Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Cabinet Unveiled

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak today unveiled a new, dynamic cabinet to drive through his ambitious economic and political transformation agenda.

The cabinet includes a mix of technocrats and civil society representatives, who bring valuable experience from outside government, as well as experienced ministers and younger faces. The cabinet also draws on Malaysia’s diverse ethnic communities.

For the first time there are no ministers from MCA and Gerakan, the two largest component parties after UMNO in Barisan Nasional, which have decided not to be represented due to the bashings their candidates received at the recently concluded general election. To fill the gap a Chinese from outside the Barisan coalition was appointed. For a nation with some 23% Chinese it should have 6-7 Chinese ministers in the 30 members cabinet by mutual agreement. Instead it now have just one with the MIC (representing the Indians, 7% population) taking two, UMNO (representing the 51% Malay population) 21 or 70% of the cabinet. The other 6 comes from East Malaysia which delivered better performance in the election.

Najib was forced to cut back on Chinese representation in his cabinet in part because of MCA/Gerakan decision but also to create a cabinet structured towards performance delivery at the election. Neither this method nor adopting the race-based formula will help the government achieve its agenda declared in its election manifesto unless the ministers are qualified and capable to lead their respective ministries and Najib himself is willing to treat every state equally. It is an unfortunate tendency to give lower allocations and priority to states run by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition. This is a vindictive move to 'punish' the state voters for preferring them and I find this immature.

A good cabinet should comprise capable leaders not selected because the prime minister like them but because they have a performance record. They need not be politicians but respected industry heads and even talented members from the opposition. Malaysia have a good pool of experts to help run a better government. It is good that a small number of non-politicians are brought into the cabinet to give their expert services but whether their advice are heard or not is left to be seen.

So is the new cabinet going to make a difference? Even with new blood the top key posts are still held by UMNO top leaders and they will decide if there is indeed going to be any political transformation as promised by Najib. It may just be another play of words. You can't change the spots of a leopard and I doubt UMNO will really try to reconcile with the views of PR and Malaysians who want better governance in government.

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