Framework needed for political appointments

Emmanuel Joseph

A balance needs to be struck between qualifications, organisational efficacy, public and political interests insofar as governmental political appointments are concerned. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, February 1, 2023.

LAST week, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced the appointment of Nurul Izzah as his senior economic adviser.

As with any political decision, supporters hailed it as a good use of talent while detractors panned it as nepotism. 

Nurul Izzah’s experience and track record as a politician and member of parliament is indubitable. Her charisma and leadership skill will undoubtedly serve the prime minister and his office well. Pro bono or otherwise, is secondary.  

Yet, the creation of the office itself would be at the cost of the taxpayer, even if she is not paid.

Matter of fact, this culture of symbolic salary or no salary is not to be encouraged for it sends a wrong signal that service to the nation and financial compensation for it are mutually exclusive, which is not the case.

Instead, we should be pushing for talent and meritocracy first, with salary considerations a distant second.  

But there is a larger context to consider – the issue of political appointments itself. 

Malaysians have witnessed the implications of lame duck appointments in recent history – expensive, clueless ministerial-level-benefit seat warmers who probably won’t even qualify for a mid-level management position in a civil or private organisation. 

A balance needs to be struck between qualifications, organisational efficacy, public and political interests insofar as governmental political appointments are concerned. 

Firstly, political appointees need to be qualified. In 2008, the first time a hegemonic system was broken and talent was scarce and yet to be discovered, some leeway is understandable.

But today, when most political parties have already experienced governing, the talent pool development should not be only focused on monitoring their opponents but eventually replacing them.

Parties should be able to field appointees who are suitably qualified, not merely as a form of largesse to control grassroots and warlords, especially in roles demanding technocratic knowledge.  

There should also be language and domain knowledge requirements to be met. Navigating organisational red tape is a corporate skill needed to get things done. 

Second, efficacy. The role should have meaning and add value to the organisation, the government, the people and for the purpose the organisation exists in the first place.

Housing experts belong with housing-related organisations, economists with bodies that devise or execute economic policies.

Candidates should be strong and experienced enough to be able to contribute to the role.

Parties not only should consider but make it mandatory to look outside should they not be able to fill these from within their ranks. 

This applies to all such appointments, even within private companies, but more so in taxpayer-funded organisations. 

Third, public interests. In the face of rising costs and rumoured impending economic gloom, it flies in the face of the people to hire expensive roles, especially if they are not delivering, or have no record (and likely, intention) of doing so.

Government-linked company appointments may not come under frontline scrutiny but they do act as executive policymakers in many instances, and so in some ways, are even more sensitive roles needing careful consideration than even elected representatives.   

Creation of roles for the sake of creating roles needs to stop.  

Political balance comes a distance last. Largesse as a means of keeping or expanding political power needs to come to a halt, urgently, as it costs not only taxpayer dollars but also erodes long-term institutional confidence.   

The public too needs to be fair both to the appointed and the government. A person should not be side-lined for not being a political party affiliate neither should they be considered only for that fact. 

While it may not have direct political implications, the collective decisions made by these appointees, their conduct in office, and even the manner of their appointments contribute to the general perception of a constituent government party. – February 1, 2023.

* Emmanuel Joseph firmly believes that Klang is the best place on Earth, and that motivated people can do far more good than any leader with motive.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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