KUALA LUMPUR, June 26 ― Putrajaya’s decision to add ministers to its payroll when it had been expected to drop underperformers in yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffle has political analysts disapproving over what it augurs about government reforms.
Given the languorous pace of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration in delivering on its promises of reforms, one political analyst pointed out that enlarging an already bloated Cabinet was the continuation of a “disappointing” trend.
“This is potentially the biggest Cabinet ever that Malaysia has seen,” Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) think tank observed.
“Even though it’s expected, it’s very disappointing as well because what the prime minister has done is that he’s enlarged the size of government several times by doing this,” he added.
Wan Saiful also questioned the addition of two ministers to the Prime Minister’s Department, saying that it prompted questions of whether redundancy would now be an issue.
During yesterday’s reshuffle, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak grew his 32-member Cabinet by awarding ministerial posts to three Chinese leaders from Barisan Nasional (BN) ― two from the MCA and one from Gerakan.
At 35 ministers, Najib’s Cabinet is now bigger than that of his predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, which had 32 members. When Najib first took office in 2009, he had named just 28 ministers.
The purpose for the Cabinet expansion, Najib reasoned yesterday, was to accommodate an “unexpected situation” following the MCA’s about-turn on ministerial appointments.
The BN chief was referring to the MCA’s decision earlier this year to reverse a previous ruling by the party’s leadership barring all its leaders from accepting government posts.
Under the new appointments, MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai earned himself the post of transport minister while his deputy Datuk Wee Ka Siong was made a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.
For winning the Teluk Intan by-election last month, Gerakan president Datuk Mah Siew Keong was appointed a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.
With Wee and Mah’s appointments, the department now has a whopping 10 ministers.
Having named Wee and Ma as ministers, however, Najib said it was yet to be decided which portfolios the two men would handle.
Three other ethnic Chinese, all from MCA, were given deputy minister posts ― Datuk Chua Tee Yong as deputy finance minister, Datuk Lee Chee Leong as international trade and industry deputy minister and Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun as women, family and Community development deputy minister.
Before yesterday, it was widely speculated that a major reshuffle was on the cards to revitalise the BN government, with Najib expected to consolidate his position by cracking the whip on administrators who have not lived up to expectations.
A number of ministers from Umno had also been expected to be removed.
Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, the man who has earned sterling praise for his handling of the MH370 crisis as the acting transport minister, was expected to be awarded the coveted finance minister’s post.
Speculation also had Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, another Umno VP, returning to the defence portfolio and relinquishing the powerful home minister’s post that Najib was expected to take on.
As home minister, Ahmad Zahid has met with multiple controversies. In the wake of a violent crime spree in the country last year, the Umno leader reportedly advocated a “shoot first” policy for the police when dealing with suspected gang members.
Yesterday, Wan Saiful said the addition of six Chinese ministers and deputy ministers from MCA and Gerakan inferred that Umno has failed to safeguard the interests of the non-Malays.
“The reasoning behind these appointments is that the government or prime minister wants the new appointees to speak on behalf of the Chinese community.
“If you flip the coin, the other thing he’s saying is that Umno ministers have failed completely to think of people other than the Malays. It’s confirmation that the whole 1 Malaysia agenda does not work,” said the analyst.
Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng also questioned the effectiveness of the new Cabinet members, pointing out that Sabah and Sarawak ministers were “helpless” in the “Allah” issue.
On Monday, the Federal Court refused leave for the Catholic Church to challenge an appellate court’s decision, which upheld a government ban on its use of the Arabic word for God in its Herald newsletter.
The decision means the Court of Appeal ruling that said “Allah” was not integral to the Christian faith, effectively barring the word to Christians, was now the authority on the matter.
“What can these new ministers do? This is not going to give any confidence,” Khoo said.
Political analyst Ibrahim Suffian from Merdeka Centre said the jury was still out on whether the inclusion of Chinese representatives in the government would restore the community’s confidence in BN.
“Are we going to see a bit more pushback and see them standing up for issues of the minority?” Ibrahim told The Malay Mail Online, citing issues like the “Allah” conflict and the bible seizure in Selangor.