A shadow government is the way to go

tonypua.jpgTony Pua and Co. got roasted last night by the crowd on the issue of PR’s lack of a shadow cabinet

“Wouldn’t it show Pakatan Rakyat was more serious if it can come to a consensus on who would be ministers?” a young man asked at a public forum here last night that was meant to discuss what it means to be Malaysian.

When PR came together in 2008 after a wonderful showing during the General Elections, this was one of the first things that i called for — the formation of a shadow government. Not only would it give PR the chance to create positions directly responsible to track what the BN Cabinet was doing, it would also give the people a chance to see what PR would do if they had a chance to rule in BN’s place. 

The principle is very easy — criticising the ruling Cabinet is not a difficult job. Anyone with a brain and a half can do it; God knows they get themselves into enough messes to provide a target rich environment. Throwing stones is very easy, especially if your objective is to break a glass house. But try building the glass house (and keeping it safe from stones thrown at you!) — that’s a skill in itself. My challenge to PR in 2008 was to prove to us that they were not only stone throwers, but also house builders. I’ve got a feeling that’s the same sentiment the crowd had last night, the same question Tony Pua tried to fudge around for an answer.

The reason he gave?

“As to whether we pinpoint a person to be pointman for finance, for trade… I’m not sure if that really matters. A lot of people feel it is important but I don’t feel so,” said Pua, who is also Petaling Jaya Utara MP.

The Oxford-educated first-term legislator’s brush-off appeared to rub some members of the audience the wrong way.

Another young man, who identified himself as Andrew Pang, fairly bristled at Pua’s statement that PR assigned specific portfolios to focus on because it lacked the resources to scrutinise each and every ministerial section.

“Lacked the resources”? I’m sorry Tony, but that earns you a “WTF” from me. If you lack the resources to tell me what your competitive policies are on a day to day basis from the ruling party, then you’re also telling me that you don’t have the “resources” to run the nation as well.  What? You’re going to magically find the resources to rule once we’ve voted you in? No, sorry that’s not good enough. That’s like saying, give PR the shovel to dig the hole before you even know its a hole you want to dig.

Perhaps Tony Pua made an error; perhaps he didn’t expect the question, and wasn’t prepared. It’s ok, it happens to the best of us. All i’m saying is that his response is insufficient. Getting the vote to rule from the people is asking for a leap of faith; that won’t happen until you’ve passed your test of faith. A shadow government, to me at least, is a strong question in that exam.

One of the main things i think many people would like to know is how you’ll divide up the Cabinet between PR once you come to power. Who gets control of the ridiculously over-powered Ministry of International Trade, or the game-changing Ministry of Finance, or even, the nation building Ministry of Education (and Higher Education). If you tell me that someone from PAS will be in charge of education, perhaps that’s something i won’t be happy about for the sake of my children and how i prefer them to be educated. Even if you tell me that DAP will control MoF, i’ll want to know exactly what their policies will be when faced with real world situations such as the one concerning the property bubble today.

It’s about being transparent. It’s about giving the people the confidence that you know what you’re doing. It’s about telling us exactly how you’re different when it comes to decisions that matter, not tomorrow’s decisions, but today’s. 

“Going by the Westminster model… to hold every ministry accountable… it can be a waste. The approach taken currently, to assign a portfolio to a committee is working quite well,” Rafizi said.

When you rule the nation, you’ll still have committees to help you decide what to do, just like Rafizi Ramli claims that PR “committees” play the role of a shadow cabinet today. That’s not the point — unless you intend to rule your ministries through committees too, you’ll still need to have a person (man or woman) sitting in the hot chair and making the final decisions. The point is that we would like to know now whom you think these people will be, so that we can judge for ourselves whether this is the future that we want to vote for.

That’s not such a difficult concept to understand, is it? 

