KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 3 – There was a time in this relatively young nation when the best and most qualified served as ministers, because they were truly the people’s representatives, and knew what they needed to do for the benefit of all Malaysians.
That all ended in the late 1980s when Umno saw a split almost down the middle following the challenge to then president Dr Mahathir Mohamad from Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in the party polls. The events of 1987 saw the incumbent retain his position with a slim margin of just 43 votes.
The rest is history as they say, with the party being eventually declared illegal, allegedly thanks to the efforts of lawyers representing the victors, in what was believed to be a move to purge the party of Team B, led by Razaleigh, Musa Hitam and other then ministers and MPs.
Now Anyone Can Be A Minister
Following that infamous episode, Umno and Mahathir preceded Tony Fernandes’ famous slogan for AirAsia, by apparently following the line “Now Anyone Can Be A Minister”, as the only criteria was loyalty to the prime minister and Umno president.
Over the next three decades, thanks to Barisan Nasional’s hold on power, the many Cabinet members that have come and gone have lived up to that slogan for better or worse.
And the issue also holds true for any of the BN component parties, not just Umno. In all his time as minister, former MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu ensured that the practice of having two full ministers from the party in the 1970s was not maintained throughout his tenure as party chief. This was so there would be no senior cabinet member stealing his limelight. This practice was continued by his successors, G. Palanivel and Dr S. Subramaniam.
Malaysia now has a record number of four ministers from the Indian community but that may not be something to really be proud of based on the quality of the whole Cabinet overall, let alone their weaknesses and culpability over the Seafield temple issue.
Which brings me to what seems to be a new scenario that befits the Malaysian government since the 14th general election saw BN lose power for the first time and a hodge podge of former opposition leaders and some former Umno leaders step in to the Cabinet.
So You Think You Can Be A Minister?
Based on Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s own comments of having a “report card” on the ministers, evaluating their performances and dropping those who do not perform, Malaysia’s Cabinet is now a real-time game show, “So You Think You Can Be A Minister?”.
This was what the PM said last month when asked about his Cabinet.
“The Cabinet now is very much different than how it was back when I was the prime minister previously. Only Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and I have had long experience governing the country.
“I have to be more tolerant now. If you want me to be a dictator, then it will be easier. My legacy is that I had an experienced Cabinet, so it was easy to run the government,” Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying.
Then, earlier this month, at an interview with RTM, he said that his Cabinet members only deserved three or four stars out of five.
He was also reported to have said that whatever the flaws of his Cabinet it was still better than having some politicians who were crooks and thieves running the country, referring to the previous Barisan Nasional government.
Still, the fact that most of these ministers are new should not deflect from their deficiencies and weaknesses, and sometimes arrogance.
Foot in mouth disease
Top of that list currently is Education Minister Maszlee Malik who seems to have had a bout of foot-in-mouth disease ever since he first took on the role.
From black shoes to black socks to hotel swimming pools, to adding the 1MDB scandal into the history curriculum, to targeting Sabah and Sarawak for a “medan dakwah” with religious teachers from the peninsula, and finally, the latest being the call for Malaysian students to add Arabic to Bahasa Malaysia and English as a third language, Maszlee is the most unpopular minister from a Pakatan Harapan component party, namely Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).
There is so much incompetency about this once-respected academic that makes one wonder how much lower can he go in the eyes of the people.
To say that he is clueless, as some officials in government agencies dealing with the education minister have shared, is an understatement.
He had only one job to do – put the education system in the country back to its best, when the schools and public universities were well-regarded, more than 30 years ago.
And also to reverse the political interference and the religious indoctrination that had crept into the public school system, as well as tertiary institutions.
Instead, he made it a priority to accept a post as the president of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and held on to it despite having said there would be no political appointee in universities. He only decided to step down after Bersatu president, Muhyiddin, order him to do so.
As some have reported before, Maszlee, who is a former IIUM lecturer, seems to be on a power trip.
Many Malaysians may now be regretting asking for Mahathir not to take up the Education portfolio as the PM first suggested.
Detrimental to majority support gained by PH
Then there is Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P. Waythamoorthy. By all accounts, they have little to show for their first six months in office. If at all, they have been detrimental to the majority support that Pakatan Harapan government had gained in GE14.
Kulasegaran seems more concerned with employers, turning up for a press conference over alleged migrant worker abuse with the chairman of the company concerned and declaring – after just one visit, talking to staff in the presence of management – that there was nothing wrong going on.
Waythamoorthy, meanwhile, has done nothing for unity, instead, as the Seafield temple issue has shown, has only created greater disunity in the eyes of the public.
Other ministers with their faux pas over issuing press statements in unofficial languages, let alone continuously playing the blame game, giving excuses for promises unfulfilled, and not knowing the basics of the harvest of our natural resources also come to mind. Yes, please stand up and be counted Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok.
Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is also a “contestant” who has fared badly in the first six months with the uncertainty and lack of fortitude in dealing with the issue of child marriage, being the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development.
Novice among novices
Then we have Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, a novice among novices. Preferring to show he was cool by playing video games, calling it e-sports, in his office with members of the media, as if that was meant to make it alright.
The above ministers are from Bersatu, DAP and PKR, and one might think that the Amanah ministers were keeping a low profile or at the least, not doing anything stupid.
However, Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad seems to have thrown his hat into the “So You Think You Can Be A Minister?” front-runners list by first, reneging on a promise by PH not to proceed with the TTDI Taman Rimba Kiara project, and then coming up with the suggestion that all nightspots in Kuala Lumpur shutdown at 1am.
This “brilliant” idea was apparently to ensure families get to spend more time with each other.
He then doubled-down at the recent Amanah general assembly giving false information about Qatar investing RM1.6 trillion in the third national car project, and worse, trying to compare Pakatan’s inability to fulfill its promises with the actions of the Prophet Muhammad. He later apologised for making that latter statement.
Cabinet reshuffle in the cards?
Will there be a Cabinet reshuffle in the near future as Mahathir reviews the “report cards” of all his ministers? It is left to be seen.
If he does, then until the next batch of contestants come into the Cabinet, let us continue to enjoy this unique real-time game show that has made many Malaysians think, “Just what did we vote for?”.
– K. Anand