Competent ministers in, special envoys out, say analysts

Alfian Z.M. Tahir

Anwar Ibrahim should not be appeasing his partners in government by offering posts in return for their support, says ex-ambassador Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 27, 2022.

EXPERTS said it is time for Anwar Ibrahim to deliver his promises for reforms, especially in building a lean cabinet adept at handling the needs of the nation.

They said the new prime minister must also get rid of unnecessary ministerial positions, such as special envoys and special advisers.

They also suggested things the new administration must do urgently, including ensuring academic freedom and offering proper protection for sexual abuse victims, especially in higher learning institutions.

G25 Malaysia spokesman Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin told The Malaysian Insight that the country does not need bloated cabinets like it had under the leadership of Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

The former ambassador said Anwar should not be bothered to appease his partners in government by offering posts in return for their support.

“What we don’t need are bloated cabinets like the ones under Muhyiddin and Ismail. In my view, we should just have essential ministries like finance, education, health, trade, agriculture, and such.

“In addition, we don’t need special envoys to represent the government. That is only replicating the work of the ministers.

“The Home Ministry is of course an important ministry as well and should be retained. Similarly, we need the agriculture ministry as we are still largely an agricultural country,” the former top civil servant said.

Noor Farida added that one minister Anwar can do without is a religious affairs minister, who oversees Islamic issues.

This is because there are already Islamic agencies and departments to oversee affairs of religion, she said.

“There is no need to have a ministry for religious affairs. Jakim (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) is already there at the federal level and every state has its own Islamic agency,” she added.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Sharifah Munirah Alatas agreed that Anwar should have a small cabinet, but acknowledged it would be a huge challenge for the newly minted prime minister.

“A trim cabinet is necessary to maintain the efficiency of the civil service. The more ministers you have, the more the people have to contribute to servicing the salaries of civil servants who serve their ministerial ‘boss’.

“In other words, the people are forced to contribute to the salary of ministers. Are we willing to do this for non-performing ministers? No!

The new government must ensure laws are not used to stifle the freedom of education or the press, says political analyst Sharifah Munirah Alatas. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 27, 2022.

“Selecting a competent set of ministers from across the political divide in this unity government will be daunting, especially since the people are aware of how useless bloated cabinets have been.

“Also, it will be a huge challenge to keep the number of ministers low. We are fed up with bloated cabinets and the salaries they need to sustain their lifestyles,” said Munirah.

The daughter of renowned sociologist Syed Hussein Alatas also noted several issues that Anwar must pay extra attention to.

“The new cabinet must enforce sexual harassment policies and whoever becomes the minister (in charge) must ensure universities take sexual harassment reports seriously. They must make sure universities enforce sexual harassment policies and provide counselling to survivors,” she said.

According to the academic, universities have failed to address the issue and previous administrations have been nonchalant.

End political appointments in public universities

Munirah also said the government must end political appointments in public universities, which, she said, is rampant.

“Given the current economic crisis we are facing, the people do not appreciate political appointments merely to appease power-hungry egos. How Anwar navigates this remains to be seen. And in our universities, political appointments are rampant.

“Politicians should not be appointed to university boards because this culture of patronage stifles academic quality, and interferes with the quality of education that universities are supposed to focus on,” she said.

She added that the new government must ensure laws are not used to stifle the freedom of education or stop students and academics from being politically active.

She said the government must ensure public universities are not restricted by “bureaucratic and corporate nonsense”.

Anwar, who took office on Thursday, said the following day that his cabinet would feature a leaner line-up.

He also said ministers may have their salaries reduced.

He said the proposal to slash the salaries of ministers and reduce the size of the cabinet is currently being discussed, and that his line-up of ministers will be unveiled soon.

“The size of the cabinet will surely be smaller and I’m asking new ministers to agree with my proposal to lower their salaries,” he said.

“This is still in the process of discussion and preparation.”

Under Muhyiddin’s administration, there were 32 ministers and 38 deputies. Ismail, meanwhile, had a cabinet of 31 ministers with 38 deputies.

They were both forced to create supersized cabinets to ensure support for them could be maintained. – November 27, 2022.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.