Najib’s cabinet gets a mixed response

By Lee Wei Lian, The Malaysian Insider

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's cabinet line-up received mixed response from political opponents to the business community but all agreed that Malaysia has only a small window of opportunity to transform itself in the current global economic slump.

There were high expectations that the new Prime Minister will radically overhaul the cabinet and cut it down in size as part of his reform agenda of "People First, Performance Now" but political accomodation ensured just a slightly trimmer administration.

Some who lost in Election 2008 or in the recent Umno party polls still made it to the front bench.

"It's not to my expectations," said Professor Agus Yussoff,  who lectures in political science at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

"Those who lost elections were given positions or retained while those who won were not," he said, conceding however the cabinet should be given a chance to prove their worth.

DAP's national publicity secretary Tony Pua was more scathing in his assessment.

"It's still the same old horses and same ministries. If you want to bring in political rejects, it makes the cabinet a bit of an artefact. After all the hype, it is a little disappointing," the Petaling Jaya Utara MP said.

DAP strongman Lim Kit Siang criticised Najib for for appointing losing Umno Youth chief candidate Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir as a deputy minister over Khairy Jamaluddin, who won the post.

"This reinforces public perception that Najib is under thumb of former prime minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad," Lim said in a statement, adding there was a perception that the cabinet appointees were not clean.

"Although Najib does not want to have ministers with  political baggage, there is not only the question as to which member of his cabinet can claim to be free from baggage, there is the even bigger question as to which cabinet minister  has more baggage than Najib himself!" the Ipoh Timur MP said, alluding to allegations surrounding the prime minister.

He also alleged that the generous allocation of cabinet positions to Sabahans was at the expense of Sarawak.

"Sabah is the biggest winner and Sarawak the biggest loser – as Sabah has four ministers while Sarawak only two.  Clearly, Najib does not appreciate the Batang Ai by-election victory of the Barisan Nasional on Tuesday," he said.

Meanwhile, Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng congratulated Gerakan president Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon on his appointment, asking him to fulfil Gerakan's promises to get back federal government projects that were cancelled such as the monorail project, public transport and road upgrading projects, flood mitigation works, tourism and heritage projects and better security measures in Penang.

The DAP secretary-general also expressed surprise that many of those who lost in the 2008 general elections were appointed to the cabinet.

A government agency head told The Malaysian Insider that what was important was the ministers' capability to deliver, singling out new Finance Minister II Datuk Husni Hanadziah,and Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Peter Chin as excellent picks.

"Husni is a well known and solid economist, a good finance guy and someone who listens. he understands subject matter very well," said the CEO who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Husni's and Peter's willingness to listen is an important criterion especially since Najib has said that the era of the government knowing best is over. However, we only have a small window of opportunity to transform the country. If not, I really worry for my children."

CIMB chief economist Lee Heng Guie said the appointment of former Finance Minister II Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop to lead the Economic Planning Unit could smoothen implementation of the second stimulus package.

"It is important to get everything going and I hope to see the stimulus to kick in in second half to limit the downturn in the economy."

Chris Eng, head of research at OSK Research, said the new cabinet could boost sentiment slightly although it would have minimal impact on the economy. "In general, people will be hopeful when there is change," he said.

A communications industry official commended the move to integrate communications with the Information Ministry as it would lessen infighting.

"The new structure is good as it will lessen the fighting between ministries over communication issues. The question now is how fast the new minister can come on board." he said.