IS the first Pakatan Harapan Cabinet already heading for a reshuffle, albeit a minor one? Talk in the corridors of power in Putrajaya and the headquarters of the Pakatan coalition partners have been rife about Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s disappointment with the performance of several ministries and the controversies that a handful of ministers have managed to court.
With the exception of Dr Mahathir, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, none of the newly minted ministers have experience in running a Federal Government.
Of course, Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng have cut their teeth at state level as Menteri Besar of Selangor and Chief Minister of Penang respectively.
Hence, much leeway was given to members of the new administration to get their feet wet and discard the “opposition mentality”. But while administrative missteps were expected and certain gaffes tolerated, Dr. Mahathir’s patience has worn thin over allegations of maladministration and even practices that can be construed as bordering on abuse of power and in breach of established rules.
A couple of ministers have taken liberties to staff their offices with up to 15 loyalists, friends and party members in defiance of Public Services Department rules and Dr Mahathir’s own limit of only six per ministry. This is compounded by the existence of questionable characters in some of these ministers’ offices.
In contrast, the exodus of highly qualified and principled officials including advisors, press secretaries and principal private secretaries from ministries due to disagreements with the minister have also received the Prime Minister’s attention.
This week saw one high profile resignation. But it must be stressed that Wan Saiful Wan Jan had explained it was his commitments as the chairman of the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) that forced him to quit as special advisor to Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik – whom he described as hardworking and results-oriented.
When contacted, Wan Saiful laughed off suggestions that his resignation had anything to do with Dr Maszlee’s penchant for being a magnet for controversy with his eyebrow-raising statements and insistence on assuming the role of president of the International Islamic University Malaysia. It is learnt that Wan Saiful has recommended several other candidates.
Underperforming ministries are a stone in the Prime Minister’s shoe. According to sources close to him, Dr Mahathir will address these issues by the first quarter of next year.
“He wants to give his ministers a chance. But he is a man who is out to secure his legacy that had been tarnished by some of his own policies and authoritarian rule during his first tenure as PM,” said a Pakatan official.
Hence, Dr. Mahathir is not going to allow anyone to derail his plans to secure his place on the right side of history.
Dr Mahathir must move quick to quell any criticisms of his ministers to counter the opposition narrative that this is a Cabinet that does not know what it’s doing. As unfair as it sounds, despite Pakatan’s best efforts to run the country, the standards people have set for it are much higher than its predecessor, where for all intents and purposes we were scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Which is why it is also crucial for Dr Mahathir to address any concerns, especially if those ministries in question are held by his own party, Bersatu. It is no secret that the other coalition partners are eyeing choice ministries crucial to nation building and which have direct access to the electorate such as Education, Rural Development, Entrepreneurship Development and Youth and Sports – all held by Bersatu. Any issue in these ministries could trigger demands from PKR, Amanah, Warisan and the DAP for those ministries.
Dr Mahathir needs to ensure that his publicly acknowledged successor, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim inherits a problem-free Cabinet which is able to implement his vision that he hopes Anwar will continue. Dr Mahathir, to preserve his legacy, needs to ensure that he goes out on the same high that the people embraced him on May 9 as our new premier.
Sadly, this has to start with the painful process of purging his administration of those who in these past five months have demonstrated that they are not cut out for the job.
Terence Fernandez is a former senior journalist and is now involved in public relations consultancy.