Advantages and Disadvantages of Anwar Ibrahim's Cabinet

04 Dec 2022 07:16pm
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim showing the list of cabinet members in the unity government during a press conference in Putrajaya. - BERNAMA
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim showing the list of cabinet members in the unity government during a press conference in Putrajaya. - BERNAMA
As soon as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as the 10th prime minister, the nation's attention was immediately focused on the make-up of his cabinet amidst numerous speculations.

Mixed reaction was pouring in, on all media platforms on the choice of candidates when the line-up was announced on Dec 2.

Some Malaysians supported the line-up whereas some rejected it blatantly. While others neither rejected or accepted wholly.

But why is our nation is divided with the people having mixed feeling about their leaders? This can be gauged by identifying some of the advantages and disadvantages of the new cabinet line.

Advantages of the Cabinet

This cabinet has several advantages. First, the size of the cabinet which is relatively small. This aligns with the prime minister's pledge to reduce the bloated cabinet.

The cabinet now consists 28 ministers, as compared to 32 ministers during previous administrations under former prime ministers Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

The number of ministers in the previous government were large as there were appointments of Special Envoys for the Prime Minister to several regions and countries.

Secondly, history was made when two deputy prime ministers were appointed in a single government. They were Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof, each one to represent the Peninsular region and the Sabah and Sarawak regions respectively.
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It was also the first time since independence where a deputy prime minister from Sabah and Sarawak was chosen.

This representation shows the government was serious and committed to bridge the gap between Sabah and Sarawak regions and the Peninsula. This will empower Sabah and Sarawak regions in accordance with the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

Additionally, the appointment of Datuk Seri Fadillah as Plantation and Commodity Minister was also apt to realise the goal of empowering the plantation and commodity sector, which is one of the sources of the economic strength of Sabah and Sarawak.

Further, the current Cabinet consisted a combination of new and old faces. The new faces include Rafizi Ramli, Nga Kor Ming, Chang Lih Kang, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Ewon Benedick, Ahmad Fahmi Mohamed Fadzil, Fadhlina Sidek, Zaliha Mustafa and Armizan Mohd Ali.

There were also some old faces who have never been part of the cabinet before, such as Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing, Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir and Sivakumar Varatharaju Naidu.

There were 15 Cabinet members who were familiar faces, some of whom, have had long and extensive experience as ministers, while some have limited experience.

This list of ministers shows there was a balance between the new face and the old face, and the synergy between both was important for implementation of ideas and policies and eventually their implementation.

The balance and synergy of the new face with the old will ensure that the cabinet will function efficiently and effectively.

The fourth advantage is the Cabinet was seen to be inclusive in regards to race, region and gender.

This cabinet was not only made up of the main races in the Peninsula but also includes the Bumiputera races in Sabah and Sarawak

In terms of regions, apart from the Deputy Prime Minister, the cabinet also consists of six representatives from Sabah and Sarawak.

In terms of gender, the cabinet consists of five women and 23 men. This inclusion of race, region and gender allows each group to be represented, and no party will be marginalised in the 'development for all agenda.

The last advantage was the appointment of several unpaid government advisors led by Petronas Advisor Tan Sri Hassan Marican.

He was one of the five members of the Government Advisory Council established by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad after Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over the government in 2018.

Some of these advisors can help the government in various fields, especially the economic and financial matters of the country, in addition to helping the government realise the manifesto within 100 days.

Disadvantages of the Cabinet

Despite the advantages, several disadvantages were also apparent in the new Cabinet line-up. First, the Prime Minister who is also the finance minister.

Although it was a practice or was prevalent in the previous administrations, this practice can lead to excessive power in the hands of the prime minister and this could lead to defects in the governance of government-linked investment companies (GLICs) and government-linked companies (GLCs).

This was because the finance minister has authority over the Minister of Finance Incorporated (MOF Inc.), who has ownership and control over various GLCs.

Misuse of power by the prime minister, who is also the finance minister, will distort and destroy GLIC and GLC and its governance. This has happened in the case of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and SRC International Sdn Bhd (SRC).

Although Datuk Seri Anwar has a good track record as the previous finance minister, but the issue was excessive concentration of power and the need for separation of powers between two important government positions.

This is important so that whoever was appointed as finance minister will have their power limited by the principle of separation of powers rather than depending on personality factors alone.

Therefore, the institutional reform emphasised by the new government also needs to include reforming the practice and prevalence of the government.

Second disadvantage was the Court cluster. Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid, the newly-appointed deputy prime minister, was currently facing a trial in Court with 47 criminal prosecutions for breach of trust in the Akalbudi Foundation case.

Zahid is charged with 40 charges of corruption involving foreign visa system. Although the High Court had acquitted him on Sept 22, the prosecution team has submitted an appeal for the case.

Other leaders who are associated with the Court cluster were not appointed cabinet members, such as Bagan MP Lim Guan Eng, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Kinabatangan MP Bung Moktar Radin.

Although the appointment came as a shock, it was something which was expected considering the support rendered by UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN) which had enabled the formation of a coalition government Anwar.

This situation allows Zahid to have significant bargaining power to negotiate in the formation of the government even though the prime minister has decision-making power.

Although disputed by many, the presence of Zahid in the cabinet is crucial to guarantee the stability of the government.

Without a stable government, the government cannot carry out its responsibility to serve the people. This is because the attention will be focused on political competition, as reflected in the previous administration.

However, in response to this situation, the government needs to ensure that institutional reforms that are about to be implemented will not be compromised by any party, although consultation and consensus were important in implementing any policy.

In terms of institutional reform, it is crucial for the prime minister to have a clear separation of power between the attorney-general and public prosecutor.

This needs to be done immediately to ensure the government does not interfere in court cases involving political leaders.

Finally, most of the new faces mentioned above have yet to gain administrative experience in managing a ministry, let alone an important ministry.

The Education Ministry and the Health Minister were respectively led by newcomers Fadhlina Sidek and Zaliha Mustafa. They both are first female ministers for the ministry and first term members of the Dewan Rakyat.

These two ministers must be up for a huge challenge, especially in the context of the country's recovery from the Covid-19 Pandemic.

An important lesson for both ministers to take from the former administration is the importance of negotiating with various stakeholders before a policy or action is implemented by the government.

This is important so that the government's policies can be accepted by all and avoid unnecessary tensions.

In conclusion, despite some shortcomings, the current cabinet has the advantages and strength needed to steer the government into future in terms of economic growth and governance reforms as promised in the manifesto.

The strength of this cabinet needs to be fully utilised to manage and realise the promises made to the people following the economic-political challenges at the domestic and international levels, which are uncertain.

This cabinet is the best option we have now. Give the new cabinet and government a chance to carry out their responsibilities and show their ability to manage the government.

Only after they fail to fulfil their responsibilities and promises should we objectively criticised for their performance. This is the mature democracy we want!

* Dr Zaharul Abdullah is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Development at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu & Head of the Malaysian Narrative Publishing Secretariat
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