Bersih calls for formation of shadow cabinet

Bersih says Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim should not become finance minister as it would remove any semblance of check and balance in his cabinet. – EPA pic, November 26, 2022.

THE Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) has called on Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government to enable the formation of a shadow cabinet for the opposition.

This, the Bersih steering committee said, should be carried out with commensurate salary, resources and information access for its shadow ministers. 

“Every ministry will be scrutinised by only a shadow minister who would be paid half the ministerial salary and provided policy staff but no other perks. 

“To further strengthen scrutiny, for each ministry, there should also be a parliamentary special select committee (PSSC), filled by both government and opposition backbenchers, with its own policy staff,” it said in a statement. 

Bersih wants to see a strong and effective check-and-balance mechanism to protect public interest as Anwar begins his leadership as the 10th prime minister in his mixed-coalition government. 

It also said Anwar should not take up the post of finance minister as it would remove any semblance of check and balance in the inner sanctum of his own cabinet.

“Have we not learned from the follies of jailed former prime minister Najib Razak?” it demanded.

Bersih also praised Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman Muhyiddin Yassin for rejecting Anwar’s offer to be part of his unity government. 

This will allow PN to play a role as an authoritative opposition to bring the voice of the people to parliament and ensure integrity and corruption-free governance. 

The other reform Bersih is pushing is for Anwar to implement the Parliamentary Services Act as promised in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifesto. 

“It should also be expedited so that the resources for these additional committees and shadow cabinet can come directly from parliament instead of the Finance Ministry. 

“Standing Orders in the Dewan Rakyat have to be amended to reduce government control of the agenda and time, improving opportunities for Private Members’ business, empowering PSSCs to act more independently, and (improving) the management of confidence votes.” 

Apart from parliamentary reforms, Bersih said key institutions such as the judiciary, the Election Commission and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission must be independent and free from the influence of the executive. 

“A key appointment commission to shortlist candidates for the relevant PSSCs to further scrutinise them would ensure that only independent and qualified candidates are shortlisted for the prime minister to recommend to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for appointment.”

As for the attorney-general, Bersih said the candidate should remain an appointee of the government and should not hold the role of public prosecutor, a reform promised by both PH and Barisan Nasional. 

“An immediate transfer of prosecution power to the solicitor-general (the apolitical number two in the Attorney-General’s Chambers) as a temporary measure and a provisional moratorium on prosecution of opposition politicians on non-violence-related cases before the completion of AGC reform (must be implemented) to avoid perception of selective prosecution or immunity,” it said.

It also wants to see a free press, which is integral to a vibrant democracy as the media shines the light on corruption, failures and shortcomings of the government, and Bersih calls for it to be unshackled from restrictive laws so that it can report without fear or favour.

“Other important institutions outside government structures that play an important role to hold the government of the day accountable are the media and civil society organisations,” it said.

Bersih added that under the new administration, the role of civil society should be acknowledged by allowing organisations that are deemed “political”, when they are actually working to advance human and political rights, to be duly registered under a reformed Registrar of Societies that is not influenced by the executive. 

“This would enable these civil society groups to access funding and apply for a tax-exempt status from the Finance Ministry.

“The government should also consider setting up an independent Civil Society Commission to regulate civil society groups and fund those who fulfil certain criteria so they can do their work without constant concerns about sustainability and harassment from the authority.” – November 26, 2022.

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