Talk about the next General Election has been going on for a while now. In the past few months, we’ve even written articles discussing the signs of it happening this year. Recently something else has come to our attention. During a recent meeting our PM actually said this.
“We have long been in defensive mode. Enough. It is now time to attack!” – PM Najib Razak, in a blog post, translation by The Star
But it wasn’t the meeting itself that caught our attention but something else…
Our PM may have given these social media activists free Samsung handphones
So we actually first heard about this when activist Fahmi Reza posted about it on Facebook a few days ago. And as we scoured the internet, we found a few other pictures on various social media platforms thanking our PM for the gift.
But why in the world is our PM being so generous with these people? Well it seems that this meeting was basically to tell these social media activists to prepare for cyber war. In fact, one of the things he said was that these social media activists needed to “mempertahankan maruah parti dan membidas segala pembohongan yang giat dipermainkan oleh pembangkang sejak sekian lama”.
And it seems that one of the things to motivate this cyber army was to equip them with a new, relatively expensive tool. And not just any cheap phone model, but the Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro. On Samsung’s official website, the price is stated to be RM1,999. But if you go to somewhere like Lazada, you may be able to get it for between RM1600-RM1800. Still, if you multiply that by the number of people in the picture above (which we roughly counted to be 60), you would get a total cost of RM96k-RM108k! And why do we say that it’s possible that everyone there got a phone? Well, it’s because Fahmi Reza also posted a picture of the alleged itinerary.
But here’s the problem, on it’s own, these few pictures may not be enough to prove that this actually happened. We couldn’t find any other news reports talking about this, and even the article on Najib Razak’s official website does not mention anything about the gifts that these activists allegedly received. In fact, it was quite difficult to find these pictures that had the Samsung phone in them, and thus it would be great if the gomen would come forward and clarify what these pictures are all about.
But in the meantime, one can wonder….
Can the gomen actually give people gifts like this?
As Malaysians we all know that certain functions sometimes require us to give gifts like hampers or buah tangan or something la. And it’s such a big part of our culture that there’s even guides written about gift giving in Malaysia. But did you know that when it comes to the gomen, gift giving could actually be a crime?
Laws against gomen officials receiving gifts are actually not new to Malaysia. The MACC actually has a long FAQ about what gifts gomen officials can get. In a nutshell, they can receive gifts but only if the gift is under a certain value, and even then, they would have to report that gift to the MACC. Still, that’s in regards to gift receiving, but what about gift giving?
Earlier this year, the Chief Secretary to the gomen, Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa, announced that the gomen would no longer give gifts to guests of honour at their functions.
“Why should ministers and top officials be given costly presents that are bought by taxpayers, when this money can fund projects for the poor?” – Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa, Chief Secretary to the Government, as quoted by NST
The MACC also mentions that the Public Official Regulations (Conduct and Discipline) 1993 states that unless under some conditions, a public official, their spouse, or anyone standing in on their behalf CANNOT GIVE or RECEIVE gifts.
Now most of us would be quick to say that PM Najib actually fits the bill because he’s part of the gomen and thus a public official right? Well, that’s actually up for debate legally. We won’t go into the details because our friends at AskLegal have already attempted to explain whether PM Najib is a public official or not, but in a nutshell, he may not be, and thus not subject to the laws on gift giving as well.
But legal part aside, should any gomen person ever be allowed to give or receive gifts?
Gift giving happens everywhere, but is it right?
Initially when writing this, we found that it wasn’t so easy to find articles that discussed stuff about when the gomen gives gifts to people because most of it centered around gift receiving instead. For example, in America they have something called the $20/$50 rule where a public official cannot accept a gift worth more than US$20 at a time, or US$50 a year from any single giver. But still, nothing on whether the gomen themselves can give gifts, so we thought we’d look at it from a more corporate perspective.
We mentioned earlier that gift giving happens everywhere, and even in the CILISOS office we’ve been on the receiving end of some really cool gifts sometimes. Some of the CILISOS staff also mentioned that while they worked in other companies, they’ve gotten things like expensive watches and even iPods.
“While gifts are often given as a gesture of goodwill, overly generous business gifts tend to put pressure on the recipient to extend more than just goodwill to the giver. Thus, not surprisingly, the line between sincere giving and bribery is becoming increasingly distorted.” – Columnist Karl Smith, in an article on LinkedIn
But what really seems to be the deciding factor in distinguishing a gift and a bribe is the intent behind giving a gift, and if a gift is given with the intent to gain something in return, it’s probably a bribe. The problem is, it’s a bit hard to tell what someone’s intention is when they’re giving a gift right? So maybe that’s why some companies go as far as to ban gift giving altogether (like Petronas, which has a whole guideline about it.)
And with these things in mind, it really does raise a few of questions about these alleged Samsung phones, like what was the intent behind the phones, how much money was used to buy these phones, or even where the money for these phones came from.
But to be fair, if we’re looking so closely at these phones, perhaps we should look at other things as well because…
Both the gomen and the opposition have given gifts before
About a year ago, we actually wrote an article about how politicians from both sides were giving out a lot of gifts for the by-election happening at the time. Among the things given out were packets of rice, hampers, and even sawi.
Though it seemed like no secret that these gifts were to gain the favour of the voters, it just went on because back in 2009, our courts actually ruled that politicians giving such gifts were not against the law. And this sounds a bit strange because it contradicts what the MACC has said about the practice of gift giving by public officials. Add the bit on whether PM Najib is a public official or not, and we find that the laws on gift giving at the moment really aren’t very clear.
And so it sounds like there is a need for the laws on gift giving to be streamlined. For example, the US Department of Justice has made it very clear that their laws on gift giving are uniform across all federal gomen employees, and it applies to everyone including the Executive Branch (which consists of the President, Vice President, and cabinet members).
So going back to the Samsung phones, if PM Najib really did give those phones as a gift (and a really expensive one at that) it may not actually be something that’s legally wrong in Malaysia, but in time maybe should be something that we eventually remove from our political culture – for all the reasons mentioned above.