THE newly-minted federal ministers and their deputies, having been duly appointed to office by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong and having taken the oath to keep government secrets to themselves, have been so very busy that they have very little time for family affairs. As they are now a public property, their time is not at their complete disposal anymore.
They had to attend briefings given by the permanent secretaries to the ministries on details of their portfolios, including what privileges and perks they would be enjoying while in office.
And more importantly, what they CANNOT snaffle for themselves!
Since the formation of the Cabinet, the ministers have been at the stage of publicising what they intend to do by way of serving the people.
We say, do it, YB! It’s time for concrete results. The proof of the pudding is in the eating!
Civil service role in government
In our system of government, the Chief Secretary to the Government and the secretaries-general of the various ministries administer the country while general elections are held.
Ministers come, ministers go, but the civil servants go on ‘forever.’
The civil service is the action part of government, implementing government purposes and goals, and functioning along the legislative and the judicial branches of that government.
We tend to blame the politicians in power when projects are not implemented satisfactorily, but it is sometimes the poor management of those projects that is to be blamed.
This often happens in countries where politicians are corrupt, and our country is no exception.
We all know how unstable politics was while the ‘Pintu Belakang/Tebuk Atap’ (back-door) government was in place.
Fortunately, we have a reliable civil service, like the First Mate steering the ship while the captain is fast asleep during a severe storm.
Parliamentary democracy returned to port safely on Nov 19, 2022.
Now the ship of state is in the hands of a new captain, backed by a crew of both old hands and fresh sailors. Now the crew will be tested – will they be able to work as a team during fine and foul weather?
What have they found?
As the newly-minted ministers and their deputies were clocking in for duty, the curious among them might have discovered something that had been swept under the carpet by the previous occupants.
Are there skeletons in the closet?
Were ‘urgent’ proposals put on the back burner?
The new occupant has to clean up the place before he can comfortably work there, looking at the ceiling and wondering how soon someone or something breaks through the roof.
There is no shortage of intruders planning to get in, given half the chance!
The recent general election returned a hung Parliament, no one political party could claim the mandate to govern. Even the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, securing the largest number of seats (82 out of total 222), did not claim the mandate to form the minority government immediately after the final results had been duly certified correct by the Election Commission.
Malaysians anxiously waiting to see the Cabinet line-up complained that it had taken too long before a Cabinet of ministers was finally cobbled together. But consider the enormous problem faced by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Imagine yourself in his shoes. Choosing players for a soccer team takes some time. The captain, with advice from the coach, picks the members; it is crucial that the right players are carefully placed.
Who should be playing midfield, wings, scorers? Are there good reserves? And keep an eye on any member of the team who has the habit of ‘accidentally’ kicking into his own net.
The team needs a good goalkeeper and a solid line of defenders to cope with the dribblers and sharp shooters in the opposing team, known for rough play.
My dear reader, given such a colossal responsibility, do you still want to be the Prime Minister – without pay?
A member of Parliament who is new to the ministerial job needs to go through briefings. He is taught the protocols when meeting with VIPs and foreign dignitaries.
There is the dress code: when meeting the Agong, the minister is not to dress in yellow.
He is given the files classified as ‘For Your Eyes Only’, and other files that may be shared (names of visitors or letters of congratulations).
He must attend Cabinet meetings regularly unless he has a good excuse.
Now that an elected government has been established, it is worth thinking about another pillar of that government: The Opposition.
Opposition members of Parliament play an important role in terms of checks and balances.
They keep an eye on the competence of the governing authorities, as well as the personal behaviour of ministers in and out of Parliament.
In New Zealand, the Opposition parliamentarians are referred to as ‘Members of the Loyal Opposition’. If and when their party wins at the general election, they are ready to take over power.
In effect, they are a government in waiting.
In Australia, this Shadow Cabinet works well. Aspiring political leaders in that country prefer to join the Liberal-National Party coalition or the Australian Labour Party.
A friend of mine was in a Shadow Cabinet as Assistant Treasurer while in Opposition. When his party, Labour, won the Australian general election early this year, he was appointed Assistant Treasurer (Deputy Finance Minister, you would call him in Malaysia).
I think we should think about introducing this system in Malaysia, both at the federal level as well as at the state level. Let us see how it works over here.
I think this government-in-waiting may inspire young politicians. There is certain pride in being called the minister-in-waiting, instead of being looked down upon as being an anti-government MP.
Come on – he is a duly elected MP like many of the other MPs seated opposite in Parliament.
The concept of ‘ngelaban prentah’ is not accurate to describe the sort of work of the MP who is an elected lawmaker of the country and an Honourable Member of the Opposition.