Wanted: A strong shadow Cabinet

“I TRIED to call Dr Ahmad Zahid’s secretary more than 30 times to resolve citizenship issues. In the end, I had to deal with the National Registration Department myself.”

This recent statement from Perak MCA Youth chief Ting Tai Fook is telling and is in reference to his failure to fix an appointment to see then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi before Barisan Nasional’s polls defeat on May 9.

Of course, being the second most powerful man in the country comes with a heavy responsibility. But analysts have pointed out that one of the reasons for Barisan’s momentous defeat was the fact that the leaders (read: ministers) were disengaged from the rakyat.

If a ranking leader of a component party is unable to meet a minister in person, what hope have we lesser mortals?

On Monday, our full Cabinet will be sworn in. The majority of these eminent people are new to government. In fact, only Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin have Federal Government experience. A number of these MPs do have experience as state assemblymen, but governing at the federal level is much more challenging.

It is important for these newly minted ministers to realise that as MPs, they were elected by the people and as such are accountable to the people.

While we have high expectations for this historic line-up, it is also important that the Cabinet members work together to ensure incidences of corruption, excesses, mismanagement and abuse of power will all be consigned to the dustbin of history.

The first session of the Dewan Rakyat after GE14 will begin on July 16. Ninety lawmakers will make their debut appearance as MPs – the biggest number of newbies the august House has ever seen.

The Pakatan Harapan ministers will join their colleagues in the front bench facing the Leader of the Opposition and the rest of the Opposition MPs.

But who will be the leader of the Opposition? We will likely know this after the Umno party polls tomorrow and it will almost certainly come from one of these three: Dr Ahmad Zahid, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah or Khairy Jamaluddin. They are all vying for the party president’s post.

Khairy has gone on record as saying that the Umno president may not necessarily be the leader of the Opposition.

In his presidential manifesto, Khairy also raised the possibility of a shadow Cabinet in time for the upcoming Parliament session.

“I will form a shadow Cabinet as soon as possible as well, so we will look more organised and structured,” he said.

The former Umno Youth chief said the formation of a shadow Cabinet is vital to ensure there is a proper structure for Barisan as the Opposition in Parliament.

He said this would also show that Barisan has accepted that it is the Opposition and will conduct its duties as an effective one.

“This is what the rakyat wants in a two-party system,” he said.

His BN colleague from MIC, Cameron Highlands MP Datuk Sivarraajh Chandran, also believes that a shadow Cabinet would play a check-and-balance role against the Government’s policies and initiatives.

“I have proposed the idea of a shadow Cabinet to the Barisan Nasional leadership so that we can effectively study and debate Bills that will be brought to the House,” the MIC Youth chief said.

The shadow Cabinet is a feature of the Westminster system of government.

It is a team of senior people chosen by the leader of the Opposition to mirror the Cabinet in government.

Each member of the shadow Cabinet is appointed to lead on a specific policy area for his party and to question and challenge his counterpart in the Cabinet.

In many Commonwealth countries, a member of the shadow Cabinet is referred to as a shadow minister.

Malaysia has never had a shadow Cabinet. In the past, individual parties like DAP and PAS have created their own shadow Cabinets involving their own MPs, but never an official one, nor as a coalition.

But this is the perfect time for the country to have one because it will serve as a check and balance in Parliament to ensure that debates over laws and policies are relevant, effective and concise.

BN has the potential to be an effective Opposition because many of its MPs who were re-elected during the 14th General Election have experience in administrating the Federal Government.

But, lest we forget, the coalition ruled uninterrupted for 61 years prior to GE14 and without an effective Opposition, the government of the day became dictatorial and unaccountable.

So, while all eyes will be on the country’s new 28-member Cabinet after the swearing-in on Monday, let us hope that the Opposition creates a strong shadow Cabinet to ensure the Government is always kept on its toes.

  • The writer believes that an effective opposition is a necessary safeguard for democracy and to ensure a good and accountable government.
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