A matter of public interest and public office


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A matter of public interest and public office
By Zan Azlee

When one gets elected to public office, it means that nothing is personal or private anymore, especially things that are considered conflicts of interest.

These are all matters of public interest because the public has the right to know if the person they elected into public office is abusing his or her powers or not.

What can be considered matters of public interest? Several things like those related to honesty, integrity, responsibility, transparency – well, you get the picture.
So when the public calls for transparency by an elected government official, say for example, to declare his or her cash and assets, it should be allowed.

The reason it should be allowed is because due to public interest, people deserve the right to know if a person in public office has abused his or her power to earn wealth undeservingly.

A person in public office would be given a salary to do his or her work. However, being in public office would put a person in a privileged decision-making position.

Bribery and corruption can be a very tempting vice if someone is in public office. And there should be a good check and balance system to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Hence, we have the media, the opposition and independent bodies that monitor those in public office so that the public will be duly informed if any wrongdoing takes place.

The reason for making the assets of a person in public office public is so that if there are exorbitant amounts of money being made that don’t tally with the income, it would be a cause for investigation.

Of course, having an exorbitant amount of money doesn’t make a person a criminal. There are many ways to make a lot of money legitimately.

If it were made legitimately, like a business income, inheritance or any kind of investment, then it would be no problem at all. It’s the abuse of power that shouldn’t be the way.

Money in exchange for favours and advantages would be considered wrong and a form of bribery. But of course, we do understand the existence of lobbying and political donations.

Technically, forms of revenue like that are considered legal and allowed. However, transparency should still play a main role so that the public is clear.

From an ethical point of view, it can be argued that who the donors are and how much they each contributed would be in the interest of the public.

Then at least we would know the stand of the party and also the issues that they support. That would give us enough information to make adequate decisions.

This is how I see it anyway. I don’t know how the rest of Malaysians feel. Is the way democracy practised in Malaysia and also the matter of public interest different in this country?

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

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