Nurul Izzah capable, appointment as adviser not a liability, says economist

Nurul Izzah Anwar. -filepic

PETALING JAYA: Nurul Izzah Anwar's appointment as the Prime Minister's senior economic and finance adviser is not a liability as she has demonstrated sound political and policy independence, says economist Dr Jomo Kwame Sundram.

The economist said although the manner of Nurul Izzah's appointment may not look good in the eyes of the public as she is Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's daughter, it does not compromise her capability of fulfilling the position's role and responsibilities.

"I am also not keen on the Prime Minister being the Finance Minister. I am also not keen on this (Nurul Izzah's) appointment. But all things considered, the reaction to her appointment is unwarranted.

"In an ideal world, I will not advocate this. But she has a level of competency that many people do not know of," Jomo told The Edge during an interview on Monday (Jan 30).

Nurul Izzah had revealed in an exclusive interview with Sunday Star that she had been serving as senior adviser to the Prime Minister since Jan 3.

Jome, who is the Khazanah Research Institute senior adviser, added: "I think if somebody else was the prime minister, her appointment would have been uncontroversial.

"I would say her appointment is not a liability because she has demonstrated policy independence in a variety of issues in the past.

"One of the criticisms against her as a politician and MP was that she was very involved in innovating development programmes particularly when it comes to people's welfare, such as helping single mothers. These programmes did not help her politically, but it showed that she is aware of what is happening in the world of development."

Aside from family ties, Jomo said the claim that Nurul Izzah is unqualified for the position also implies inherited gender bias in the Malaysian political scene.

He explained that there was hardly any public furore when male politicians gave preferential treatment to their male relatives in the past to advance their political careers.

"When the fourth prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi appointed his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, I don't think many people raised that as an issue.

"Similarly, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad assisted his son Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir in his political career, I didn't hear these things being said. Did anybody ask anything about this? I hear this being said especially of Nurul Izzah. I think here you cannot discount the gender question.

"I think the fact she is a woman is part of the reason why people might think she has no mind of her own. Of course it is not publicly stated, but these are the implicit assumptions," said Jomo.

Nurul Izzah has a degree in engineering and a second degree in public and social policy from Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Indeed, Jomo sees that it could be to her advantage that she does not hold a university degree in economics.

"The fact that she is an engineer also means she won't be easily intimidated by people who make quantitative arguments. I think it is very important to recognise this," said Jomo.

"How many people who have become finance minister or who are involved in the ministry have training in economics at a postgraduate level?"

The announcement drew criticism by various parties, including from Perikatan Nasional chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who asked Anwar to relinquish the finance portfolio and advise his daughter Nurul Izzah to step down from her role as senior adviser.

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