Make Dr Mahathir Minister Mentor


Zaid Ibrahim

In an editorial last week, the respected newspaper The Washington Post described the Malaysian Government’s and MAS’ handling of the MH370 tragedy as reflective of the problems and malaise of the Barisan Nasional leadership.

Examples of the malaise mentioned in the newspaper were the lack of transparency and effective leadership, the Prime Minister’s refusal to answer questions at his first Press conference on the matter, and the Chinese Government’s demands for more details on the investigation. The Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy conviction was also used as an example of the problems the Government suffers.

Let’s put aside for a moment the criticisms of the foreign media. Let’s put aside the brickbats of those who are out to discredit the Government because they think they can do a better job, just like the thousands of football fans watching the premier league matches who think they can perform better than the players on the pitch.

It’s a sobering fact nevertheless that our country is facing the crunch of being unable to deal effectively with unexpected crises because success breeds problems of its own. As the country and all its components move faster towards higher goals, invariably problems will multiply and the country will need a strong set of leaders to deal with them.

Today it’s our airline woes; tomorrow maybe it will be water shortages or a dengue epidemic. We could be faced with protests and strikes because our wages are too low. The recent “fight” in Little India in Singapore, which led to riots, could easily happen here. In addition, it’s not inconceivable that young Malaysians will demand new political reforms like a fairer constituency delineation formula. Sabah and Sarawak might demand more oil revenue.

There are many more complex issues waiting to explode unless they are resolved in a timely manner and with the agreement of all relevant stakeholders. The success of the country depends not just on investment and bringing in talent—it’s also about crisis management and preventing the outbreaks of serious issues that can take years to resolve. Any of these crises might obstruct the path towards the dream of 2020.

The Prime Minister must know that under our Westminster system of government, senior party leaders take the best and choicest positions in Cabinet regardless of ability. The senior portfolios are reserved for top UMNO and Barisan Nasional men even if they have no idea what to do.

The fact that Dato’ Seri Najib Razak was able to bring in two technocrats—Dato’ Seri Abdul Wahid Omar and Dato’ Sri Idris Jala, who are indeed very capable, is already an achievement. Unlike Najib, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono can chose from the top technocrats in his country if his party controls Parliament.

Our democracy is different. However, the country needs to have a stronger band of leaders if we are to excel, succeed, and anticipate problems early and manage them well so that we are not our march to progress is not stunted.

For a start, I suggest that Najib should invite Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to be Minister Mentor.

I can already hear the chorus of complaints from those who will say this is a reversal of my earlier criticisms of our former Prime Minister. Make no mistake—we have our differences and I certainly do not agree with his treatment of the judiciary or his interpretation of the rule of law, for example. In other matters, however, his strength is plain for all to see.

If he says something needs to be done, he will see to it that it is done. This strength of character and ability to instil discipline or even fear in his subordinates are Dr Mahathir’s trademarks. We’ve all missed this style of leadership from our leaders for many years now.

Now, as never before, we need leadership that is unshakable. We need resolve that cannot be doubted. The people are looking for a leader who cares not about being “popular” but doing the right thing for the country.

I am sure Dr Mahathir will be able to instil and mentor some of the other Ministers to be forceful, to be committed to formulating the right policy and to implementing it for the good of the country.

I suggest that Najib should focus on his economic and financial transformation plans. Let him steer the economic policies and their implementation. Let him find ways to make this country the first-world high-income economy that he has set his mind on.

Dr Mahathir should focus on three areas that are vital if we are to make the jump to first-world status.