People's right to know
A MAJOR public concern has become amplified in an unprecedented way, due to revelations in the Auditor-General's Report 2010. Many citizens have begun taking an active personal interest in irregularities and wastages in government administration, in a serious way, thanks in no small part to the impetus generated by the internet and the new media.
People have become bolder in questioning and casting doubts over how public resources and budgets are spent. They want to be assured that the huge sums of money (the federal budget stands in excess of RM200 billion this year) are well protected and handled effectively by the leaders entrusted to be responsible over how they are used.
Interestingly enough, about the same time that the Auditor-General's Report was hitting the roof, Penang's state executive councillors, who are assemblymen, made a decision to have their assets declared within a month.
Significantly, the declarations would also include assets before the executive council members took office in 2008 as well as assets they possess at present, so as to enable citizens to compare and assess how much they have earned and accumulated since coming to power.
Selangor executive councillors have had their wealth declared since 2009, although the information that they have divulged on the state government's website has been criticised as being somewhat watered down.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the state would implement the asset declaration move for state executive councillors first before requiring other senior government politicians to do the same at a later stage.
And his national chairman in the DAP, Karpal Singh, had added that the party will "at some point" require all its MPs to declare their assets as well.
Whatever the case may be, the issue exemplifies the pressure felt by politicians and government leaders to demonstrate and convince the common folk that they are running trustworthy administrations.
It should be noted that the first political entity in Malaysia to undertake such a declaration exercise was the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).
In 2008, PSM had approved a policy that all its elected and appointed representatives must declare their assets. The statutory declarations have been made available to the public and the press every year since then.
"We're trying to put the message across that this is not our money," PSM secretary-general S. Arutchelvan said. "It is people's money. And we have to be responsible and accountable."
PSM's Sungai Siput MP, Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, who has been declaring his assets every year since 2008, has gone even further by saying: "Once you become an assemblyman or an MP, you must every year reveal the assets of yourself, your wife and your immediate family."
Indeed, it is incumbent on those who wield power in high places to take appropriate measures to earn the trust of the people who have put them in such exalted seats. It is not just because times are changing with information and opinions available more openly than ever before, through the new media.
The principles of honour and responsibility demand that any one who chooses to stand for office, especially by seeking support of others, allows himself or herself to be scrutinised by the very public that has entrusted him or her to assume such a powerful and sensitive position.