The 2009 Cabinet has been announced by the Prime Minister. Now it is time to work. I will try my best to objectively analyze this new line-up.
Generally, I must say that the hype surrounding this announcement was truly astounding. Almost everyone chipped in their thoughts as to who should be in the cabinet and how the cabinet should look like. Everyone seems to have the same prerogative as the Prime Minister – subrogating his responsibility to appoint members of the cabinet [this blogger is also guilty of this – :)]
As the result, there were too many expectations accompanying the announcement. In the end, some may feel disappointed. Some say, there was nothing new in the cabinet. To me, any disappointment is mainly (but not totally) due to expectations of a total revamp in the cabinet. Most people wanted to see a smaller cabinet. Some wanted to see a revamp such as mergers of ministries or creation of new ministries. What did we expect anyway? If indeed there was to be a total revamp, it still will not ensure efficiency and competency in the cabinet.
I honestly feel that this is the best the Prime Minister could offer. In his own wisdom, this is the best he could assemble from the pool of parliamentarians and political leaders he has at his disposal.
First, the good:
1) There is the effort to monitor performance in the form of setting up KPIs for each ministry. This is the core mechanism that will ensure competency and measuring performance. I feel that the creation of this portfolio is the best we have seen. However, it would be more meaningful if the public can actually be exposed to what the KPIs are so that they too can see and gauge the performance of each ministry. For now, the ministries’ performance will be reviewed twice yearly.
2) The setting up of National Economic Advisory Council with its Chairman given a ministerial status. The cabinet could not work if the politicians in it do not get any input from experts. Thus far, we have not given any details on the composition of this panel. I would assume that this panel will be a high powered body much similar to the NEAC established in 1997 to counter the currency crisis back then. That council was responsible in coming up with successful policies which the cabinet at that time had acted upon rather diligently. It is hoped that this panel will comprise many specialists in the fields of economy.
3) There are several new faces in the cabinet. It is quite exciting to see whether the newcomers that were given the chance to shine in this cabinet will follow through the trust given onto them. This cabinet will be crucial in regaining the confidence of Malaysians. Like the Prime Minister had advised them, these newly appointed cabinet ministers must be people friendly, effective, hardworking and sincere.
4) East Malaysians are given more prominence in this cabinet. 6 ministers and 7 deputy ministers are appointed respectively. It is very appropriate that Datuk Shafie Afdal is given the Rural Development Ministry. This will definitely give more sense of urgency on the need to develop the rural areas in East Malaysia. The current perception is, East Malaysians are lagging behind in receiving their share of development than the rest of the country.
5) The Prime Minister stresses on inclusivity when announcing how he will administer the government. I was told that each ministry will set up panels to get feedback from the ground concerning each of their areas of responsibilities. For instance, the Youth and Sports ministry may create a body that comprises promising youths to inculcate a sense of belonging among our young ones. They also may encourage the setting up of youth NGOs that will act as feeders and generate ideas that are appealing to our young citizens. Hence, the ministry will act on their suggestions.
Secondly, the bad:
1) When hearing the announcement, among my first reaction was; are there no other parliamentarians more proficient in Malaysian laws than Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz? Nazri should know that he is very lucky to be reappointed into the cabinet this time around. But I guess, his service is still needed in Parliament. However, I will shudder if he still persist in being too gung-ho in his approach towards any sensitive issues in the future.
2) Some recycled and tired horses are still being elected into the cabinet. These people that performed neither here nor there in the last cabinet may be a bane for the government. Mashitah Ibrahim, Noh Omar, Sulaiman Abd Rahman Taib etc. are those that fall into this group. Unless they still have the passion to weather through the challenges ahead without jeopardizing the whole team’s performance, then the cabinet as a whole may achieve their intended targets. As it is, some weak links still exist in this current line-up.
3) Conspicuously absent is the role of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in the new cabinet. Was he ever invited? If he was, did he decline? The vast knowledge situated on top of this MP’s slender shoulders should not be wasted by the current crop of leaders. Tap them while he still is breathing.
Thirdly, the political aspects:
1) From the onset, the new Prime Minister is trying hard to maintain the goodwill between component parties in Barisan Nasional. It is not surprising that since the cabinet needs to be downsized and rightsized, it is Umno that made the sacrifice. Umno top politicians in the party needs to be given more room to win the hearts of the voters. A ministerial post may arguably deter their role in this objective. MCA meanwhile will be placated and this should be an impetus for them to be more loyal towards Barisan Nasional’s spirit of teamwork and goodwill.
