The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) calls for strong and effective check and balance mechanisms to protect public interest even as we begin a new chapter under the leadership of our 10th Prime Minister (PM) Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his mixed coalition government.
- BERSIH notes with some concerns the remark of Anwar yesterday that he is not considering the role of the Finance Minister “at the moment”. He should not for a moment consider it as it would totally remove any semblance of check and balance in the inner sanctum of his own Cabinet. Have we not learned from the follies of Najib Razak?
- On the other hand, BERSIH welcomes the statement by the leader of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, that they are rejecting Anwar’s offer to be part of his unity government and that “PN will play a role as an authoritative opposition to bring the voice of the people to Parliament and ensure the integrity and corruption-free governance of the government is in line with caring, clean and stable (PN) principles.”
- BERSIH calls on Anwar’s government to enable the formation of a Shadow Cabinet for the opposition with commensurate salary, resources and information access for its shadow ministers. Every ministry will be scrutinized 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 select committee, filled by both government and opposition backbenchers, with its own policy staff.
- The passing of the Parliamentary Services Act as promised in the PH manifesto should also be expedited so that the resources for these additional committees and Shadow Cabinet can come direct from Parliament instead of the Ministry of Finance.
- Standing Orders in the Dewan Rakyat has to be amended to reduce government control of the agenda and time, improving opportunities for Private Member’s business, empowering PSSC to act more independently and the management of confidence votes.
- Apart from parliamentary reforms, we need key institutions such as the Judiciary, the Election Commission and the MACC to be independent and free from the influence of the Executive. A Key Appointment Commission to shortlist candidates for the relevant PSSC to further scrutinize would ensure that only independent and qualified candidates are shortlisted for the PM to recommend to the YDPA for appointment.
- The Attorney-General who should remain as an appointee of the government, should not hold the role of Public Prosecutor, a reform promised by both PH and BN. An immediate transfer of prosecution power to Solicitor General (the apolitical No 2 in AGC) as a temporary measure and a provisional moratorium on prosecution of opposition politicians on non-violence-related cases before the completion of AGC reform to avoid perception of selective prosecution or immunity.
Other important institutions outside of government structures that play an important role to hold the government of the day accountable are the media and civil society organisations.
- A free press is integral to a vibrant democracy as they shine lights on corruption, failures and shortcomings of the government and they should be unshackled from restrictive laws so that they can report without fear or favours.
- 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 NGOs to access fundings and apply for tax-exempt status from MOF. The government should also consider setting up an independent Civil Society Commission to regulate NGOs and fund those who fulfill certain criteria so that they can do their work without constant concerns about sustainability and harassments from the authority.
Statement issued by:
The Steering Committee of BERSIH