Ismail Sabri’s special advisers, explained

Raevathi Supramaniam

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s appointment of special advisers draws questions and criticism. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 28, 2021.

ISMAIL Sabri Yaakob, who was appointed as prime minister on August 20, formed a cabinet with 31 ministers and 38 deputy ministers to help him administer the country.

He also continued with his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin’s initial style of not having a deputy prime minister, opting instead to have four senior ministers.

However, since his appointment, he has also appointed several special advisers to counsel him on health, religion as well as law and human rights.

In a parliamentary written reply on November 10, Special Functions Minister Abdul Latiff Ahmad said that Ismail’s advisers cost RM50,000 a month.

Lawmakers have questioned Ismail’s decision to appoint special advisers when he already has designated ministers for the respective portfolios.

Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng has accused the prime minister of appointing individuals based on his whims and fancies when the country is still struggling with economic recovery from the numerous lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Malaysian Insight takes a closer look at the advisers appointed by Ismail and their role in his administration.

Special adviser for law and human rights

Azalina Othman Said was appointed as the special adviser on law and human rights to Ismail in September.

In a post on Facebook, the former deputy Dewan Rakyat speaker said she received her appointment letter on September 30.

The Pengerang MP resigned as deputy speaker on August 23, expressing frustration at the lack of parliamentary reforms.

The former lawyer has been vocal about the need to reform Parliament and the Attorney-General’s Office for the separation of prosecutorial powers.

Her resignation came after Ismail was sworn in as the prime minister, replacing Muhyiddin.

Special adviser for religion

Jamil Khir Baharom was appointed as the special adviser for religion. However, it is unclear when he was appointed to the role.

The Kedah Umno chief held the post of religious affairs minister in the Barisan Nasional government from 2008 to 2018.

He was appointed as senator in the Dewan Negara in 2009 and joined Najib Razak’s cabinet. In the 2013 election, he contested in Jerai and won, but failed to defend the seat in the 2018 election.

There have been several controversies surrounding Jamil, mostly with regards to allegations of misuse of funds.

In 2011, PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution accused Jamil of using zakat funds to purchase a house for his family. Jamil, however, denied all allegations.

Then, in 2015, a whistle-blower claimed that Jamil used funds from the Malaysian Islamic Economy Development Foundation to fund a shopping and golfing trip to the United States.

He, once again, denied the accusations.

Special adviser for health

While Latiff said that Ismail has a special adviser for health, he did not disclose the identity of the individual nor has Ismail.

Under the Muhyiddin administration, this post was held by Dr Jemilah Mahmood. It is unclear if she has been retained by Ismail.

PMO’s economic adviser

Not quite the prime minister’s economic adviser, but Shahril Hamdan was appointed as the economic director at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

According to his personal website, Shahril, who is also the Umno Youth leader, obtained a degree in economics from the University of Manchester in 2008 under a scholarship by Bank Negara Malaysia.

The Umno information chief also previously worked for consultancy firm McKinsey & Company for three years and was a policy officer for Khairy Jamaluddin during his time as youth and sports minister.

Prior to his appointment, speculation was rife that convicted former prime minister Najib Razak would be appointed as Ismail’s economic adviser. – November 28, 2021.

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