MONEY politics in Umno is becoming like the weather to Mark Twain.
Just switch the keyword in the author’s famous quote, “Everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it” and you get a very familiar ring to the contemporary concerns of Malaysian politics. Everyone in Umno is talking about money politics. They say it is darned serious. Period.
Before anyone gets too defensive and jumps at the above observation, let me also add that there seems to be an utter lack of seriousness in the way the party is dealing with the problem, as seen from last week’s “reprieve” given to two divisional grassroots leaders who were found guilty of money politics.
I repeat: found GUILTY of money politics. And what did they get? They were let off with a warning. What a signal this was to the rest of the party.
The duo were among the many who were merely given a caution by the Umno disciplinary board on Thursday for various charges ranging from money politics to sabotage and abuse of power.
What else can you say? The impression we get from the money politics part is that there is no semblance of reconciliation whatsoever between what the party should do and what it is willing to do.
One of the much-talked about cases now for instance is about some branch heads, especially in Kelantan, driving around in new Perodua Kancil they had received as gifts during the campaign period. Is anyone doing anything about it?
That, I suppose, is just one of the many, many episodes of crafty vote-buying you find now. Some are disguised as festival gatherings or this and that in the name of charity.
A meeting held at a supreme council member’s house last Saturday, for example, was so well-attended and crowded with hopefuls and delegates that it was described as paip pecah. Loosely translated, it means “a gush” (perhaps of offerings being thrown around). Again, it led to talk of money politics.
Money politics in Umno, as everyone knows, took on a new dimension in the watershed party elections of 1993 — spearheaded by certain personalities, one of whom ironically now talks endlessly of reform. The main players were never brought to book and that practice has never looked back since.
Of course, the main drawback — and a big consolation to party officials justifying their inability to act — is the lack of proof.
Vice-president contender Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim mentioned this last Tuesday after revealing that he had been approached by agents to pay for votes. He also said a “clutch of corporate figures and businessmen” in Umno had caused money politics to be more widespread.
Now, who could they be?
But the foreign minister is not lodging a formal complaint because he said establishing proof would be difficult. Now Datuk Seri, that exactly is where the whole problem lies, where things get bogged down.
As was the case not too long ago when a few party members under probe went so far as to question the legality of the disciplinary board’s investigations and process. The motive may not be as much as ensuring justice is well served as putting a damper on enforcement.
The findings and verdicts of the Umno disciplinary board have not all been popular. But who could blame them when they have to act within certain limitations and when pinning down the right evidence is almost always impossible?
In the final analysis, Umno has to decide what it wants because the campaign against money politics is actually quite a straightforward thing, revolving quite simply on whether one is guilty or not.
If not guilty, well and good. If guilty, Umno has to show it means business. Punish. Call the Anti-Corruption Agency. Prosecute in court. Whatever. But there has to be a strong will.
Many in the party are getting cynical about the whole issue. But then who’s to blame?
When Rais suggested last week that perhaps positions in Umno should now be tendered in view of the money flying around, everyone knows what he was getting at. And sadly, he was not the first to use the analogy.
Former deputy president Tun Ghafar Baba once even provided the quotations, saying tenders for division chief could start at a reserve price of RM50,000.
Of course, Umno could choose to just laugh it off and dismiss these remarks.
But whichever way we look at it, money politics in the party has truly lived up to the old Malay expression of Orang berbudi kita berbahasa, orang memberi kita merasa. It is about reciprocity. But it can also mean “you reap what you sow”.
Money politics in UMNO – all talk but no action