Friday, February 17, 2006

The M'sian Cabinet - half-baked or recycled?

Three days after Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi announced minor changes to the Cabinet, voices of dissatisfaction and frustration continues to fill coffee houses, recreational clubs and food stalls in the state capital, Kuala Lumpur.

A Kuala Lumpur UMNO divisional leader, eyeing a deputy minister's post but was frustrated when he was left out, described the new line-up as a "recycle cabinet". He was referring to the inclusion of Kuala Lumpur UMNO chief, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor and Sarawak politician, Effendi Norwawi.

Effendi, who sold his interests in the second national private tv network, NTV7 to Media Prima, the UMNO-linked company that runs private stations TV3, TV8, two radio stations and the New Straits Times Press group, rejoined the Cabinet at the request of Abdullah. He was sworn in as a member of the Senate on Thursday.

Effendi's wife, actress Tiara Jaquelina, broke the Malaysian record for film production by spending RM20 million (US$5.4m) on the love epic Puteri Gunung Ledang. Effendi ended up by having to service bank loans.

Adnan was dropped from the lineu-up when Abdullah announced his first Cabinet in 2004 while Effendi opted-out when he was moved from the popular agriculture portfolio to "special functions".

Abdullah defended his Cabinet line-up. He was quoted by the New Straits Times as saying that "I have confidence in them (the ministers). All can perform and will get the job done."

He said his new Cabinet comprises performers who will get the job done and he had retained ministers who performed.

My question is did Dr Shafie Salleh, the Higher Education Minister and Dr Leo Michael Toyad the Tourism Minister did not perform to his expectations? If not, why were they dropped?

The two together with Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Dr Rais Yatim were the best qulified academically with PhDs.

Dr Shafie, who had served as deputy finance minister under Dr Mahathir Mohamad and previously headed the National Civic Bureau, a specially set-up unit to brainstorm freshly recruited civil servants, university graduates and students to be "pro-government", said that he was not surprised but was hopeful to be retained as minister.

I am quiet familiar with Dr Shafie and can testify that he is a workaholic. Unfortunately, coming from the civil service, he lacks the style and charisma of a politician. He is honest and loyal to whoever is the boss.

I believed that he was dropped because he did not renew the contract of Malaysian Technology University's vice-chancellor Prof. Dr. Mohd Zulkifli Mohd Ghazali. The contract was later renewed on the instruction of the Prime Minister. Dr Shafie failed to realise that Dr Zulkifli is the younger brother of the chief minister of Perak state, Tajol Rosli, a staunch supporter of the prime Minister. Dr Zulkifli is pro-establishment and popular with the varsity's students and academicians. I could not think of other reasons why Abdullah dropped Dr Shafie from his cabinet.

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