When UMNO was first overthrown in Malaysia a few months ago, I must admit that I was only cautiously optimistic. While I applauded their landmark election results, I was skeptical as to how much change there could realistically be.
A few months on, I have become more optimistic. While there are no doubt difficulties, the new government seems committed to a systemic overhaul. The latest action taken by the new government is an open declaration of all of the assets of their Members of Parliament (MPs). This is a welcome move as it reduces the suspicion of the public as to what members of their government actually earn thereby creating a system that is seen as transparent and open.
Across the causeway in Singapore, there has been increasing discontent among Singaporeans over the perceived wealth of their MPs and ministers. Most notably, there have been concern over the income inequality and questions over the remuneration package made by its ministers.
To date, the government has not really released a full and clear breakdown of what they earn. While they have released formulas on how remuneration is calculated, these are not easy to work out and may arguably create more suspicion than allay fears. What we perhaps need is an open black and white break down of what the MPs and ministers actually earn from government and what the levels of their private wealth are. Why not make it compulsory for MPs to declare their income and asset levels right before they join the government and right after they leave government? This is important for three key reasons.
Firstly, the MPs and ministers are paid from public money. It is not a private business venture. As such, the public deserves and are entitled to a black and white disclosure of their government salaries.
Secondly, knowing what each MP and/or minister’s private wealth is will enable us to detect any corruption quickly and easily. For example, if we know how much a minister earns as a minister and how much he or she privately has, we can easily observe if he or she is living above or beyond his or her means.
Last but not least. upfront declaration assets will make it much easier for the public to see how much a particular MP has benefited from his or her time in government, how he or she has come to this benefit and why. For example, if an MP had x amount of assets before becoming an MP and started to accumulate Y amounts after joining the government, this will be obvious and the public can then examine how he or she came about such wealth. Was there any undeclared benefit? Was there any corruption?
In our environment of increasing suspicion and conspiracy theories, such a move is beneficial for both the public as well as the government. On one hand, the public will get the accountability it deserves and desires while the government will be seen to be fair and open to scrutiny which will, in turn, reduce the occurrences of the half truths and fake news they appear so concerned about.
Instead of passing all kinds of laws to combat fake news, why not start by letting Singapore be an open slate? It’s cheaper and less complicated!