PETALING JAYA: As the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) wraps up its work, speculation is rife that the chairman, Tun Daim Zainuddin, could be appointed as adviser to the government.
Sources said that the 80-year-old Daim’s experience in handling the civil service and the private sector could be tapped to primarily assist the new government for the next few months.
It is learnt that the advisory role would be for a limited period to help some of the new ministers in the government, especially to deal with the civil administration.
”Many of the ministers are new and have not held big positions in the government before. Managing ministries is difficult, especially handling a civil service that has senior officers with long service,” said a source.
In the existing Cabinet line-up, there are very few who have held big positions in the government. Apart from Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the other person who has handled the civil administration is Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali and Lim Guan Eng, who head the Economic Affairs Ministry and Finance Ministry respectively, were head of state governments before and have some level of experience in dealing with the civil service.
“The rest of the Cabinet are new and don’t have the experience in dealing with the civil administration. They sometimes make announcements without thinking them through, which has resulted in the backtracking of decisions,” said a former top civil servant.
The other reason, the retired official said, is to tap on Daim’s experience to help the government should the country go through an economic slowdown or recession.
“In 1985, Daim was the Finance Minister when the country went through an economic crisis due to a global recession. In 1998, Dr Mahathir recalled Daim to assist him when the country was going through its worst ever recession,” said the official.
An economist said that when there is a slowdown or recession, the prime minister generally tends to call on people who he is comfortable to work with.
“If Daim is appointed as adviser, it is not really something new for him. Dr Mahathir has counted on Daim before when the country was in crisis,” said the economist.
The signs of a slowdown are already there, with some economists forecasting that Malaysia’s economic growth could be less than 5% this year. This is due to a combination of domestic and external factors.
On the local front, although the higher prices of crude oil have helped the government’s coffers, the change in government has slowed down the construction sector considerably. Coupled with the continued poor performance of the property sector, the domestic economy is not moving as fast as had been envisaged.
On the external front, the trade war, depreciating yuan and the slowing China economy have had an impact on Malaysia’s exports. Crude palm oil prices are averaging at the lower end of a three-year band and the outlook for the commodity, which forms an important component of the country’s exports, does not look good.
Apart from Daim, the other members of the CEP are Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Tan Sri Hassan Marican, Dr K.S. Jomo and Robert Kuok. Zeti, the former Bank Negara governor, is now the chairman of Permodalan Nasional Bhd, while Hassan is a board member of Khazanah Nasional Bhd.
Jomo is the former assistant secretary-general for economic development in the United Nations, while Kuok is easily Malaysia’s best-known businessman on the global stage with a large influence in China and Hong Kong.
Signs of the CEP finishing its task came about earlier this week when Zeti said that the council had almost completed its task and the secretariat was preparing a report that would be presented to the government.
The CEP was set up on May 12 to play an advisory role on economic, financial and other matters to help the Pakatan Harapan government.
The objective was to help the Pakatan Harapan government achieve its 100-day pledges.
Recently, Daim and the CEP came under scrutiny as some within the Opposition alleged that they were acting beyond their terms of reference.
This came about after Daim’s visit to China to renegotiate contracts and terms of financing entered into by the previous government with entities in that country.