Bigger, better cabinet?

Emmanuel Joseph

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has enlarged his cabinet while swapping the portfolios of his ministers and dropping one. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, December 13, 2023.

The much-speculated cabinet reshuffle has come to pass. Anwar Ibrahim’s new cabinet retained most of the old faces, reshuffled a few, and dropped a couple.

The cabinet grew from 28 to 31 ministers, 27 to 29 deputy ministers, or five more administrative appointments funded by taxpayers.

Several appointments to note come from (and are removed from) the DAP, indicating the prime minister’s increased level of comfort in introducing more from the party into administrative matters.

Gobind Singh Deo is reintroduced as an another DAP minister to take over part of his old portfolio. The prime minister has also tapped into the legal expertise of M. Kulasegaran, another former minister, who will replace Ramkarpal Singh as the deputy minister in charge of law and reform.

A significant appointment is perhaps former deputy finance minister Steven Sim. The rising, young DAP star has quietly been making strides in his career, from a councillor in 2011 to deputy youth and sports minister in Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration in 2018.

It is easy to see why. Apart from his easygoing nature and relatively strong performance, he is also a rarity in that he is well-liked by both DAP’s voter base and accepted by its detractors – a status enjoyed by only a few DAP leaders, such as Anthony Loke or Hannah Yeoh.

These are the kind of leaders DAP needs to build bridges in an increasingly fragmented Malaysia and to win over people affected by the negative narrative propagated against the party.

The reintroduction of a technocrat to helm the Finance Ministry allows the prime minister to focus on his job of leading the country, its direction, and overarching strategy, instead of making tactical manoeuvres and keeping a check on our financial health.

The split of Fahmi Fadzil’s ministry into two will allow the government to separate its digitalisation strategy from its communication strategy - two Herculean tasks that require very different skill sets.

Our country is trailing our neighbours in attracting digital talent, investments and creating new digital products and value, while the government is struggling to communicate its ideas, achievements, and reasonings to its target audience, as evidenced in the results of the Kemaman by-elections.

Another appointment to note is former health minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, who enjoyed relative popularity compared to Dr Zaliha Mustafa, who has since swapped ministries.

Zaliha’s stint would not go to waste as the Kuala Lumpur City Council also runs several clinics, and vector diseases are a major concern in the city centre.

What Dzulkefly does to solve the contract doctor’s woes and the generational endgame bill would be interesting to watch.

The relative stability of the government also allows it to make more radical decisions that it seemed to have so far refrained from, among them, the need for more diverse skills in the cabinet.

While adding on costs at a time when people are forced to tighten their belts may not seem like a politically astute decision at this juncture, it is necessary for the long-term sustainability of the government which has so far enjoyed tacit, explicit support by the royal institution and has been highly tolerated by the civil service and rakyat, despite a lack of tangible showings in the past year it has been in power.

At the very least, this reshuffle buys Anwar some time to get his ducks in a row, especially in ministries that seem to be underperforming.

That, coupled with the ascension of a new Yang-Dipertuan Agong in January, could be the shot in the arm the government needs to boost its morale, at the same time placing its detractors on the defensive play, allowing the administration a little bit more time to prove itself to Malaysians who have been starved of practical, relatable economic progress for some years now. – December 13, 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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