Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mafrel: Foreign funds Yes, foreign agent No

By Rahmah Ghazali

FULL REPORT KUALA LUMPUR: Elections watchdog Mafrel has admitted receiving foreign funds from the United States and Finland but rejected an accusation of being a "foreign agent".

Its president Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh said: “An NGO monitoring body like us needs financial aid, be it from local or foreign sources. This is the normal practice for political parties as well.”

But he rejected an accusation by a Barisan Nasional senator that the election watchdog is a “foreign agent”.

He claimed that the foreign funds were for Mafrel to carry out its work during the 2008 general election, but the agreement did not include by-elections.

The money, he explained, was used to train volunteers for the monitoring process. In return, Mafrel submitted election reports to the funders.

Syed Ibrahim revealed that the money, amounting to US$50,000 (RM170,000), came from the Finnish embassy and the US' International Republican Institute (IRI).

"There is nothing strange about this,” he said, stressing that Mafrel (Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections) has always been unbiased and transparent in its election reports.

He said foreign funding was their final option, as they were still awaiting approval for government funds.

"We had to go through a lengthy procedure and it took a long time for our application to be processed. So finally, we had to rely on other funding,” he said.

Cedibility questioned

In the Dewan Negera last Tuesday, Senator Idris Buang also questioned Mafrel's impartiality, claiming that it was founded by a former PKR Youth leader.

Commenting on this, Syed Ibrahim said: "It is normal for politicians to found companies or NGOs. Besides, we never closed our doors to any Umno, PAS or PKR members who want to become volunteers.”

Earlier, the Mafrel boss also touched on the Election Commission's decision to drop the watchdog as an independent observer due to Mafrel's delay in submitting its reports.

Syed Ibrahim blamed this on the "out of the ordinary" string of by-elections since the 2008 general election.

He said Mafrel will submit its reports on the by-elections to the media today, while its report on the Hulu Selangor by-election has also been completed.

"It is time-consuming because we need to cross-examine the facts so that we can set a high standard for our reports. We also want to ensure that the reports contain truthful and credible information,” he added.

He said Mafrel sent an official letter, dated April 12, to the EC appealing against its decision to drop the watchdog.

"But we have yet to receive an answer,” he said, adding that Mafrel will continue to play an active role, especially in the upcoming Sibu by-election in Sarawak.

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