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Cabinet recycle - failure in Cabinet reform
Speech (4) in Parliament on Royal Address Motion
2. Failure in Cabinet reform
When early this month, Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Sri Najib Razak appeared on television to call on Malaysians to “Change lifestyle” as a key response to the heftiest oil price increases in the nation’s history, i.e. 30 sen increase per litre of petrol and diesel and per kilo of Liquefied Petroleum Gas ( LPG), which will cause a most vicious inflationary spiral of prices, he was greeted generally with public derision as a blatant example of “cakap tak serupa bikin” by the government.
If Najib is serious, is the Cabinet prepared to initiate reform by forming a Cabinet Committee to change government lifestyle to deliver the reform pledge and programme of the Prime Minister and set a government example of integrity, accountability and efficiency by both its political and civil service leaderships.
Can a credible “Change Lifestyle” Cabinet Committee be formed comprising Cabinet Ministers who can instantly inspire Malaysians about their uncompromising commitment and dedication to eradicate corruption, establish accountability by all government departments and government-linked organizations like Petronas and ensure excellence and efficiency of the public service delivery system, whether in the justice, law-and-order, finance, economy, education, health or transport sectors?
Can the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister or any Cabinet Minister explain how the Cabinet today differs from the Cabinet under former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in terms of commitment as an Integrity Cabinet?
Is there no difference between the Cabinet today and the previous Mahathir Cabinets as far as the Integrity Agenda is concerned? If there are differences, can these be pointed out as they have escaped the notice of the most sharp-eyed Malaysians so far?
On corruption, can every Minister stand before the Malaysian public as an exemplar of integrity? Are Cabinet Ministers prepared to declare their assets and those of their next of kin, currently and before they became Minister, and be prepared to be subject to public scrutiny?
Will there be enough Cabinet Ministers of indisputable integrity who are personally qualified to be members of the “Change Lifestyle” Cabinet Committee to spearhead government example of integrity, accountability and efficiency and deliver Abdullah’s stalled reform pledge and programme?
The Cabinet recycle in lieu of reshuffle last month, apart from creating public shock, disappointment and even dismay, also raised serious questions about Cabinet credibility, authority and integrity.
Firstly, the reaction by the Minister for International Trade and Industry, Rafidah Aziz on her retention in the Cabinet recycle: "Even if they talk until they foam at the mouth, if God says you stay, you stay."
Secondly, the necessity for clarification by the Prime Minister rebutting Rafidah Aziz’s statement: “I’m still in charge of the APs” - that despite the committee set up in the Prime Minister’s Department and chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to look into AP-related issues, matters relating to the issuance of APs for car imports were fully under the jurisdiction of her ministry.
In his clarification, the Prime Minister said the committee in the Prime Minister’s Department chaired by Najib was fully responsible for considering and deciding on policies relating to APs for vehicles, as well as resolving any problems arising from the implementation of policies related to APs.
Was Rafidah being insufferably arrogant and contemptuous of the Prime Minister’s prerogatives in publicly trying to hijack back her powers and responsibilities over APs for vehicles, or was she just confused and unclear as to what are her actual powers and responsibilities on the matter? I would be charitable and think it is the latter, and if so, it provides a frightening picture and the latest evidence of a very shambolic Cabinet to the extent that ministers are themselves confused as to their jurisdictional powers and responsibilities?
Thirdly, in deciding to retain Rafidah as Minister for International Trade and Industry, has he impressed and secured her commitment not to renege on her parliamentary duties and to stop behaving as a Queen in Parliament, making rare regal appearances, and instead to be a responsible Minister in Parliament by personally responding to questions and debates pertaining to her ministry?
Fourthly, Transport Minister Datuk Chan Kong Choy has taken to task critics of the oil hikes and those who are not convinced that the RM4.4 billion government savings earmarked for improvement of the public transport system would benefit the ordinary rakyat. Chan said these critics were people who do not use the public transport system.
Chan, as well as all members of the Cabinet Committee on Public Transport who should identify themselves, should explain whether they are regular users of the public transport system to understand what suffering the public had to undergo as a result of the sorry state of public transportation in the country and whether they are prepared to “walk the talk”, leave their comfort zone as VVIPs and rely solely on public transport for a month.
Chan has yet to answer public query by the Penang DAP Organising Secretary, Danny Law, whether he had been misusing Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) aircrafts to various parts of the country for MCA party functions. I call on him to present to Parliament the full log book of his use of DCA aircrafts since his appointment as Transport Minister and the purpose of each trip.
Fifthly, Abdullah’s extraordinary announcement after the Cabinet recycle of a monitoring committee for Ministers.
I still do not believe that Abdullah was really serious when he made the comment about a committee to monitor the performance of the Ministers which will report to him about the performance of the Cabinet members.
Abdullah should clarify whether he is serious about a committee to monitor the performance of the Ministers, and if so, MPs and the people are entitled to further details – even if Ministers do not want to know anything about it.
How can such a committee be kept a secret? Will they be paid from public funds or will they be rendering an honorary public service? Will they be equally subject to the principles of accountability, transparency and integrity?
