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Designate a Minister with specific responsibility on reform and integrity to deliver the Prime Minister’s electoral mandate and reform pledge
The new Cabinet has fallen far short of public expectations as it would not pass muster two critical and fatal tests as to how it could differ from the previous Cabinet in being committed firstly, to promote a “First-World Infrastructure, First-World Mentality” at all levels of governance in Malaysia and secondly, to kick-start the stalled election pledge of government reform and national integrity, which should be two important underpinnings of the Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006-2010.
Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh and Datuk Seri Dr. Leo Michael Toyad were reportedly dropped as Ministers for Higher Education and Tourism Ministries because they had not “performed to expectations”.
Shafie’s fate is no surprise as he became part of the problem instead of solution to the higher education crisis symbolized by the 80-point drop of the nation’s premier university, University of Malaya, from 89th to 169th placing in the Times Higher Education Supplement World 200 Best Universities Ranking 2005, losing for the first time to Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University. With great reluctance, I had to move a RM10 salary-cut motion against him for two consecutive years in Parliament to register disapproval and even censure of his Ministerial performance – the first time in Malaysian parliamentary history.
Toyad being dropped as Tourism Minister has however come as a surprise, both to insiders and outsiders, and Abdullah owes Malaysians an explanation for this decision if his pledge of accountability and transparency is to be taken seriously.
In my initial response to the Cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, I had described Zainuddin Maidin’s appointment as Information Minister as “a storm signal that hard times await the mass media, press freedom and freedom of information in Malaysia”.
Evidence of such “hard times” ahead for the mass media has come from an unexpected quarter - the New Straits Times column today by its former editor-in-chief Kalimullah Hassan “Getting the right players for a winning team”:
“It is ironic that just a day before his
appointment was announced, Zainuddin sought the sacking of the top editors
of the New Straits Times Group in a closed-door Umno information bureau
In fact, a day earlier, Zainuddin was indulging in his favourite past-time of media-bashing with baseless and selective allegations in a function in his Merbok parliamentary constituency where he lambasted “a number of media practitioners” for not understanding the concept of media freedom in the Malaysian context.
Although Zainuddin emerged from the world of journalism, he is the greatest threat to media freedom and Abdullah’s reform pledge and programme for a clean, accountable, trustworthy, efficient and people-oriented administration which is prepared to hear the truth from the rakyat.
The four new ministers and six deputy ministers in the reshuffle will receive their letters of appointment and take their oath before the Yang di Pertuan Agong at Istana Negara tomorrow.
Is the Prime Minister’s stalled reform and integrity pledge and programme still valid? If so, Abdullah should designate a Minister with specific responsibility on reform and integrity to deliver his electoral mandate and reform pledge.
This Minister with responsibility for the portfolio of reform and integrity should oversee reform and integrity programmes and progress in every Ministry. He should also be empowered review decisions as to whether they are out-of-line with the reform and integrity pledge - such as whether the decision to suspend Sarawak Tribune and the two-week suspension of the afternoon edition of Guan Ming Daily over the publication of the offensive Danish cartoons on Prophet Muhammad were appropriate, or whether the message about the unacceptability of the republication of the cartoons could be made without imposing the ultimate penalty of suspension.
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP
Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman