A change is in the air?

Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad with DPM Datuk Seri Wan Azizah and their cabinet ministers at the 1st annivesary of the Pakatan Harapan Government at Putrajaya International Convention Centre.- Filepic

Loosening wheels and appearing cracks are endemic of a Government swiftly put together, but these wrongs may be righted soon – at the expense of some. 

TALK is rife in Putrajaya of an impending Cabinet reshuffle. Although the Prime Minister has attempted to allay fears, this one is steadily snowballing.

It was reported that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had agreed that there was no need to revamp the Cabinet. But it has not stopped calls for changes or a reshuffle.

This isn’t the first round of speculations either – there’s a growing perception that some ministers have not cut the mustard.

Malaysians expected changes in May when the Pakatan Harapan government marked its first year in power, but nothing has happened. However, there have been rumblings since last week. And the chatter is warranted because some ministers are simply not performing.

It has been a year since they were appointed in these positions, and frankly, a year is enough to suss out their fit for their portfolios.

Ordinary Malaysian employees who fail to live up to the expectations of their employers would be shown the door after the three-month probation period. In slightly more hopeful cases, these wage earners may secure a further three months from their kind bosses, but that would be the end of it.

For some inexplicable reason though, ministers seem to be a privileged breed of people. Elected representatives need neither experience nor qualifications to fill their federal or state posts. Some are well-educated, but unfortunately lack the relevant skills and interest for their jobs.

Then there are those who make us cringe when listening to them speak at international conferences.

Why can’t they stick to Bahasa Malaysia if they can’t string a sentence in English?

“A” for effort for trying to speak in English, but we don’t need the sound bites “of mother and father”, which is incomprehensible to the audience.

A few ministries have even deputised deputies, likely because their bosses are incapable. No surprise then that they have fared much better and have surely outperformed and overshadowed their ministers.

Thank God for these right-hand people because if they weren’t holding the fort or facing the stakeholders, who knows if these ministries would have come to a grinding halt. I can think of at least three ministries in this category.

Even these minister’s aides have privately queried about their boss’ fates, should there, indeed, be a Cabinet revamp.

It doesn’t make sense not to have one, although Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad assured in May that he saw no reason to restructure the Cabinet, reiterating that there would be no such plan. But when asked to evaluate the present Cabinet, he gave it a “five out of 10”.

“I am very conservative. I have been in the government for 22 years and I know how a government functions, but these people (ministers) are new, they do not know how a government functions.

“They are so afraid of being accused of wrongdoing and all this makes their decision-making more difficult.

“But they are learning very fast. Sometimes they come to me because I have the experience. I have to teach and guide them so that they can perform,” said Dr Mahathir.

Let’s be honest – to be graded five out of 10 isn’t good enough, especially when the grading standards would have likely been lowered, seeing as they are inexperienced and still learning the ropes.

A year later, and many in the private sector – those who generate great revenue for the country – have been left wondering why the relevant ministers have not sought their expertise in improving these sectors, especially with Malaysia navigating through choppy economic waters.

No meetings with key players were ever scheduled, and with a year gone down the drain, these top captains of their industries are no closer to knowing why there have been no pro-active decisions from these ministers.

Documents submitted to select ministers remain unanswered, the queries drawing a blank. Many of the parties concerned are unsure of the status of projects. After all, delays cause revenue loss, and not just for the companies, but the country, too.

Members of the media have incessantly complained about certain ministers keeping their distance from the press by describing their lack of interaction, and in more extreme cases, where messages sent to them were unceremoniously ignored. These are the ones who are in total incommunicado.

This is all utterly unfortunate because this isn’t down to snobbery, but a lack of confidence, or perhaps a case of the common malaise – incompetence.

Media adviser Datuk Kadir Jasin has also been outspoken about several under-performing ministers, calling for either their heads or resignations.

As much as the media would want to support these ministers in the interest of Malaysia, their plans have hardly been forthcoming.

If they can’t communicate with the press at open conferences, they could surely appoint a spokesperson, or at least, issue regular press statements.

A Federal Minister I met at an open house gave me his private phone number and told me I could call him anytime. So, I called and texted him many times, but to no avail. I’ve concluded that he has given me an inactive phone number.

Home Minister Tan Sri Muyhiddin Yassin, even when he was a Deputy Prime Minister, would always dutifully reply his text messages despite his hectic schedule, and continues to do so even with his current health condition.

Some from the new crop have shined though, and two names stand out – Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh and Transport Minister Anthony Loke. They have been professional in their approaches and receptive to views, even criticism. They also don’t seem saddled by political baggage despite being former opposition leaders.

Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has also stood out in my simple straw poll with my colleagues, although his early struggles drew criticism.

The crux of the issue is how much of the promise has been delivered. Yes, the new government has four years to fulfil its pledges, but this will all remain a pipe dream with inadequate ministers grappling with their jobs.

A couple of ministers seem to have allowed the perks and privileges of power to seep into their heads, displaying prima donna attitudes by expecting event organisers to line up to greet them. They may have spent their entire political career criticising as opposition leaders, but a taste of their own medicine seems nothing but a bitter pill.

These ministers are a burden to the Prime Minister and a waste of tax-payers’ money. An overhaul is long overdue, because the events from May last year clearly suggest that the Cabinet was hastily and haphazardly cobbled together.

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