An untalented team lacking integrity

Instead of calling it a Cabinet, a more accurate and honest name for it is surely “baggage room” because most of those who are our new ministers, including Najib, unfortunately, are perceived to be carrying oversized baggage into office.

Tunku Aziz, The Malaysian Insider

If you want my honest opinion, Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s People’s Cabinet is totally uninspiring and insipid to boot. And that is being charitable. What a sad commentary on the paucity of proven talent and integrity within the ranks of Barisan Nasional that all Najib has succeeded in putting on offer is a team of recycled political expendables, many with personal records of integrity that will not bear close scrutiny.

Najib has done nothing more than a bit of tinkering. Is this the clean and honest team that he has promised the nation? Instead of calling it a Cabinet, a more accurate and honest name for it is surely “baggage room” because most of those who are our new ministers, including Najib, unfortunately, are perceived to be carrying oversized baggage into office. If this had been a team chosen by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, I should not have been surprised.

But subjecting his ministers to the discipline of the KPI or key performance indicators is an idea whose time has come. However, the danger with management tools like Long Range Strategic Forecasting and Management by Objectives, now long forgotten, and the new panacea, the KPI, is in the distinct possibility of their being more honoured in the breach than in the observance. That being said, let us see whether the new broom can keep up with a mountain of bureaucratic trash that has been generated in the corridors of Putrajaya.

As part of his whiter-than-white government, he should have said something, when he announced the Cabinet yesterday, about revamping the declaration of interests/assets regime for all those holding elected public office in his administration, i.e. his ministerial colleagues. The present arrangements are as effective as using a pop gun when confronting an armed robber. They are hopelessly inadequate and the whole exercise is a total waste of time. No one is fooled by it. I speak as someone with some practical experience in this area.

I was responsible in 2006, as Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Establishment of the United Nations Ethics Office, for putting in place the Declaration of Interests (assets) and the Whistle Blower Protection programmes. It is interesting to note that when Dr Mahathir was prime minister, he proudly proclaimed that all his Cabinet colleagues should declare their assets to him.

To whom did the prime minister declare his assets? In the interest of curbing grand corruption in the Najib administration, I will be happy to share my knowledge with him notwithstanding the fact that I am a DAP man. Corruption should not be politicised. Anyway, if it is good enough for the UN, it should be good enough for the Putrajaya Mandarins.

The nation wants Najib to succeed in his “1 Malaysia” vision. He will if he keeps an eagle eye on key institutions such as the police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the criminal justice system, including the office of the Attorney-General, not to interfere with their work, but to ensure that they do not abuse their power and authority.

Stupid police behaviour in dealing with public order, for example, can unravel any good the administration has tried to do. Najib must implement without delay the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission that Pak Lah did not have the stomach to put in place simply because the police top brass did not like it. Will Najib be prepared to put public interests at the forefront of all his actions, or will the police be allowed to dictate terms to our citizens?

Najib as part of his reform agenda must listen to what people are saying about the office of the Attorney-General. Rightly or wrongly, it is seen as having compromised its professional independence. Its decisions have in recent years lost the stamp of moral authority in a number of cases. Najib should consider seriously making the Attorney-General a ministerial and, therefore, a political appointee acting for the government on purely political issues.

Najib should, in the interest of greater public confidence in the criminal justice system, create a position, that of Director of Public Prosecutions. A decision whether to proceed with a case or not should not be made by the director alone, but a panel of his senior legal officers.

The problem with the present office of the Attorney-General is that the A-G enjoys what amounts to absolute power, and as we all know this can lead to abuse. Ours is a parliamentary government based on the Westminster model, and Britain has found a system of checks and balances to be absolutely vital to protect the citizens from arbitrariness in matters involving public prosecutions.

Najib can yet redeem himself by showing, by word and deed, that we have misjudged him. Has he the intellectual honesty and integrity to do what is right by the people of this country?

Tunku Aziz, one of the prime movers in setting up Transparency International Malaysia, in happier times was regarded by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi as "one man (who) was able to harness his personal passion and deep commitment to the values of ethics and integrity, give it a larger purpose and meaning, and turn it into a force to transform society for the better." Why then was he left out of the MACC Advisory Group? He is regarded as being too outspoken for comfort and, therefore, difficult to handle.