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7 thoughts on “A shadow government is the way to go

  1. I suspect the real unspoken problem is that appointing specific MPs to specific positions mixed with the bias and almost total control of print media by the Government is going to put PR into absolute defense mode even on issues that they should not have to defend.
    You displayed this yourself with your statement that you would not like a PAS MP to be in charge of education. Why not? If it is a moderate like Khalid Samad or Nizar? And that’s you, a rational mostly neutral blogger. Imagine what the MCA press would print over that or what Utusan/Perkasa will print if a DAP MP is manning one of the important (game changing as you put it) Ministries like MOF, MITI, Wisma Putera…etc. PR would have no time to focus on more constructive issues which matters on a tangible level for the people like administering their respective states.
    The other problem (again I suspect), is that there are lots of division in PR inter and intra party. Trying to divide up the loot before even coming close to winning the loot is going to spark up all sorts of divisions and defections. PR is still in a state of slow coalition building especially as the hierarchy of power has yet to be fully established.
    Ideally it would be nice to see the shadow cabinet, but it’s not gonna happen and the costs may actually outstrip the benefits. Plan B then is to articulate coherently (through a committee or otherwise) PR’s policies on specific portfolios, an area that PR still needs to improve.


  2. Sani, you said it better than me: if they can’t decide now, what makes us (the voters) think they can decide later?
    Doesn’t it make sense to get the problems out in the open now before they form the government? Better now when argument doesn’t mean a 100 point slide in the stock market.


  3. Aiz I agree that they will have to bite the bullet at some point, but I’m not sure doing so now is a priority compared to other competing priorities. When Tony said lack of resources, I assume he was alluding to lack of resources to counter the government’s propaganda, the gap in resources is unreal. The appointment of DAP MP to any important Ministry will be used by government media to stoke up fear of May 13 amongst the Malays. Appointment of a PAS MP is going to result in government press stoking up Islamicphobia amongst the Chinese community. I don’t look forward to that and I think PR’s limited time and resources are better spent doing other things.
    Let me turn this around, why is it important to know who will be in charge of what Ministry now? BN does not reveal its lineup until after they win…yes we can analyze the current BN line up, but the current line up is hardly a precedence (KJ being denied a Ministry normally reserved for UMNO youth chief is just one example).
    What is important is to know what are PR’s policies on specific matters. Besides in a parliamentary system, government’s main policies are going to be decided at cabinet level not at specific Ministries.


  4. I think i clearly specified the reasons for a shadow cabinet, moreso in this case since its an untested party/coalition.
    You just want to know what you’re going to get.


  5. Unless PR articulate its policies on foreign affairs, trade and investment, education, human rights, monetary and fiscal matters, amongst others, how are voters going to know what it stand for? I sincerely hope that if ever PR come to power (and the sooner the better for me), it will not be just a change of personnel in Putra Jaya. Then we can just expect more or less of the same – crap government and governance. I need to be proven wrong.


  6. Sorry didn’t have time for a full response earlier. Was driving. Balik kampung lol.
    While it’s true that the cabinet will decide policy, a cabinet is the sum of a whole rather than just it’s parts. It’s unfair, I feel, to expect the voters to wait until we’ve given them the keys to the mansion before they tell us who is going to be living there. We may just not like the tenants or rather the composition of tenants, so to speak.
    Even if we accept the argument that ministries are less important than the overall cabinet, it’s the ministries that does the research and presents the proposals. They may not make the final decision to the destination, they do draw up the road map. That’s a hell of a lot of influence still.
    PR has made a good start so far with many of the right ideas and policies planned. But until they give us the full picture, I’m afraid it’ll remain a stick BN will have on them.


  7. no. shadow cabinet is not important. because not all shadow ministers will get the same portfolio after the party wins the election. this is a westminster crap to encourage loyalty to the party leadership. in non-westminster parliaments like germany, the opposition party has one spokesperson for a single issue or two spokespersons for a single government ministry. this is akin to the current pr shadow committee. but the problem is we rarely heard anything worthwhile from those committee members whereas the spokesperson in those country are really expert in that particular field or ministry.
    what is important is a clear policy. pr already have shadow committee but where is the policy? there is no clear policy from the committee. for example, in the case of the racist statement from the principals, i could not find any concrete counter policy uttered by the shadow committee for education. the same about the proposal to built mrt in kl. no respond from the shadow committee for transport. the proposal to built nuclear power plant? no respond from the shadow committee for energy. the problem of submarines? no respond from the shadow committee for defense. the cutting of oil and sugar subsidy? no respond from the shadow committee for finance. in other words, pr have no clear policy.
    this lack of policy will ensure me to sit back and enjoy another holiday at home come the election day. why should i bother to vote when neither side is good enough.


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