Will it be a ‘competent’ reshuffle?

Unfortunately, the precarious situation our Prime Minister is in dictates that rather than bringing in competent and effective people into his cabinet, he is most likely going to carry on “pandering” to the odd political landscape that he finds himself in.

Shankar R. Santhiram, FMT

We need ministers with skills, experience, and knowledge who perform their duties efficiently and who are committed to principled leadership.

I say it again. Malaysia needs competent leaders. Period.

There are swirling rumours that the prime minister will initiate a cabinet reshuffle. The media is awash with speculation about who will be in, and which underperformer will be dropped. The unity government is 11 months old. So much has already been said and written about the effectiveness, or rather lack of it, with regard to our current crop of ministers.

So, if the PM decides to jettison the deadbeat ministers in his cabinet, it will be a welcome relief.

Unfortunately, the precarious situation our Prime Minister is in dictates that rather than bringing in competent and effective people into his cabinet, he is most likely going to carry on “pandering” to the odd political landscape that he finds himself in.

Speculation is that political horse-trading is on-going and compromises have been struck for cabinet positions. Although by all accounts, these potential ministerial candidates are not those chosen by the “rakyat.” Instead, they are from political parties, who scarcely represent the will of the people.

Ultimately, it seems like this potential cabinet reshuffle will not be about “competent” ministers, but rather, it will be about finding compromises to appease political players. This exercise will most likely be only about keeping the unity government in power for the next four years. It has nothing to do with the wellbeing of the nation.

The Malaysian people need ministers with a combination of training, skills, experience, and knowledge that allows them to function effectively, and perform their duties efficiently. We need them to have an unstinting passion for the country; for public service; and to be committed to principled leadership.

But this is wishful thinking!

I am a Malaysian of Indian origin. And often, I lament about the lack of representation for large sections of the community. As much as there are success stories with pockets of Indians in our country being competent professionals, as a whole, the community still lags way behind in economic development.

Who is there to safeguard the rights of these marginalised Indians?

It is certainly not by selecting politically expedient individuals, and plonking them into the cabinet. Having an incompetent Malaysian Indian in a cabinet position is not the answer. As a Malaysian first, I would rather have a competent non-Indian representing my community’s plight, than having an incompetent Malaysian Indian in that position, whose sole aim is to enrich himself and his cronies.

The same applies to my non-Indian countrymen and women. Isn’t it time to adopt the attitude that competent Malaysians, regardless of their race or religion should be appointed to the cabinet?

The question for the Prime Minister is about how we can have a leadership team that is progressive and “fit for purpose,” as opposed to falling back on traditional race-based considerations.

The Malaysian cabinet must be one that has a strong work-ethic and is able to foster a dynamic work-culture. It has to be a connected and congruent team to ensure the country has a competitive edge. We need ministers who bring everyone together, and navigate the country correctly. Only when there is ministerial competency, can we expect a high standard of governance.

But looking at the Malaysian cabinet, how many competent people can we see?

It should not be a cabinet filled with members who are there as a “reward” for loyalty or support. The Anwar Ibrahim-led coalition, after the last general election, did not secure a simple majority to form the government, although it was the single largest coalition block in parliament.

This means that the people who voted for this block, did so on the back of the promise of reforms. Currently, because of the volatile nature of this unity government, many of the promised reforms have been placed on the back-burner. And, some people would even say in the rubbish bin.

For the vast majority of voters who elected 81 members of parliament from the Pakatan Harapan coalition, the promised reforms are just not forthcoming. This is leading to a crisis with voters scratching their heads and wondering whether they made the right decision to cast their vote for PH.

If the prime minister, through a choice of sterling cabinet members, demonstrates to these voters that it was indeed the right choice to “punt” for him, it will go a long way to restore some faith in this unity government.

But if once again, the backdoor to the cabinet is opened through unelected senatorial appointments, and if ministerial portfolios are filled with “has-beens,” and corruption alleged politicians, PMX will clearly signal that integrity is not a matter that he is concerned with.

What matters to him is to remain in power at any cost.

With a population of approximately 34 million, Malaysia currently has a 28-member cabinet. Paradoxically, our neighbour Indonesia, while making phenomenal strides in socio-economic development, has a population of almost 280 million, yet they have a cabinet of only 34 ministers.

It is not the number of ministers that is important. It is the quality of the men and women in our cabinet.