|Beh Lih Yi (Malaysiakini)|
|Nov 30, 07|
Independent election watchdog Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections (Mafrel) has decided to seek government funding for its activities, but denied the move would tarnish its impartiality.
The suggestion of applying for government funding was reportedly raised by Election Commission (EC) chief Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman during a meeting with Mafrel on Nov 19.
Mafrel has decided to take up the EC chairperson’s suggestion.
Its chief Abdul Malek Hussin said today that the watchdog at its board meeting on Wednesday had made a decision on the matter.
“We are of the view that Mafrel’s work is important for the country and the rakyat, thus we deserve to get public funding,” Malek told Malaysiakini.
He argued the funding is not “government’s money” but rather, taxpayers’ money.
“We are not applying for partisan funding, this is public funding and it is nothing new for us to receive public funding even at the international stage,” he added.
According to Malek, Mafrel had received funds from the International Republican Institute (IRI) which is funded by the United States government and the Finnish government also funded a recent Mafrel programme.
Money via EC
Malek said Mafrel is in the process of submitting an application to the government for RM5.7 million, for its volunteers to carry out monitoring during the upcoming general election.
Due to the move, he explained that Mafrel is also required to carry out a restructuring exercise as its current status as a registered company will disqualify it from receiving government funding.
“Those entitled to receive government funds have to be either a registered society with the Registrar of Societies or a trust. We decide to turn Mafrel into Mafrel Foundation,” he said.
Elaborating on the procedures, he said the application for funding, to be made to the Prime Minister’s Department will be channelled through the EC before it reaches Mafrel, in the event that it is approved.
“We are going through the EC because otherwise, it will be misconstrued that we are getting funds from the Executive,” he said, adding that he was still uncertain as to whether Mafrel will seek such funds annually.
Asked if the move might draw flak from critics over Mafrels’ impartiality, he replied: “We have criticism from all divides but no official criticism on this matter yet.”
According to Malek, no conditions should be attached to the application of funding apart from conditions of monitoring the elections as set earlier by the EC.
Among others, Mafrel is barred from making public comments on the conduct of the election until it submits a report to the EC and it cannot interfere in the election process.
Mafrel was formed through a conference of civil societies and human rights activists in 2003 and had monitored the last general election in 2004, as well as several by-elections.
After engaging in an open war of words with the EC during the Sarawak state election last year, Mafrel’s non-partisan work won EC’s recognition in April this year when it was granted unprecedented official accreditation to monitor the Machap by-election.
However, critics have argued that EC conditions imposed on Mafrel in granting them official accreditation, was at the expense of its impartiality and independence.
Mafrel also wrote in one of its reports that the ‘negative implications’ from obtaining official accreditation is that “it imposes restrictive conditions to Mafrel observers”.
Opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim, who met Mafrel on Wednesday, has said that – although he recognised the work of the election watchdog – he considered its stand on certain matters “too soft” against the EC.