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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Grading Najib's Cabinet

KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 – There were some hit and misses when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak named his line-up of ministers and deputy ministers today.

The PM and his deputy announcing the new cabinet.

Some were surprises but not all of them have unblemished records or pristine reputations. One of them was pilloried 10 years ago for being a crony of Anwar Ibrahim and for amassing several hundred million ringgit.

Another threatened to quit the Cabinet when former PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi insisted that his ministers declare their assets and another was caught in a sexual harassment case.

Will they satisfy Dr Mahathir Mohamad's insistence that Najib appoint clean ministers? Possibly. Can all of them stand up to public scrutiny? No.

The Malaysian Insider gives its view on the Cabinet.

• Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Prime Minister and Finance Minister - He was always going to be in charge of the finance portfolio, with the turning around of the slowing Malaysian economy and finding new growth engines being his main KPIs.

Also, even since Dr Mahathir Mohamad accused Anwar Ibrahim of empire building as finance minister, it appears that no prime minister wants to outsource this important portfolio.

Senior civil servants say that Najib is more decisive than Abdullah and is likely to crack the whip harder to get the powerful civil servants at MOF to implement projects at a faster pace.

• Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister - Najib wants to chart an overhaul of the education system and he has put that task in his deputy's palms.

He served ably as Johor Mentri Besar but left under a cloud of allegations. Was even named as a defendant in a court case. Has been a competent minister and administrator.

• Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Defence Minister - First came to national prominence in 1998 when Dr Mahathir exposed him as a crony of Anwar and newspapers carried reports about his wealth and mansion in Country Heights.

Was detained under the Internal Security Act, flirted with political oblivion before he was brought back to the mainstream by Abdullah as a deputy minister. Former political secretary to Najib.

His strong points are his oratory skills and strong network of support among Umno rank and file. Executed the takeover plan of the Perak state government by Barisan Nasional.

• Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Home Affairs Minister - Has been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Did not distinguish himself as Education Minister after five years in the important portfolio but made a name for himself as a chauvinist with his keris wielding act at Umno general assemblies.

Strong points: rhetoric and lineage. Hishammuddin has defended the use of the ISA and has supported tough action by police to break up public assemblies. Not surprising that he was put in charge of the powerful Home Affairs Ministry, which oversees the police and Immigration.

Najib trusts his cousin.

• Datuk Shafie Apdal, Minister of Rural Development - Najib's trusted lieutenant performed well as the Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs but got lost among the cobwebs as the Minister of Heritage.

His strong showing in the Umno elections meant only one thing: a more senior position in the Cabinet.

Worked quietly behind the scenes to try and improve unity among different religious groups but also tried to push through distributive trade law which would have made it necessary for all retail business owners to give up 30 per cent equity to Bumiputeras.

• Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Minister in Prime Minister Department - Businessmen think he did a decent job as the Second Finance Minister but Umno officials felt that he was an obstacle between them and government largesse.

Some believe that he was instrumental in the transformation of government-linked companies while others say that he molly-coddled the likes of UEM and MRCB.

He replaces Tan Sri Amirsham A Aziz as the Economic Planning Unit Minister and is going to be involved in restructuring the economy, from manufacturing based to services-driven.

• Datuk Anifah Aman, Foreign Minister - Outspoken brother of Sabah Chief Minister, he refused a deputy minister's position after Election 2008, believing he deserved more.

He was identified as one of those Sabah politicians who was supposed to join Anwar Ibrahim's PKR but all along he was a Najib loyalist. Given the Foreign Ministry portfolio because of his command of English.

• Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department - Served Penang as the chief minister for nearly 18 years before he was booted out by voters who had grown weary of his indecisiveness and inability to bring development to the state.

He is a surprise inclusion given that even his party Gerakan is a light weight in the BN. Will be in charge of unity and key performance index for ministers.

• Datuk Husni Hanadzlah, Second Finance Minister - No surprise that the the Perak politician has been promoted to a full minister. He was earmarked as Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI) after Election 2008 but his appointment was scuttled during the screening

Umno officials wanted someone from the party to get this important position while Najib wanted someone competent who could get the projects moving and funds disbursed quickly.

• Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department - Not a stellar performer in the Cabinet over the years but a good corner man to have especially in a dog fight with a vibrant Opposition in Parliament.

Has a flashy lifestyle and has been seen driving top of the range cars. Only was told that he was in charge of Parliament and the Law at the eleventh hour.

• Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, Transport Minister - retains the portfolio he held in the last administration.

