Letters of termination sent to chairmen and board members of government companies on Friday clearly spelt out that they would be losing their positions with immediate effect.
While netizens and watchdog NGOs hailed the unity government’s move as a new chapter in the management of government-linked companies, it was naïve of them to believe that it was a new directive.
This was not a new move by Anwar Ibrahim’s unity goverment in stopping the appointment of political nominees as chairmen or board members of government companies.
All governments of the last five years had been doing this, sacking those nominated by the previous governments and replacing them with their own people.
For example, it took less than 24 hours for deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to announce that Kelantan Umno chief Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub would be reappointed as Felcra chairman after being terminated.
The practice of having politically-appointed heads of government companies and agencies is a legacy of decades of Barisan Nasional rule. These posts were blatantly dished out as rewards for the sacrifices and support of party leaders at all levels. In the process, those who lost in elections were also brought in through this backdoor.
We saw this situation worsening when the governments led by Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail Sabri Yaakob ignored the clarion calls by civil society groups and some good governance NGOs to stop this practice.
It came to a situation when most of the MPs who were in the government at one point were holding government positions, courtesy of the two former prime ministers who needed the numbers to remain in power. This, to an extent, had affected the attendance of MPs at Dewan Rakyat sittings.
Let’s be clear here. None of the coalitions in the unity government had pledged in their manifestos to stop these political appointments.
Yes, it was in the Pakatan Harapan manifesto when Dr Mahathir Mohamad led its campaign for the 2018 general election. But he was the first to break this promise after becoming prime minister.
So, for obvious reasons, Anwar will be facing a severe test when making these thousands of appointments which is going to cost taxpayers. This is because with a much smaller number of Cabinet ministers and their deputies, the coalitions supporting him will expect their quotas in these appointments as rewards.
However, the prime minister who gained the support of the masses with his ‘reformasi’ cries, has this great opportunity to start afresh by putting a stop to this culture, which to many is something totally unacceptable as it involves taxpayers’ funds.
Some former leaders have expressed privately that while this may be ideal and will surely win the hearts of the people, it may be tough for Anwar to implement it fully.
They argue that there are many extremely talented professionals who could contribute greatly to make GLCs revenue earners for the nation. It just so happens that they are supporters of the ruling government. So, they reckon it’s a loss if the move not to appoint those with political links is applied as a blanket rule.
Having said this, the general feeling is that no MPs should be appointed to these posts as their primary role is to be the people’s representatives and legislators. They should not be distracted from this because the people elected them for this very purpose.
It is public knowledge that a minister normally appoints a handful of board members from his political party to the many boards of GLCs and other government agencies under his portfolio. This, according to some former CEOs and chairmen, had led to bloated boards.
They said there is absolutely no need for these members on the board as they have nothing to contribute. Most of the other board members are representatives of the industries and other stakeholders whose inputs are important.
One GLC, I was told, had 20 board members which included about five members of the political party of the minister in charge. This decades-long culture has to be dismantled to not only save the government a lot of money, but also to inject professionalism into the GLC boards.
While absolute meritocracy in the appointment of GLC chairmen and board members would be ideal, it is definitely not possible under the current political climate where we are seeing the unprecedented use of race and religion which they justify by what they term as political Islam.
However, Anwar’s government has made a few right moves in bringing political stability which is the prerequisite for economic stability.
So, if he brings in a semblance of meritocracy in GLC appointments and moves away from using them as absolute political rewards, Anwar will surely see many happy Malaysians.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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