Malaysia does not need more than 20 Ministers

The impending Cabinet reshuffle provides a chance for Prime Minister Najib Razak to make transformative changes to the currently dysfuctional cabinet structure.

Three key areas of reform are: –
1) reduce the number of ministers in Prime Minister’s Department;
2) appoint a full-time Finance Minister;
3) reduce the size of Cabinet to about 20 ministers.

Najib’s second term Cabinet was formed on 15th May 2013, following the 5th May 2013 general election. The Cabinet was subsequently reshuffled on 25th June 2014 and 28th July 2015.

The 28th July 2015 Reshuffle saw the sackings of Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal.

Between 28th July 2015 and the end of Idris Jala’s two-term senatorship on 2nd September 2015, the Najib Cabinet had 37 ministers and 32 deputy ministers. During that brief period, the Prime Minister’s Department saw a record number of eleven ministers (excluding the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister).

The first reform that Najib should undertake is to reduce the number of ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department. The Cabinet before the 2013 General Election had only 5 ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department.

The aim should be to reduce the number of Ministers in Prime Minister’s Department to five, as per the pre-2013 status quo, from the height of eleven.

With the departure of Idris and Abdul Wahid Omar, there should be no new minister added to the Prime Minister’s Department.

Further, since Paul Low couldn’t achieve much as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for integrity and anti-corruption, I would like to suggest to Paul Low to take this opportunity to retire from Cabinet. There should be no new appointment to fill this vacancy.

UMNO warlords like Shahidan Kassim and Azalina Othman Said should be asked to chair powerful parliamentary committees but not included in the bloated Cabinet.

Creating strong parliamentary committees for UMNO warlords is a win-win situation for Najib to accommodate warlords while keeping the Cabinet to competent ministers. The parliamentary committees can act as a check on the Executive.

BN component party leaders like Mah Siew Keong, Wee Ka Siong, Joseph Kurup and Joseph Entulu should be tasked to lead a ministry and not thrown into the backwater of Prime Minister’s Department with very little real responsiblities.

The second reform is to end the practice of Prime Minister holding the Finance portfolio concurrently. The 1MDB crisis is a clear indication that the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister must not be the same person. The global slowdown and challenging economic outlook also requires a competent and full-time Finance Minister in charge.

I do not think Second Finance Minister Husni Hanadzlah is suited to lead the Finance Ministry. My bet is still on International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapha Mohamad being a more suitable candidate for such role.

The third reform is to reduce the number of Cabinet ministers and ministries. Most other democracies have a much smaller and more competent Cabinet, often with an outer ministry attached to it.

For instance, there should just be one Education Ministry instead of two (for education and higher education); the split is unnecesary and cumbersome;

There should just be one Trade Ministry instead of two (international and domestic trade); such segregation is making policy coordination imposibile;

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry and Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry should be combined as one;

The three “mini-ministries” created to accommodate junior ministers from Sabah and Sarawak, namely Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry, Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, and Natural Resrouces and Environment Ministry should be combined as one ministry for better coordination of policies. Even if more ministers were to be appointed to the new combined “super-ministry” , there should only be one ministry as the current arrangement is just too fragmented.

My two other wishes are
1) That a new Foreign Minister be appointed as Anifah Aman doesn’t show his interest to be Foreign Minister. As the challenges in the region are mounting especially in the South China Sea, it is high time to appoint a new Foreign Minister.

2) That the Federal Territories Ministry be abolished. Without a Ministry, an elected State Government should be formed for Kuala Lumpur while an elected local council can be put in place in Putrajaya. It is best to return Labuan to Sabah.

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