Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cabinet needs to explain China envoy bungle

Abdul Aziz Bari  

COMMENT It is a bit strange when the cabinet and its members are not unanimous on the standard procedure and practice among cabinet members.
For one thing we have been independent for almost 60 years - all these years held by Umno-BN - and the cabinet secretariat should be clear on the procedures.
I think it is only proper that the cabinet - through the chief secretary of the government - issue a statement on this embarrassing confusion about the summoning of Chinese envoy.
The incident was enough to put the Najib government on the spot.
The one thing that is crucial is that members of the government - namely the cabinet - are bound by the unanimity principle called collective responsibility.
The summoning of the envoy was the government stand/policy and this is beyond question.
Who can do so?
Due to the above principle, constitutionally any cabinet member can do that. Of course it is normally done by the foreign minister or his or her ministry. A civil servant may even be asked to carry out the decision
Now what about a deputy minister? This has become an issue.
Under the constitution, as stated by Article 43A (2) of the Federal Constitution, his job is to assist the minister and he has all the powers to carry out that.
Article 43A (2) states that deputy ministers shall assist ministers in the discharge of their duties and functions, and for such purpose shall have all the powers of ministers.
That is important although a deputy minister is technically not a member of the cabinet - this is a mere practice as the constitution is silent on this.
It was not clear whether there was a minister who was put in charge of foreign affairs in the absence of Anifah Aman, the minister.
In the absence of such and assuming there was a communication between Anifah (photo, right) and his deputy Reezal Naina Merican (photo, left) what was done is fine.
That is why we need the cabinet secretary to enlighten us over what actually happened.
But it is already embarrassing and it signals that even the cabinet is not united on this very simple issue.

ABDUL AZIZ BARI is a constitutional law expert.

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