(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): DAP has reservations about the Cabinet appointment of Tun Daim Zainuddin as Minister for Special Functions on economic problems in the Prime Ministerís Department and Tan Sri Kasitam Gaddam as Minister for Land and Co-operative Development.
The reasons given by Mahathir for the Cabinet appointment for Daim is most unconvincing. Mahathir said the appointment is to enable Daim to explain to the Cabinet decisions taken by the National Economic Action Council. He said many decisions and research by the NEAC had to be tabled and explained to the Cabinet.
The Prime Minister is himself the Chairman of the NEAC and the Deputy Prime Minister the Deputy Chairman of the NEAC. Couldínt they explain to the Cabinet the various decisions taken by the NEAC? Furthermore, several Cabinet Ministers are also members of the NEAC. Do they need Daim to again explain to them in Cabinet the reasons for the NEAC decision after the first explanation at the NEAC level?
Mahathir also said that in Daimís present capacity as NEAC executive director, it would be difficult for him to deal with Ministers if he were to be sent abroad, and would only be able to deal with officials if he does not have ministerial status.
This is a very weak excuse, as Daim had found no difficulty all these years in meeting Ministers in other countries in his various government capacities - as it is finally the clout that he wields because of his proximity to the Prime Minister rather than any Ministerial position he holds which ensure the access to the most innermost sanctum of power in any country.
In any event, as Economic Adviser to the Government, Daim always enjoys Ministerial status although he is not a member of the Cabinet, just like Tan Sri Musa Hitam at one time when he was the nationís roving ambassador to the United Nations. So why the need to appoint him as a Minister for Special Functions now?
When Daim was appointed NEAC Executive Director, he was presented as the saviour for the Malaysian economy in the face of the worst economic crisis facing the country.
Very soon after Daimís appointment, Mahathir went on television in early January to forecast an economic recovery in six months to a year, but was bettered by the MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik who spoke in January of an economic recovery in three months.
Today, the Malaysian economy is in worse straits, with no light at the end of the tunnel. In January, economists and financial analysts were talking of a time-frame of two to three years for an economic recovery, but after over half a year of operation of NEAC, economists and financial analysts are talking about four to five years for economic recovery.
Such failure by the NEAC to turn the Malaysian economy around or even to present to Parliament a national economic recovery plan should be serious cause to consider whether the NEAC should be dissolved and replaced by another more effective mechanism which is capable of mobilising the government, society and the people into one unit to respond to the worsening national economic crisis - such as a National Economic Crisis Consultative Council comprising representatives from all political parties, whether government or opposition, NGOs, the professions, trade and industry, the universities, the trade unions.
Daimís appointment as Minister of Special Functions focussing on economic problems raises the question whether we are nearing a situation where there would be two Finance Ministers in the Cabinet, one Finance Minister in name but without the support of the Prime Minister while another who does not have the title of Finance Minister but with the powers of the office and the support of the Prime Minister.
This will send out distressing signals to the market, the country and the world that the government leadership is still divided on how to restore confidence to resolve the worst economic crisis facing the country although it is almost one year since the start of the economic turmoils. Such signals cannot restore but only undermine confidence!
Another distressing signal in Daimís appointment is that the issues of corruption, cronyism and nepotism would not be addressed seriously by the government, although they took centre-stage in the recent four-day UMNO General Assemblies.
As an agency report has described it, Daim is at the "vortex of criticism about cronyism".
There are even those who draw parallels to Daimís appointment to the last Cabinet appointments by Suharto before his downfall as Indonesian President.
During the recession in the mid-1980s, Daim was instrumental in the use of Employees Provident Funds in various dubious transactions, like the EPF-Makuwasa scandals, where EPF funds were used to bail-out certain projects or companies.
Would Daimís return to the Cabinet mean that EPFís RM130 billion funds are likely to be targets again as sources of funds for various government bail-outs of certain favoured troubled companies, whether through the Assets Management Corporation (AWC) or other avenues?
Daim has been reported to be one of the countryís richest men, with foreign agency reports estimating his worth as from one billion to two billion ringgits.
In view of widespread concerns about corruption, cronyism and nepotism in Malaysia, the first thing Daim should do is to publicly declare his assets, in particular for the following periods: before his appointment as Finance Minister in 1984, after resignation as Finance Minister in 1991, and currently before taking up the re-appointment as Minister with Special Functions.
Reservations about Kasitah Gaddamís appointment as Cabinet Minister is why Mahathir did not pick one of the elected Members of Parliament from Sabah for elevation to the Cabinet, and has to go outside their ranks to choose someone who has to be appointed a Senator to qualify for the appointment.
Finally, it must be a majjor disappointment to Malaysians that Mahathir has refused to carry out a major cabinet reshuffle to remove the deadwoods in the Cabinet and the many old tired faces who are very frightened, not because of the harm that would be wrought on the people by the economic crisis but because of their fears as to how their near ones could survive the economic crisis because of their mega-loans.
It is time that the Cabinet has new blood with technocrats and experts with the expertise and knowledge to deal with the national economic crisis, and most important of all, capable of commanding public confidence in their competence, professionalism, dedication and integrity. This should be the first agenda of reform for Mahathir - a Cabinet that can take Malaysia into the new millennium and not a Cabinet who are totally lost about the new world and challenges of the 21st century.