2) The opposition is working overtime to paint the picture that this cabinet is actually Tun Mahathir’s cabinet. Their narrowed view hinged only to the fact that Tun’s son is elected to the post of deputy minister. They fail to see that most of Pak Lah’s allies are elected into it too. People like Shabery Cheek, Sabri Ismail, Shaziman Mansor (Khairy’s cousin), Khaled Nordin, Johari Baharum and Nor Mohamed Yakcop are given very powerful portfolios in the cabinet. What can we say about this? Certainly, this is not what Tun had envisioned if it is indeed HIS cabinet. Even Pak Lah’s hatchet man – Nazri Aziz who is very anti Mahathir, is given the chance to continue releasing any of his pent up anger towards Tun in Parliament or anywhere he deemed fit. However, I would like to point out here that eventually, every one of them will become Najib’s men (and women). It is indeed ironic that some personalities like Muhyiddin, who was pro Anwar in the beginning, became Pak Lah’s man at one point of time and now has managed to transformed himself as Tun Mahathir’s favourite guy. That is why in politics, there are no permanent enemies and no permanent friends.
3) By appointing many ministers from East Malaysia, the Prime Minister knows that maintaining the support of East Malaysians is vital for Barisan Nasional. Hopefully those Sarawakian and Sabahan ministers will not fail in their duty to serve the nation.
4) Khairy was not appointed into the cabinet. Like I said in my article before, it is not the end for everyone. There will be a silver lining in everything. Even if he is not elected now, he will probably be in the future. Maybe Najib thinks he is still young. There are indeed many seniors above him. Maybe he needs to prove himself first because there are quite a number of people who still find him a liability to BN. He should not let this perceived handicap deter him from doing what he is entrusted to do – getting the young Malaysians to vote for Barisan Nasional in the next general election. I think the lack of cabinet role will free him to do this very centralized and essential role. As we all know, being a member of a cabinet is very time consuming. Remember, there is a place for every sincere and harworking people.
5) Many asked why some people get certain portfolios. What are the justifications? I can offer a few theses. Others may refute and offer an anti-thesis. Below are my two cents worth;
• In the current cabinet, there are several very important ministries. We call this as Tier One ministries. They are, among others, the Finance Ministry, Education Ministry, Home Ministry, and the Defense Ministry. Najib still feels that he needs to hold the Finance Ministry. I find this mind boggling. Nevertheless, the nation’s coffers will be scrutinized heavily by Malaysians. Is Najib feeling up to the task with this kind of attention and responsibility? Probably he is.
• The PPMSI will continue on with some minor changes because Muhyiddin is in charge of the Education Ministry. The no nonsense character that he possess will enable him to deal firmly with any dissenters of this policy. Our Education system needs to be overhauled anyway. I do hope that a review similar to Penyata Razak back in the 60’s will once and for all determine the direction of our education system. Since Najib is the eldest child of our 2nd Prime Minister, wouldn’t it be appropriate to call it Penyata Razak II?
• The Home Ministry has powerful agencies that deal with security of the nation. In decades long past, home ministers often used their position to gain further political mileage. Some even became more powerful than the Prime Minister. The late Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie or better known as King Ghaz was so powerful, he could have become our 4th Prime Minister if not for the brave intervention of Tun Hussein Onn’s 3 vice presidents back in the 70’s. Tun Musa Hitam used the machinery available for him in the Home Ministry to actually backstab Tun Mahathir back in 80’s. With precedents like these, it is not surprising that this ministry was taken over by the Prime Minister himself or by someone he truly trusts. In this case, Najib’s own cousin – Hishamuddin Hussein. My only complaint is that Hishamuddin may be too meek to hold this post. In this current scenario where social tension is quite rife, the Home Minister should have been someone who has no regards for his own political career. After the 1969 racial riots, the retired Tun Dr Ismail was called back to be in the cabinet of Tun Abdul Razak as the Home Minister. His role; to instill order in the country. He was a no-nonsense politician, strict disciplinarian and had total disregard to his own political future. He put in more than one thousand people in jail under the ISA and yet even the opposition revered him till today. In retrospect, he was the best man Tun Abdul Razak could have appointed. Fast forward to our time, will Hishamuddin Hussein fit this mould? Only time will tell.
• Zahid Hamidi is appointed as the new Defense Minister replacing Pak Lah. This no holds barred character is a paradox to begin with. A very close friend of Anwar and yet he is also a strong supporter of Najib. Ultimately, a behind the scene event and motives had enabled Zahid to secure this important ministerial post. Defense is one area of the government where the Prime Minister must have close links with. By putting his strong supporter there, Najib will definitely feel more secure with this team.