Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has shot down a challenge from the Prime Minister Najib Razak for him to name a Shadow Cabinet.
“There (is) no need for a shadow Cabinet, because we already have our parliamentary committees which oversee aspects of governance from the PM’s department to other ministries,” he was quoted as telling reporters yesterday.
However, I strongly disagree. In any parliamentary democracy, there is a government and there is an opposition. The role of government is written in black and white and the opposition’s job is to provide a check and balance to the government of the day.
In Malaysia, it is easier said than done, due to our being an almost one-party state for the greater part since independence. Over the years in Malaysia, the role of the opposition has become somewhat ambiguous, with many people not really knowing or understanding the proper role of an opposition.
One way to formalise and consolidate the role of the opposition is via a shadow Cabinet, whereupon the leader of opposition is officially mandated to appoint his own team of ministers to shadow the actual Cabinet. Basically, every government minister will be shadowed by his opposite from the opposition benches.
The role of the shadow ministers will be to keep tabs on their respective counterparts and also come up with appropriate and suitable alternative policies. A shadow Cabinet will in turn keep the opposition on their toes; most importantly, it will be an excellent platform to put forward their own ideas and policies into the forefront.
A point to consider is the current Klang Valley MRT fiasco; we have the opposition up in arms crying foul on this and that. It is their job to do so, period. But don’t you think it will be more effective and practical if there was a shadow minister to keep tabs on this issue, come up with alternative plans and promote them instead.
The situation now is that, everyone is jumping up and down with their five sen worth, but no one is suggesting any concrete alternative or solution to anything. Where is the opposition “parliamentary committee” in charge of public transportation in this?
When an opposition goes around town saying they are a government in waiting, they have to substantiate that sort of rhetoric with facts and solid action. They have to show us what they have to offer, how they will govern and what sort of policies they have to offer and prove to the voters they are capable of better governance compared to the government of the day.
Running a country is more than scrapping the ISA, UUCA, OSA, Printing and Publications Acts, eradicating corruption, increasing bonuses for civil servants and creating racial unity; granted those are all important issues.
What matters more to the man on the street are more down to earth bread and butter issues such as the state of the economy, public transportation, crime, healthcare, education, inflation, employment, price of basic food items, taxation rates, urban development, rural development and the list goes on and on.
But we don’t really know where the opposition stands on these basic issues, do we? It is one thing to promise the moon and the stars, but for starters, they can maybe start telling us how they intend to actually go about delivering it.
I suggest that members of the shadow Cabinet also be given a monthly salary by the state to further formalise their roles as shadow ministers and as recognition on the importance of their posts.
To further underscore the importance and seriousness of a shadow Cabinet, shadow ministers will have to do this full-time and forgo any other income generating commitments they may have. Public service is serious business and we cannot leave any room for conflicts of interest.
I further suggest since we follow the Westminster parliamentary system, we also follow the UK format of a shadow Cabinet for now. Give it a few years to stew and we can eventually modify the system to suit Malaysia better.
I am not suggesting we ape the UK in everything we do, but let us follow a system that works first and then slowly adapt it to our own local requirements.
Dear Leader of the Opposition, form a shadow Cabinet pronto, I say.
* Azeem Ambalam reads The Malaysian Insider