular, it was positive in the sense that it would create a more hardworking and independent community.
“If not, the feudal culture will continue. The people will continue to practice this culture where they have to serve the leaders to get benefits. We don’t want this”, he said.
Download the 5-page declaration of assets (416KB PDF).
Socialist MP: Putting my assets on the line
By Dr D. Jeyakumar
Published in The Nut Graph, March 25, 2009
I personally find declaring one’s assets, as the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) did at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall on March 11, 2009, a little embarrassing. Personal income and wealth are normally considered one’s private domain. Most people would consider it intrusive or even downright rude if an acquaintance were to inquire into one’s income and savings.
But there we were, the five PSM members holding public office, declaring our assets (or rather our relative lack thereof) for all to see. In a society that tends to evaluate individuals on the basis of their material possessions, our public declaration of the meagreness of our material possessions was in effect a public admission of our “failure” in conventional terms.
But we did not have much choice, as PSM had promised that this is what we would do yearly, as long as we held public office. And promises to the rakyat must be kept.
The PSM, of course, has good reasons to insist on asset declaration. For far too long, Malaysian politicians have used public office as a shortcut to amassing wealth. So much so that it has almost become “acceptable”. It is seen as something politicians do. It is also rampant in many other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The PSM feels that we need to take a firm stand on this, and play a leading role in developing an alternative political culture. Elected positions should be used for the good of the people whose votes we begged and cajoled for. Those who want to amass wealth should go into business, not politics. Politicians should take a “vow of poverty” like Catholic priests do -- at least for the period in which they hold public office. Only then will there be no conflict of personal interest with the promises we make to the electorate.
So we at the PSM steeled ourselves, and told the world how little we possessed. The PSM press event appears to have forced several Pakatan Rakyat (PR) politicians to confront the issue of asset declaration. The first steps towards developing an alternative political culture, perhaps?
Keeping the spirit alive
Coming clean on income and assets also has another useful function within the party -- it keeps alive the spirit of sacrifice and volunteerism among ordinary members who do not hold public office.
The PSM has a core of active volunteers who have been sacrificing their time selflessly for the past 10 years. What would be the impact on the spirit of volunteerism and sacrifice among the ordinary members if I were to act as if the RM15,000 that I receive monthly was mine exclusively? RM15,000 is more than seven times the income of most of the other members in the PSM’s Sungai Siput branch. And I cannot deny that I won this particular seat through the sustained activism of PSM members and supporters both within and outside Sungai Siput.
I treat my RM15,000 monthly income not as my personal right that no one else has a right to question; I treat it as a source of funding for the work the PSM is doing, from which I take a modest monthly stipend. I believe this approach contributes to the maintenance of the spirit of volunteerism that is so essential to the further growth of the PSM.
Malaysia is at the crossroads. The old political order has grown corrupt and self-serving. It probably is past repair and is in the process of being replaced by a new coalition of parties. The slate for this new coalition is still clean.
As the first generation of this new order, I and the rest of my cohorts in the PSM and PR are in a unique position. We can actually determine the standards that those coming after us will have to live up to. This, I think, encapsulates the significance of the asset declaration press conference on March 11, 2009.
Salam perjuangan! We can build a better world.