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Monday, April 27, 2009

> Pakatan forms shadow cabinet committees

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will set up shadow cabinet committees instead of the customary practice in Britain of matching one opposition lawmaker to pass criticism and offer alternative policies to one specific government ministry.

The Malaysian Insider understands that instead of appointing individual shadow ministers, PR will have committees of between eight and 15 MPs monitoring the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration. This was decided at a senior leadership meeting during the weekend.

By forming the committees, PR appears to be avoiding the sensitive issue of announcing who among their leaders would be appointed to key positions in the event they ever take federal power.

While supporters of a two-party system may applaud this step, they will also have to accept that it may not look like what they had expected and that raises questions over PR's preparedness to take federal power.

The Malaysian Insider understands each committee will be led by three co-chairs representing PKR, PAS and DAP and one MP can sit in up to three committees of his or her choice.

When parliament is in session, the speaker will be informed that PR would like the shadow committee members to be given priority to speak on their respective topics which will afford them an opportunity to shine in the subject matter.

However, the committee concept also raises questions over the PR's readiness to be an alternative to the current federal government.

James Chin, a political analyst at Monash University Malaysia says the effort to shadow the government is worthwhile but sees drawbacks to the committee concept.

"A shadow cabinet is one way to tell people that you are a government in waiting and that you have got the people to take over the various ministries ... (but) you can't appoint a committee to be a minister," he told The Malaysian Insider.

"If they want to do it, they should do it one-to-one, not by committee. That is the proper way."

He adds that a cabinet committee will likely function more as a review committee that merely reviews the government's actions.

PR's shadow committee members will unfortunately also have to struggle with many constraints its counterparts in BN do not. They will not have government allocations for research budgets or staff, nor will they have the resources of the civil service at their disposal.

It is also not an officially recognised position, unlike in some countries. It is understood that the lack of resources is part of the reason for the formation of a committee as it will allow the workload to be shared.

While not ideal, the shadow committee will give the MPs a chance to shine in parliament although whether they are up to the task of writing policy papers will remain to be seen..

Selangor Speaker Teng Chang Khim believes that PR does not need a shadow cabinet to prove it is a viable alternative to BN.

The four-term assemblyman said the Selangor executive councillors were all doing well without the benefit of being shadow councillors while in the opposition.

“In fact, I can say they are doing even better than the previous administration,” he said.

Teng, who had previously served as opposition leader for two terms, said a shadow cabinet was just one of the ways, but not necessarily the best way, for the opposition to keep the Government in check.

The shadow committee may lead to unnecessary controversy, he added, because it will allow Barisan MPs to question the committees on issues such as the Islamic state or hudud.

Teng said while the coalition had reached a consensus that party policies and Pakatan policies are two different issues, he foresees that Barisan Nasional will view such differences as inconsistencies and will exploit them - The Malaysian Insider.