What is a Caretaker Government?

When Parliament dissolved on Thursday, 11 November 1999, all Members of the Dewan Rakyat would have ceased to receive their allowance as from that day onwards. This is a basic principle of the Parliamentary System.

In this connection, it has to be pointed out that with the dissolution of Parliament, the status and function of the government also changes accordingly.

From 12 November, the government becomes a caretaker government with caretaker functions.

A caretaker government in a Parliamentary democracy merely performs the rudimentary duties of the state. Apart from maintaining law and order, it ensures that government machinery continues to function so that the day-to-day task of administration can be carried out.

From a moral standpoint, a caretaker government cannot initiate new programmes or launch new projects in the name of the government. This is an unwritten role of electoral competition in a Parliamentary democracy. For the party that acts as the caretaker government is also a participant in the election. If it transgresses its caretaker functions by using the authority that a government enjoys in ordinary circumstances, it would have an unfair advantage over its other competitors in the election.

New Projects

Of course, legally a caretaker government can argue that launching new projects and disbursing funds are part of the day-to-day functions of the government. Morally, however, such an argument is untenable since these activities, without doubt, give an advantage to the incumbent. Besides, they may be perceived by the electorate as favours done them with the intention of obtaining their support. This is why in the Scandinavian democracies and in Britain no new governmental programmes derived from state funds are initiated during the campaign period.

ALIRAN hopes that the Barisan Nasional which has promised a clean and trustworthy government will be scrupulously honest in this matter. Clean and trustworthy leaders will at all times observe the moral underpinnings of the system. Otherwise, elections will become a farce.

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PRIVATE AND PUBLIC

It was said of Muhammad Bello (the son of Uthman and Fodio) that he maintained two lamps: one which was his own that he used for reading materials of private nature and the other which was paid for by the state treasury which he used for reading state documents. After he had read State documents he would extinguish the flame of the state lamp and light his private lamp for his own private reading. He was extremely scrupulous about the distinction between the two.

From Al-haji Shehu Shagari and Jean Boyed Uthman and Fodio The Theory and Practice of his leadership (Islamic Publications Bureau, Lagos, 1978) p. 50.

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