The new expanded Cabinet should be deconstructed into a two-tier system to make it more effective with some ministries merged into one, a DAP lawmaker said.
Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong said developed countries like Australia have two-tier ministries, with only senior ministers holding Cabinet rank and attending Cabinet meetings, although other ministers may attend if an area of their portfolio is on the agenda.
He also said that there were too many ministries whose functions could be merged into one entity, citing as example, the Science, Technology and Innovation and the Energy, Green Technology and Water ministries.
“We have too many ministries and it can be reduced from the current 24 to about 18,” he said at a forum titled Cabinet Reshuffle: Will the New Ministers be Effective? last night.
Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak expanded his Cabinet to 35 members after incorporating Chinese leaders from his Barisan Nasional component parties.
Najib appointed Gerakan president Datuk Mah Siew Keong as minister in the prime minister’s department, and gave the MCA two ministerial and three deputy ministers posts.
MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is now transport minister, while his deputy Datuk Wee Ka Siong is now a minister in the prime minister’s department.
The party’s three vice-presidents, Datuk Lee Chee Leong, Datuk Chua Tee Yong and Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun, were appointed deputy ministers for the International Trade and Industry; Finance; and Women, Family and Community Development ministries respectively.
Najib’s expansive team is even bigger than his predecessor’s Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who had 32 ministers in his Cabinet.
This got observers worried that with 35 members, the bloated Cabinet would further slow down reforms that are needed to drive the country forward.
Liew said with 19 ministers alone in the prime minister’s department, Najib runs a huge inner Cabinet and accused the premier of wanting more money to spend by having access to discretionary budget.
He said the department employed some 50,000 people and accounted for 15% of the national budget, as opposed to 2009 when it only accounted for 5% of the national budget.
“The consequence is that you don’t know where the money goes. It might be to more shoddy projects in Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.
Liew also said that appointing the Chinese representatives into Cabinet smacked of old practices which no longer worked now as people have gone beyond racial policies.
Voters, he said, no longer voted according to racial lines, but according to leadership, as proven in the 1995 general election when voters overwhelmingly gave their support to BN due to former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his development policies.
“The days of racial representation are over. It is now about leadership. The problem with this latest Cabinet expansion is Najib thought we are still in the 1970s when he appointed ministers to take care of Chinese community interests. Such days are gone,” he said.
Political scientist Wong Chin Huat, who also spoke at the forum pointed out that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was already playing the two-tier role by being the deputy prime minister and education minister.
The same is also true of Najib who is the prime minister and finance minister.
“The question to think is, how big should the front bench be? We need to draw a line, we can’t have too many people on the front bench,” he said.
He said the expansion of the Cabinet was to create jobs to appease and reward supporters.
Wong said in a normal country, there is a fixed Cabinet size where payroll is controlled and room for reward is limited.
“But in Malaysia, the Cabinet size is open, the room for reward is unlimited and the payroll is growing.
“Cabinet has become a job-creation office for politicians,” the Penang Institute fellow said.
Gerakan vice-president Dr Dominic Lau said he was “not very happy” that it was more of a Cabinet expansion than a reshuffle, adding that the new ministers should be allowed more time to get into their roles.
He did not think, however, that there were too many ministers, pointing out that Sweden has 21 ministers for a population of nine million while Singapore, with a population of 5.4 million, has 18 ministers.
In contrast, Malaysia has 35 ministers for its 30 million population, or one minister for every 850,000 people.
“The global average is about 30 ministers,” he added.
He also believed having Chinese ministers in the Cabinet will help the community to have their voices and issues raised and resolved. – July 11, 2014.