Election Commission should give advance  warning that it would lodge police reports against Sarawak Chief Minister and State  Ministers for election offences and corrupt practices if they abuse the neutrality of a caretaker government by announcing or giving on-the-spot financial allocations

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Friday): In his visIt yesterday  to Kampung Jemukan, Sadong Jaya in Asiajaya, Kota Semarahan,  Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said his contesting in Belingian constituency in the Sept. 27 Sarawak state election was not an act of running away from Asiajaya, which he had represented since 1981, and promised that he would continue to be involved in the development of the Asiajaya constituency although he would no longer be its assemblyman

There is nothing wrong with such a promise. However, what he did later was clearly an abuse of his powers as the caretaker Chief Minister of Sarawak.  This was when he announced that the State Government would allocate RM150,000 to give the village mosque new roofing and another RM100,000 for the construction of a village road complete with proper street lighting.

Once the the Sarawak State Assembly was dissolved, paving the way for state general elections, the state government becomes a caretaker government and the Chief Minister and the state ministers must all observe the  do's and don'ts of a caretaker government to ensure that there is no improper, unethical and unlawful misuse of powers of a caretaker government resulting in electoral offences and corrupt practices under the Election Offences  Act to undermine the integrity of the election process.

A caretaker government must be scrupulously neutral in an election campaign and  should not announce or provide  any on-the-spot financial allocations for development projects as the provision of such allocations and subsidies during the campaign period tantamounts to vote-buying, money politics and corruption.

For instance, the blatant use of government machinery and public funds for the purpose of soliciting votes, which was what Taib did yesterday, comes clearly under the definition of election offence and corrupt practice under the election laws.
The Election Commission should give advance warning that it would  lodge police reports against the caretaker Sarawak Chief Minister and State  Ministers for election offences and corrupt practices if  they abuse the neutrality of a caretaker government by announcing or giving on-the-spot financial allocations.

In this connection, I am shocked by the statement by the Election Commission Chairman Datuk Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman in Kuching yesterday as he is  reported to have said it is “a normal thing” for ministers of a caretaker government to announce or give on-the-spot financial allocations during the election campaign - as it is like saying that it is a normal thing for the Barian Nasional parties y to misuse public funds to buy votes!

If Rashid had not been misquoted, then he is totally misconceived when he said there is no law to prevent ministers of a caretaker government from giving projects and announcing allocations during the campaign.

It is an accepted practice and principle in a parliamentary democracy that a caretaker government merely performs the rudimentary duties of the government  during the transition period from the dissolution of the legislature to the establishment of a new government after elections.

Surely, Rashid is aware of the classic Indian case where a Prime Minister was disqualified as a Member of Parliament because of misuse of government machinery during the caretaker government period!

The very fact that neither the Election Commission nor the Anti-Corruption Agency had ever taken any action to stop such election offences and corrupt practices committed by members of a  Caretaker Government after the dissolution of Parliament or State Assemblies is testimony of the distance that has still to be travelled if Malaysia is to have clean, free and fair elections.

The time has come for a test case to be made as to whether the abuse of government machinery and the  misuse of public funds by a caretaker government during the election campaign period come within the ambit of the definition of election offences and corrupt practices of the election law.

Is the Election Commission prepared to demonstrate its independence, professionalism and credibility by bringing such test cases of the electoral abuses of a neutral and non-partisan caretaker government  to the courts?


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman