Thursday, 17 May 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM
It’s just sheer waste of money
NOW that the 14th General Election is over, I believe voters on both sides of the political divide can agree on one issue – that too much waste has been generated by both political coalitions during the campaign period. The sheer amount of waste generated and public funds and political donations expended in producing campaign materials and carrying out campaigns have an environmental and social impact.
I am of the opinion that the existing campaign spending cap of RM200,000 for each parliamentary seat and RM100,000 for each state seat under the Election Offences Act 1954 is sufficient and should not be raised.
We have seen for ourselves that our increasingly informed electorate is not swayed by handouts or the number of flags or banners but has progressively relied more and more on social media, the Internet and other independent sources of news to keep abreast of political news and developments. The funding of, and spending for, election campaigns are therefore not necessary.
A draft Political Donations and Expenditure Bill to curtail corruption and money politics was presented to the attorney-general in 2017 but it was not tabled in Parliament before GE14. There is now a pressing need to table this Bill in the interest of transparency and integrity.
Apart from the link between political donations, undue influence and corruption, as an environmentally-minded citizen, I am of the opinion that enforcing the election campaign spending cap, monitoring donations and having clear guidelines on election spending and campaigning will pressure political parties and their campaign teams to be more careful about how funds are used, and this may in turn result in less indiscriminate production and display of election campaign paraphernalia.
During the GE14 campaign period, the sheer volume and density of election posters and flags in some areas posed a hazard to road users and citizens. Traffic lights and signs were obscured and pedestrians had to look out for falling makeshift billboards and flagpoles. Restrictions on the number of physical campaign materials that each candidate is allowed to display in each area will force campaign teams to be more discerning over how much material to produce and where to place them.
It is not enough that political parties remove all campaign materials within 14 days after polling day. To demonstrate their commitment to the environment and prudent use of resources, political parties should endeavour to avoid generating excessive waste in the first place. We currently have non-governmental organisations collecting used and discarded party banners for repurposing and “upcycling” into tote bags, sleeping mats for the homeless and the like. While this is creative and commendable, it should not be the responsibility of NGOs to find ways to delay the journey of campaign materials to the landfill. It should be the responsibility of parties, candidates and their campaign teams to find ways to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills and the corresponding expenses of collecting and transporting the waste.
Guidelines can be drawn up to put pressure on candidates and their campaign teams to:
1. Reduce the amount of new campaign materials produced;
2. Avoid using campaign materials that are toxic, polluting or non-recyclable;
3. Produce more durable campaign materials (especially party flags, caps and T-shirts) that can be used over and over again;
4. Produce campaign materials that can be more easily composted, recycled or repurposed;
5. Avoid nailing campaign materials to trees or placing them in environmentally sensitive areas, such as near nature reserves and bird habitats;
6. Avoid producing, buying or using materials that pose a threat to wildlife, such as polystyrene, balloons and firecrackers, and leaving exposed wires and trailing strings as these could harm pedestrians and animals;
7. Ensure that assemblies and ceramah are held far from known bird and wildlife habitats such as urban parks and recreational forests, and reduce noise and light pollution during such events;
8. Avoid giving out flyers and handouts during election campaigns and assemblies; and
9. Avoid using single-use disposable packaging when providing campaign teams and agents with food and water.
The practice of providing food, gifts, goodie bags and promotional materials during campaigns should be eradicated completely as these not only create waste and litter but also constitute money politics.
Although the general election typically takes place only once every five years, it is absurd to justify wasteful and destructive practices on the basis that elections do not occur frequently. Election campaigns can and should be carried out with as little harm to the environment and community as possible. Political parties and candidates must remember that their work is a better testimony of their worth and better predictor of their election success than any billboard, poster or handout could ever be.
WONG EE LYNN
Green Living Special Interest Group
Malaysian Nature Society