Who will be on the committee to monitor the performance of the Ministers? Will they be civil servants and will this create Super civil servants who are superior to the Ministers, making nonsense of the principle that civil servants are responsible to the Cabinet and not the other way round?
Or are these monitors to come from outside the civil service to be recruited from certain political circles from the ruling coalition – which will make a mockery of MPs as such Cabinet supervision should properly be exercised by Parliament through the establishment of an effective parliamentary select committee system shadowing each Ministry.
If Abdullah is serious about such a monitoring committee for Cabinet Ministers, Malaysia may be the first Commonwealth country with a system of parliamentary democracy under going such a mutation.
With the notion of a committee to monitor ministers’ performance, Abdullah will be giving the last nail to the concept of the Prime Minister as “prImus inter pares” or “first among equals” and creating instead one where the Prime Minister is like a headmaster trying to impose discipline among a group of head-strong students through a still-unclear monitoring system.
Sixthly, the equally extraordinary response of the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Nazri Aziz, that no knowledge needed as to who are the “James Bonds” who had been appointed to snoop into the work of Ministers and therefore no KPIs or benchmarks for Ministers required!
Nazri said it would be better for ministers not to know the set-up and composition of the committee tasked with monitoring their performance.
He said: “Otherwise, (if we know who are monitoring us), I am afraid we can reach a compromise. (It is) Good that we don’t, so that we can continue to be alert and work hard as expected of us by our Prime Minister and the people.”
Nazri said only the Prime Minister knew about the committee.
Seventhly, the failure of the Prime Minister to explain his Cabinet recycle decisions, not only why Ministers were retained, dropped or re-appointed.
The Royal Address said: “We are pleased with the performance of the tourism sector. With an income of approximately RM31 billion and 16 million tourist arrivals in 2005, this sector is indeed very promising.” If so, why was Datuk Seri Dr. Leo Michael Toyad dropped as Tourism Minister and replaced by Datuk Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor? Why was Tengku Adnan dropped from the Cabinet after the March 2004 general election and reinstated 11 months later?
Eighthly, the average age of the 32-strong Cabinet after the recycle is 57.69 years, with one, Samy Vellu who is 70, 12 are 60 years and above, 15 are 50 years and above while nine above 40 years.
The 12 who are 60 years and above are Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Prime Minister) 67, Lim Keng Yaik (Energy, Water and Communications) 67, Zainuddin Maidin (Information) 67, Abdul Aziz bin Shamsuddin (Rural and Regional Development) 68, Azmi Khalid (Natural Resources and Environment) 65,. Mohd Radzi bin Sheikh Ahmad (Home Affairs) 64, Rais Yatim (Culture, Arts and Heritage) 64, Rafidah Aziz (International Trade and Industry) 63, Fong Chan Onn (Human Resources) 62, Syed Hamid Albar (Foreign Affairs) 62, Peter Chin (Plantation Industries and Commodities) 61, and Dr. Abdullah bin Md Zin (Prime Minister’s Dept).
The 15 who are 50 years and above are Muhyiddin bin Mohd Yasin (Agriculture) 59, Dr. Chua Soi Lek (Health) 59, Nor Mohamed bin Yakcop (Second Finance) 58, Mohd Effendi Norwawi (Prime Minister’s Dept) 58, Bernard Giluk Dompok (Prime Minister’s Dept) 57, Tengku Adnan bin Tengku Mansor (Tourism) 56, Mustapha Mohamed (Higher Education) 55, Jamaluddin Jarjis (Science, Technology and Innovation) 55, Najib Tun Razak (Deputy Prime Minister) 53, Shahrizat binti Abdul Jalil (Women, Family and Community Development) 53, Maximus Johnity Ongkili (Prime Minister’s Dept) 53, Nazri bin Abdul Aziz (Prime Minister’s Dept) 52, Zulhasnan bin Rafique (Federal Territories) 52, Chan Kong Choy (Transport) 51 and Ong Ka Ting (Housing and Local Govt) 50.
The four above 40 years are: Shafie Apdal (Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs) 49, Mohamed Khaled Nordin (Entrepreneur and Co-operative Development) 48, Hishammuddin Tun Hussein (Education) 45 and Azalina Othman Said (Youth and Sports) 43.
The Royal Address said: “31. We realize that there are 12 million youths below the age of 40 in this country. As future leaders, they must be steered away from all negative elements.”
Malaysians “below the age of 40” are not “future leaders” but “current leaders”. If the Cabinet reflects the demography in the country with some 48% of the Ministers below 40 years, then there should be at least 15 Ministers of that age group – which means 15 of the current crop of Ministers should give way to the young. However, there is not a single Minister who is below 40 years, who comprise some 48 per cent of the population.
Is the Prime Minister prepared to have an early Cabinet reshuffle to end the farce of the Cabinet recycle last month to create a lean and mean Integrity Cabinet with at least 30 to 40 per cent of the Ministers below 40 years of age to reflect the youthful population in the country?
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP
Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman