The antediluvian Cabinet suitable for old era but not for new millennium

Media Comments
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Saturday): The antediluvian Cabinet announced by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is suitable for the old era but not for the new millennium where Malaysians are clamouring for far-reaching political, economic and social reforms and the restoration of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.

The retention of  three senior Ministers who have not cleared their names and established their integrity although serious police reports of corruption and abuses of power had been made against them, backed up with documentary support, does not signal that the new Cabinet would be committed to a political culture with zero tolerance for corruption.

Mahathir’s statement that the new Cabinet will have to make a more systematic declaration of their assets to him is meaningless, unless Mahathir is prepared to emulate the new PAS Trengganu Mentri Besar, Abdul Hadi Awang requiring all Cabinet Ministers to publicly declare their assets.

The retention of Datuk Chua Jui Meng as Health Minister after his Ministerial bungling in the Nipah virus catastrophe, causing 107 deaths, the destruction of one million pigs, the ruination of the pig-rearing industry, with all the victims still in a limbo  without adequate  compensation for pigs destroyed or rehabilitation of the livelihood of the hundreds of  thousands of people adversely affected by the catastrophe, is most offensive.  It is also a signal that Malaysians cannot expect any accountability, transparency or responsibility from the new Cabinet.

Why shouldn’t Chua Jui Meng be dropped instead of Datuk Dr. Ting Chew Peh, at least to show that the principles of accountability, transparency and responsibility are not alien to  the MCA and Barisan Nasional leadership?

The Cabinet line-up makes a mockery of the Women’s Agenda, as the new Parliament is having the highest number of 20 women MPs but there are two women Ministers compared  to three in the previous Cabinet. Is Dr. Ng Yen Yen not qualified to be a Minister and is the MCA Wanita chief only fit for the post of Deputy Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister?

The New Straits Times in a commentary gave full praise to the new Cabinet, describing it as "decidedly a strong one and clearly work-oriented" and "built to steer the country into the new millennium through a blend of experience, competency and youthful exuberance".

As examples, it quoted the elevation of former acting UMNO Youth leader Datuk Nazri Aziz to head the Entrepreneur Development Ministry and the current Acting UMNO Youth leader  Datuk Hishammuddin Tun Hussein as Youth and Sports Minister.

Is the New Straits Times suggesting that the previous holders of these posts, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin respectively, were laggards and incompetent?

The New Straits Times commentary said that Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah had declined a Cabinet post to concentrate on his task to rebuild Kelantan UMNO.

This is not what Mahathir said in his press conference yesterday.  The Prime Minister made it very clear that Tengku Razaleigh was not offered a Cabinet position because he did not pass muster the criteria he had used for appointing Ministers.

The reason for Razaleigh’s omission from the Cabinet is very obvious - UMNO’s catastrophic defeat in Kelantan.  Be that as it may, the omission of representation from Kelantan and Terengganu in the new Cabinet is another one of its major flaws, making the Barisan Nasional government look spiteful and mean-hearted.

Razaleigh’s omission from the Cabinet does not mean however that he is no more in the running for the top post in UMNO and the prime ministership.  Although Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s claim to be the next Prime Minister has been strengthened as a result of the new Cabinet line-up, this is not because of full endorsement by Mahathir or by the UMNO rank-and-file, but purely through the weakening of the political positions of Razaleigh and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.  Abdullah’s claim to be the Prime Minister-designate is still quite precarious and no one can be sure that he could consolidate his position until his claim becomes undisputed and unchallengeable in the next few years.

What is surprising in the Cabinet line-up is the humiliation suffered by former Perak Mentri Besar, Tan Sri Ramli Ngah, who had been mentioned as one of the possible contenders for the very top UMNO position, being demoted to a mere Deputy Minister in the Transport Ministry.   Is this a punishment for the defeat of the former Minister for Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, Datuk Megat Junid Megat Ayob in the Parit constituency?

Equally humililating is the appointment of the former Malacca Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Abu Zahar Isnin as a mere Parliamentary Secretary in the Home Ministry.

What is most intriguing in yesterday’s Cabinet line-up is the appointment of an outsider Tan Sri Musa Mohamad as the new Education Minister.

The New Straits Times commentary said the move to appoint a former academician to head the Education Ministry is to "de-politicise the important Ministry given that it is tasked with churning out future professionals, leaders and administrators".

The reverse may be the case, as the country may be entering a period where the Education Ministry would be the most politicised in the nation’s history.

Although Tan Sri Musa Mohamad would be the Education Minister, the real power would probably be the new Deputy Education Minister,  Senator Datuk Abdul Aziz Samsuddin, who as former political secretary to the Prime Minister, would have more political clout than the majority of the Ministers in the new Cabinet.

Former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had accused Samsuddin as being the leading conspirator in the plot to destroy him.

Samusuddin is likely to be the de facto Education Minister with  the real power in the Education Ministry for the next few years, before he moves on to become a full Cabinet Minister.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman