Standard conventions for caretaker govt very much apply to GPS — Bersih Sarawak chief


Ann Teo

KUCHING (Nov 7): The Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) must follow other practices or conventions in the run-up to the state election, in leading the state caretaker government, said Bersih Sarawak chairperson Ann Teo.

In a statement yesterday, she called upon the state caretaker government to abide by all standard conventions for any caretaker government, which would include avoiding major policy decisions likely to commit an incoming government, deferring any significant appointment, and avoiding entry into major contracts, commitments or undertakings.

She added that the caretaker government should also avoid using public services and resources in election or political activities, avoid using government premises, and avoid using government websites, emails, social media and other IT services for political purposes.

“These conventions protect the apolitical nature of public service by avoiding the use of government resources or logistics in a manner that may advantage a particular party,” she said.

Teo’s remarks were made in response to the announcement by Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg during a special press conference on Friday about the GPS-led government now functioning as a caretaker government following the dissolution of Sarawak State Legislative Assembly (DUN).

Teo said although Bersih Sarawak welcomed the announcement by Abang Johari, she was also concerned about his response to a journalist at the press conference, where he was quoted as having said: “We just run the state as it is.”

She said while neither Malaysia nor Sarawak had ever had a written ‘caretaker convention’ – unlike other Commonwealth countries such as the UK, Australia and Canada, there were prerequisites that must be followed in order to uphold the principle of public accountability and having a level-playing field.

She said the rationale for such convention, or unwritten law, was that when the House of Representatives – in this case, referring to DUN Sarawak – had been dissolved, the government or ‘the Executive’ would be effectively governing without parliamentary oversight and it could not be held accountable for its decisions in the ordinary manner, adding that that every election would carry with it ‘the possibility of a change of government’.

“Whilst the ordinary business of government continues, the GPS caretaker government, its ministers, agencies and ministries are reminded to avoid practices of the same nature as listed afore-mentioned. Major policy decisions, appointments, allocations and projects should be left for the next elected government to make, instead of the caretaker government.

“Public resources and assets should not be used, to ensure level-playing field for all candidates and parties. As an example, state civil service and public facilities or resources or privileges provided to ministers when in government should not be used for campaigning.

“Assets or resources such as four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles, helicopters and boats should be privately hired using party’s resources,” she pointed out.

Moreover, Teo said Bersih Sarawak called upon all political parties contesting in the coming Sarawak polls to commit to adopting ‘a caretaker guideline’ in their election manifestos should they come into power.

“We also urge all voters to monitor the conduct of the caretaker Chief Minister (Abang Johari) and reject the abuse of any state resources in election campaigns,” she added.