February 23, 2006
Reshuffling the Old
My take on the cabinet reshuffle last week. Not the best but read on.
Pak Lah loses control
Researchers have confirmed the existence of Valentine’s Day Blues, a phenomenon where people experience heightened feelings of distress on the 14th of February every year.
Malaysians got a double whammy this week as Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi unveiled the cabinet reshuffle on the same day, his first in two years since riding into victory in 2004.
What reshuffle, indeed. Despite several changes and comebacks, the bulk of the many-membered Cabinet remained the same as before. It was a disappointment to many who had hoped for some semblance of the ‘government reform’ as promised by the Prime Minister in his initial days of premiership.
Sentiments of unease are augmented by the fact this is the collective team that launches Malaysia into its 9th Plan, which will map Malaysia’s socio-economic outlook for the next four years, from 2006 to 2010. The implementation process of the 9th Malaysia Plan is crucial to determining the eventual achievement of Vision 2020 – transforming Malaysia into a developed nation.
When Pak Lah took over the reign of ex-Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, his calls for greater transparency and integrity within the government were readily received by members of the public. While it is true that several cases of corrupt practices have been highlighted, follow-up has been poorly carried out and monitored.
The AP issue is an apt example of cronyism epitomized, yet swept under the carpet. That these have been brought to the public’s attention does nothing for the fact that they are not consequently dealt with.
More overwhelming is that such corrupt practices are occurring within the very ministries that form the supposed ‘reformed’ government. It seems that in Pak Lah’s opinion, a ‘new’ government can be achieved by maintaining the ‘old’ guys. The reality is that he is still walking in the shadow of his predecessor.
This week’s cabinet reshuffle involved three ministers leaving, two promotions, three movements to different ministries and two comebacks. Miniature movements amidst a 32-strong member cabinet. Amongst those promoted and making sudden reappearances in are some who are known to have been firm supporters of ex-Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
First is Zainuddin Maisin, who has been promoted to Minister of Information, from deputy of the same ministry. Former Chief Editor and head honcho of Utusan Melayu, Zam (as he is more popularly known) has been on Dr. Mahathir’s defense on more than one occasion.
In 2003, he spoke out against Dr. Mahathir’s controversial statements attacking the Jews, by stating that “Western media has failed to undermine Dr. Mahathir’s integrity”.
More recently, he demanded a public apology to Dr. Mahathir over the AP issue in July last year. “Datuk Seri Rafidah was found to have given a reply which had offended Dr Mahathir”, Zam told reporters.
Secondly, Mohd Johari Baharum has taken over Noh Omar’s position of Deputy Minister of Internal Security. He was the former political secretary to ex-prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
Third, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in ex-prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s cabinet, has been reinstituted as Tourism Minister.
The combination of old-time loyalists sitting comfortably in their incumbent positions, and the above promoted and comeback members does not paint a pretty picture for our present prime minister. It is yet another sign that Pak Lah is increasingly finding it difficult to carve out his personal trademark of leadership and identity in the country. The country has been patient while he attempted to find this, but the attempt for change seems to have slipped by quickly. To many, he has blown his last chance of getting it ‘right’.
The current cabinet can therefore be referred to as an old order repackaged in new strings.
So, is it true that we are merely experiencing an aftertaste of the Mahathir legacy? Or is Pak Lah’s apparent administrative weakness within the cabinet a lead-up towards his version of a reformed government?
“What I want is a new tradition of democracy in Parliament and in state assemblies,” he said in a press statement yesterday, and that he wants “honest opinions on policies and mechanisms”.
Intention might be key in analyses of morality. But when push comes to shove, intention unmatched with correct and effective implementation amounts to nothing. Our present prime minister may have had all good intentions of cleaning up the corrupt state from both within and without. Unfortunately, the old issue of power play and control crops up.
Is the current cabinet line-up so ‘old school’ that it collectively overpowers the management of its leader? The question is whether control is in his hands. And if so, what degree of control?
The next few months will reveal critical indicators in determining the answer. The first pointer will be the nature of policies included within the 9th Malaysia Plan. The chosen cabinet will be responsible for the discussion, tabling, implementation and monitoring processes of the 9th Malaysia Plan, which is to be announced on the 31st of March in Parliament. The public ought to observe and examine whether the Prime Minister’s voice will significantly rise above the crowd’s in determining feasible strategies for the nation’s future.
A second prominent indicator will be the handling of major controversial issues of contention. This includes the recent numerous ‘sensitive’ topics, such as freedom of information, religious freedoms and corporate bailouts of government-linked companies (GLCs). If transparency is seen to be the primary driver, Malaysians want to see action plans emerge. We do not want to see independent Commissions being set up for its mere namesake, whilst their recommendations are conveniently brushed aside. Such formations are pointless if they amount to nothing.
Yesterday, our Prime Minister said that he doesn’t care what people have to say about him. He also equated leading our country with flying a kite.
“If you want to fly a kite, you need to release the string and let the kite fly loose. When the kite finds its direction, then you control the string and then you manoeuvre the kite. If you hold on too tightly, the kite will spin out of control.”
I have news for you, Pak Lah. There’s a second way in which the kite can spin out of control. It’s when you completely release the string from your bare hands. Perhaps it is really time to hear what people have to say about you.