Question: What would you think of a politician who suddenly shows up wearing a super expensive watch/driving a super expensive car/living in a super expensive house?
Those who follow politicians like celebrities would probably know whether a certain politician can afford those blessings they be flexing, but for the rest of us headline-reading-only rakyat, we’ll probably get pretty suspicious about where that dough is coming from. If only there’s an online portal where you can quickly look up how much money each politician has for reference… oh wait. There is!
Enter the MyDeclaration portal, courtesy of the MACC. First appearing after the Pakatan gomen took over back in 2018, this portal is supposed to combat corruption by having politicians declare how much assets they (and their close family members) have, up to and including stuff like:
These information is collected and displayed on the portal, and up until recently, anyone can look up a politician’s assets by sitting in front of a computer and saying “MACC site, MACC site, on the net; who’s the huat-est of them yet?”
When Perikatan Nasional rose to power last year, asset declaration was narrowed to only include Cabinet ministers and their deputies. But if you were to ask us now who’s the huat-est in the land, we wouldn’t know, because…
MACC took down most of the information on their site
This really isn’t breaking news, actually. The Rakyat Post noticed the change back in February, and MyMP noticed it earlier this month. Previously, you can see each Cabinet ministers’ (and their deputies’) monthly salary and asset value, but after MACC relaunched their website in early February, all you can see is… this.
Instead of a value, the portal now only tells you whether or not a Cabinet member had declared their assets, but not how much they have, which kind of defeats the purpose of the portal in the first place. Based on the note at the bottom of the page, the details can only be seen by the public for three months after the declaration was submitted to the MACC, and after that the record will be presumably changed to just declared/haven’t declared.
The only displayed asset details as of the time of writing is for Fadillah Hj Yusof (Works Minister), which was submitted on March 1st. However, by the time of publishing, this record had mysteriously disappeared. We dunno whether it will show up again in the near future, but we’ve screenshot-ed it for good measure. The rest have already been hidden prior to writing this, as the latest one was submitted in October last year.
So is the data on previous declarations lost to the public forever? Whenever something changes on the net, our first instinct is to use the Internet Wayback Machine to see if there are screenshots of the page from the past, but as MyMP had discovered, just that won’t be enough: to retrieve the data, you have to use a Python script to scrape all the data available on the portal. So it’s possible, but your average rakyat probably won’t have ready access to that data.
Anyways, the bottom line here is that it’s a pretty weird change to make. So you might be wondering…
Isn’t this a step backwards in fighting corruption?
As you might remember, the original purpose of having politicians declare their assets is to make sure that the public can more easily notice whenever something shady happens. It’s unclear how hiding the past data might help in this, or whether the MACC is rolling out a new system of asset declaration that has yet to be announced. For the moment, we’ve reached out to the MACC to ask why this change is made, why three months and whether Cabinet members will have to declare their assets every three months from now on.
All we’ve got is this automated e-mail:
It’s worth noting that the asset declaration system we have right now isn’t perfect. There are still things to be addressed, for example, the way that there’s no legal obligation for ministers to declare their assets. This means that if they don’t declare, the worst thing that can happen is the Parliament taking action on them, and the MACC only acts as a keeper for the data without actually checking whether the declared amounts are legit.
“If MPs do not declare their assets, only Parliament can take action against them and the penalty is not harsh. For now, we don’t have a special law (to make asset declaration compulsory), so we do not perform any sort of verification of the asset declaration documents we receive.” – Shamshun Baharin, MACC deputy chief commissioner (prevention), to Malaysiakini.
As of last year, the law to make asset declaration compulsory is still being sought out, so it may appear that we were moving forward. However, with the scope of the declaration narrowed to just the members of the cabinet and the recent renovations on the MACC’s portal, one can’t help but wonder if we’re not really moonwalking when it comes to transparency here.