Had to fend off controversy over the KLIA East project earlier this year but other wise had a trouble free time in the ministry. His main problems seem related to the party - how to patch up relations with his deputy, Datuk Chua Soi Lek, and ensure that the MCA regains the support and confidence of the Chinese community.

• Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, Women and Community Development Ministry - She made the ministry her own during Abdullah's first term in office but lost her cabinet position and seat as Lembah Pantai MP after being defeated by Nurul Izzah.

A minister who believes that there is no such thing as over exposure in the media. She defeated Rafidah Aziz for the Wanita Umno position and was always a favourite for a recall to the Cabinet.

• Datuk Ng Yen Yen, Tourism Minister - This is one lucky woman. She was made a full minister after Election 2008 by virtue that she survived and the up and coming Datuk Chew Mei Fun lost her Petaling Utara seat.

The MCA has one Cabinet position for a woman and she was it. Aligned with the wrong camp in MCA, she was expected to be dropped this time around and her name was not on the list until this morning.

Not bad for someone who has not lit up Malaysia or her party with her performance.

• Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, Minister of International Trade and Industry - Ever since he topped the supreme council polls, there has been a clamour from Umno politicians for him to be appointed as the Second Finance Minister.

In the last few years, he has served as the Economic Planning Minister, Minister for Higher Education and Minister of Agriculture. Got into a spot of trouble recently when fishmongers revolted against his ministry's policy of getting them to buying containers from one supplier.

Enjoys the image of a clean politician but even his supporters say that he is too cautious to the point that it impedes implementation. Will have to oversee the overhauling of the controversial Approved Permits policy.

• Datuk Ismail Sabri, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister - Little-known politician from Pahang who was appointed Youth and Sports Minister by Abdullah after Election 2008. Has not done anything that has marked him out as special talent, a journeyman politician.

• Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Youth and Sports Minister - One of the few Umno politicians who actually understands the power of new media.

During his time as Information Minister, he courted bloggers and journalists from alternative media. A former protégé of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, he was expected to be dropped from the Cabinet because he was identified as an Abdullah loyalist.

• Datuk S Subramaniam, Human Resource Minister - The sole representative from the MIC in the Cabinet, he is respected by colleagues and civil servants as a hard worker.
He will need to bring his A game to the table with retrenchment numbers expected to reach record numbers this year.

• Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor, Works Minister - Another one of the younger ministers brought into the Cabinet by Abdullah after the last general elections.

Was not expected to make a return as a minister but obviously he must have impressed Najib or somebody because he has been put in charge of an important ministry.

All Umno politicians crave to be in charge of Works because they can dish out contracts to 40,000 Class F contractors, many of whom are party members.

• Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin , Federal Territories Minister - He is independent non-executive director of Pharmaniaga and is the president of the Bumiputera Manufacturers and Service Industry Association of Malaysia.

• Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister - This is a promotion for the Sabah politician who has become a hero in state, especially with the Kadazandusun population for his willingness to call a spade a spade.

He antagonized several of his Muslim colleagues by his willingness to speak up for Christians in the Cabinet. Believes that the word Allah should be used by all.

• Datuk Maximus Ongkili, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation - Not a stellar performer but Najib has little choice but to reward Parti Bersatu Sabah and reward BN Sabah for its solid performance in Election 2008 so Maximus gets another shot at this ministry.

• Datuk Rais Yatim, Information Minister - He has to thank Dr Mahathir for his inclusion in the Cabinet. The former prime minister lobbied for him and Najib yielded to his request.

Did not shine as the foreign minister in his last tour. A man who once wrote a thesis slamming the ISA when on the outside but seemed to repudiate his own view about detention without trial when he rejoined the Cabinet in the Mahathir years.

• Datuk Peter Chin, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister - Steady performer and has been rewarded with an important portfolio.

As the senior representative from Sarawak, he had to be given a top ministry in recognition of BN Sarawak's outstanding performance in Election 2008. Groundwater and even Petronas could be put under his ministry.

• Datuk Khaled Nordin. Higher Education Minister - He keeps his portfolio despite coming out fourth in the contest for the Umno vice-president post. One of only three ministers from Johor.

In the last administration, there were six Umno politicians from Johor who were appointed ministers. A good quiet worker but not someone who is going to create the wow factor.

Looking at this line-up, the first thing that comes to mind is this: it's not very different from the one rolled out by Abdullah.

Yes, their portfolios may have changed but these are still the same men and women who have been in Putrajaya before.

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