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Cabinet reshuffle stalemate – has the unprecedented 92% landslide general election victory empowered or paralysed Pak Lah’s reform pledge?


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): When   Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi  said yesterday that  he had yet to receive the inspiration for a Cabinet reshuffle and that his priority now was to get the Ninth Malaysia Plan document ready to be tabled in Parliament in April, it  must qualify as  his most “eyebrow-raising” statement  in his 26 months as Prime Minister since November 2003.

Asked if he had finalised his Cabinet reshuffle plan, Abdullah said: “I have no inspiration yet.  The inspiration will come at any time. When it comes, we will think about it.  It (the reshuffle) may or may not happen. Let us wait and see.”

I do not think Abdullah wants to give the Malaysian public the impression that he had not been giving serious consideration to a Cabinet reshuffle, especially after the jumbo-sized Cabinet which he announced after  his unprecedented landslide general election victory in March 2004 with  over nine-tenth parliamentary majority had been severely criticized for having failed the test of his own pledge of a clean, incorruptible and trustworthy government with the hallmarks of “Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang”. 


There can be no doubt that Abdullah must have been giving long, hard and intensive  consideration to a Cabinet reshuffle which could better deliver  his pledge of  a more dedicated, purposive and productive public service, which had not been honoured in the  past 26 months. 


This was why in his first New Year speech at the monthly assembly of staff of  the  Prime Minister’s Department on Monday, Abdullah’s message to civil servants  was not the exhilarating one  to surpass the achievements and breakthroughs of the past year, but the sombre reverse.


Abdullah told the civil servants: “It is not right to say ‘forget the past’ when things go wrong.  Instead, one should study it and determine what caused it to go wrong.   Acknowledge and knowing what went wrong will prevent us committing the same mistakes.”


The past year had not been a good year for Abdullah to fulfill and honour his reform pledge and programme, with Malaysia’s placing in the 2005 Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International remaining at  39th ranking as compared to 37th in 2003  and former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad declaring that corruption had become “a culture in Malaysia” and “almost at the above-the-table level”.


One of the first decisions taken by Abdullah in 2003 when he became Prime Minister was to respond positively to the DAP call on  November  20, 2003  with Malaysia becoming one of the 102  signatory countries of  the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in Merida, Mexico on December 9-11, 2003.


However, when the UN Convention Against Corruption entered into force two years later on December 15, 2005 to declare war on international corruption -  bribe payments by crooked companies and extortion by corrupt officials -  Malaysia was not one of the 38 countries which had ratified the Convention.


This  gap between rhetoric and deed typifies the greatest weakness of the Abdullah Cabinet and administration and the current Cabinet reshuffle stalemate raises the question whether Abdullah’s  unprecedented 92% landslide general election victory had empowered or paralysed his  reform pledge and programme?


I had welcomed the establishment of a  new Ministry of Higher Education, as higher education and its quality are important determinants of  the nation’s international competitiveness and rightful place in the era of globalization and information and communication technologies.


But what has the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh to show for the past 22 months apart from the plunging international rankings of  Malaysia’s premier university, the University of Malaya, falling 80 places from 89th to 169th position in the THES World University Rankings 2005 to the extent that Gerakan President and the most senior Cabinet Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik could declare that Gerakan’s Wawasan Open University College (Wawasan) would excel University of Malaya  in quality and academic excellence in just five years!


Shafie’s unique contribution in his 22 months as Higher Education Minister is best captured by a current higher education advertisement distinguishing between  universities and colleges producing “employable” and “unemployable” graduates!  Shafie seems more pre-occupied with establishing more universities producing unemployable graduates instead of ensuring that every university must produce employable graduates!


The list of things which had gone wrong in the past year confirming that Malaysia is a nation with “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality”  is a very lengthy one, including  the scandals of APs, colossal and unaccounted losses by GLCs like MAS and Proton, breakdown of government standards,  efficiency and sensitivities  causing year-end tragedies like the avoidable death of Dr. Liew Boon Horng, who was killed by a two-tonne iron mould at a construction site, the injustices in  the M. Moorthy  case  and the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories)(Amendment) Bill 2005.


One will find it very difficult  to prepare a presentable  list of reforms  in the past year which are eradicating Malaysia of its malaise of “First-World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” and transforming Malaysians into “towering” personalities in different walks of life.


It is not a good sign that Abdullah will be able to deliver his reform pledge and programme when he is unable to take the first step to create a First World Cabinet with “towering” Ministers dedicated to a clean, incorruptible and trustworthy government where the slogan of  “Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang” is not regarded as a joke. 


The argument that Abdullah’s focus must now be on the Ninth Malaysia Plan and not the Cabinet reshuffle is not credible, as it begs the question as to whether it not equally important to have a reformed Cabinet of “towering” Ministers to be collectively responsible for the Ninth Malaysia Plan than to leave it in the hands of an unreformed Cabinet!


Abdullah should not dilly-dally any further in a radical and far-reaching Cabinet reshuffle, downsizing its bloated composition to create a lean and robust Cabinet where every Minister stands out as a standard-bearer for integrity and reform.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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