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The Unhealthy Trend Of Replacing Technocrats With Politicians

Speaking on 27 March 2020 when he announced the Prihatin economic stimulus package, PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin noted that:
“…this Government may not be the Government that you voted for… I accepted the fact that I came in as your Prime Minister not at the best moment. I face political, economic and health crisis all at the same time…please bear with me and my friends in the Cabinet and the Government. We are not perfect but we are doing the best we can to pull through this crisis together, as one nation.”By these words, the PM has acknowledged the controversial circumstances in which he came to power, i.e. the so-called ‘Sheraton Move.’

He has acknowledged that he lacks an electoral mandate and indeed that the Perikatan Nasional administration he heads does not reflect the will of people of Malaysia.

The latter arguably, is likely true not only for Pakatan Harapan supporters, but also for Malaysians who voted for Barisan Nasional or PAS in the last election.

Let me also be clear that fighting the Covid-19 pandemic is our utmost priority. We support the efforts of the authorities, especially the frontliners risking their lives. And all Malaysians should do so as well. This is a crisis that must transcend our political divide.

Let it not be forgotten (or ignored) that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has said that a no-confidence motion in Parliament is not a priority for KEADILAN and PH for the sake of ensuring the various stimulus packages as well as other moves to repair the economy are passed.

It is precisely on that point that the government’s latest actions—in removing certain GLC and statutory body leaders—will do very little to heal this chasm or strengthen public confidence.

The contracts of the Chair and seven board members of MARA were ended. The Chairs of KRI, SOCSO, MPOB, HRDF, PTPK and Bank Rakyat have also been removed.

I had spoken out on the removal of the respected Dr Nungsari Radhi Chair of Khazanah Research Institute, who was appointed as trustee in 2013 during the BN era, retained during the PH era but recently asked to resign by PN.

On 3 April 2020, Bank Rakyat announced that the tenure of its Chair, Datuk Noripah Kamso expired effective on that day. It was reported that her actual contract finishes at the end of this year.

The bank is under the purview of the GPS Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Co-operatives, Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar. As a Development Financial Institutions, Bank Negara does not have the same control as it has on commercial banks.

Noripah replaced Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh, who was involved in the original 1MDB audit report. She also comes with a stellar experience in the financial sector: CEO of CIMB-Principal Islamic Asset Management Sdn Bhd and also CIMB-Principal Asset Management Sdn Bhd.

She was chairman of the Islamic Finance Industry Council, Malaysia-US Chamber Of Commerce and a former president of Malaysian Futures Brokers Association.

The previous Chair of SOCSO is Zakri Khir, the first Malaysian to be appointed as country manager for Allianz Malaysia Berhad. The media reported that he was asked to resign to be replaced by BERSATU Sabak Bernam MP Datuk Mohd Fasiah Mohd Fakeh.

Unfortunately, whoever orchestrated it did not realise that an elected representative is barred from being on SOCSO’s board.

Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh was asked to resign as Chair for MPOB. An experienced plantation man who spent time in Felda, FGV and Sime Darby, he resigned from the 1MDB board in protest at improprieties taking place in the company. UMNO Machang MB, Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub takes his place.

The new PTPK Chair is PAS Pasir Mas MP, Ahmad Fadhli Shaari.

There have been media reports that other GLCs and agencies will see personnel changes with the new government.

What is disturbing about some of these changes is that the vacancies they create have or will be filled by MPs from PN.

Dato’ Takiyuddin Hassan, the PAS de-facto Law Minister revealed that all backbench MPs will be heading GLCs.
Now, it is true that every government has the right to fill public positions as they see fit, especially in the case of political appointees.Yet it is an unhealthy trend if many MPs are appointed to replace professional technocrats as mentioned above.
Even more cynical, it seems that the PM is not confident of the loyalty of backbencher MPs after expanding the number of ministers and deputy ministers. The number of ministers has expanded from 27 during the PH era to 32 under PN; whilst deputy ministers increased from 26 to 38.

Now it seems that the PM has radically expanded the concept of the payroll vote to reward so many backbench MPs even at the expense of technocrats.

Lest I be accused of hypocrisy, when PH was still in power, I opposed the wholesale removal GLC heads who had been appointed by the government we had replaced.

I argued that, while those who had engaged in partisan actions or were implicated in mismanagement and wrongdoing like the 1MDB scandal had to go, other appointees who had shown merit and integrity should have been retained.

I certainly felt then—as I do now—that we need a new modus vivendi for dealing such matters in Malaysia.

If we don’t, each change of government—which, let’s face it, will likely be the norm rather than the exception moving forward—is likely to result in wholesale “purges” in public life.

Something will get lost in the mix: whether existing talent irretrievably lost or new blood being reluctant to serve precisely because of instability of tenure.

What was wrong with the individuals who had been removed? It’s hard to think of anything that could be said against them beyond the fact that they were appointed by PH and placing the survival of the PN government ahead of the national interest.

Muhyiddin should seriously reconsider such acts and indeed put a stop to them.

I am not trying to play politics during a national crisis.

On the contrary, unnecessarily changing senior officeholders of key bodies during a pandemic is playing politics and is never a good idea.

Perhaps the PM is being pressured by his political brokers to “reward” their cadres with these appointments?

What does it say about PN if they still want these changes to happen while the country is staring at a huge human toll and a severe economic downturn?

The PM should hold to his noble rhetoric and instead build a bipartisan consensus, not only on public appointments but on dealing with the outbreak and rebuilding our economy after the Movement Control Order is lifted.

Malaysians want their leaders to put aside politics and focus on saving the country.

PH is willing to do this.

Will Muhyiddin and his PN administration reciprocate?

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD is the KEADILAN Chief Organising Secretary, Chair of the Defence and Home Affairs Parliamentary Special Select Committee and MP for Setiawangsa. He has written a few books in English and Malay.