Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.

– DOUG LARSON, COLUMNIST AND EDITOR

When Pakatan Harapan took over Putrajaya it made Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad prime minister, and as prime minister it is really up to him to choose who should hold which portfolio.

That’s how it’s supposed to work. The PM’s prerogative, that’s the term they give it.

But the PM’s prerogative is not as straight-laced as it is supposed to mean. With member parties each wanting to have a piece of the cake, the PM’s prerogative is a misnomer; it is not always what the PM wants and that’s why Lim Guan Eng was made Finance Minister, Mohamad Sabu was made Defence Minister and Dr Maszlee Malik Education Minister.

Dr Mahathir never wanted Maszlee to be Education Minister; he wanted the portfolio for himself but the PH people, DAP and PKR in particular, disagreed, citing the coalition’s election promise that a minister could only hold one portfolio.

Under heavy pressure, Dr Mahathir chose ustaz Dr Maszlee Malik who came with not such bad credentials — he completed his doctorate in Political Science from Durham University with his doctoral thesis titled “Constructing the Architectonics and Formulating the Articulation of Islamic Governance: A Discursive Attempt in Islamic Epistemology”.

But after 100 days of taking over Putrajaya, Dr Mahathir’s government was under heavy fire by Malaysians expecting fuel price to go down overnight (malam ini kita menang , esok pagi harga minyak turun), tolls abolished and PTPTN loan arrears written off.

One hundred days became one year and one year became two years, nothing changed with the GE14 promises — fuel price didn’t go down, tolls and PTPTN loans remained, and national debt didn’t decrease.

There were attempts at changes but they were either misplaced or ill-thought out or made out of narrow political expediency — the bid to amend the Federal Constitution for a more accommodating and comprehensive Malaysia failed; the flying car turned out to be just a drone; and Maszlee turned out to be more an ustaz than the Minister of Education.

It was rather unfortunate, however, that many more eyes were trained on Maszlee’s black shoes, getting students to swim and Jawi script than, say, on Lim Guan Eng’s national debt in the trillion and the sale of national assets by the billions.

Two years six months of failing PH government, Maszlee took the fall and that gave Dr Mahathir his chance to get what he most covets — the Education Minister portfolio.

Dr Mahathir never said he wanted the Finance Minister post, so Lim remains. Neither did Dr Mahathir ever mentioned he wanted any of those other portfolios, so that guy can still tinkle away at his flying car.

But, yes, Dr Mahathir specifically said he wanted the Education Minister portfolio, and now he is the Education Minister, and that’s what it is all about. And that’s how it should be.

Now, let’s look at something quite like the case of Dr Mahathir and his most coveted prized Cabinet portfolio here at home.

Right after the new year, on Jan 3 that is, Sarawakians woke up to the news that Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) had a new chairman in Malayan Tan Sri Kamal Salih. The state government was never consulted on his appointment whereas the practice had been that it had always been consulted in all previous appointments.

But ‘consulted’, like ‘prerogative’, is really a convoluted way of saying something that you can actually say in much simpler terms. In this case, Kamal’s appointment, like the appointments of all previous chairmen, had to be approved by the Sarawak government. It’s not just about being consulted. Kamal couldn’t be chairman without the state government’s approval and that is why he had no choice but to resign.

In any case, Kamil knew too well his position in Unimas was untenable: “Basically they want a Sarawak native so there is no point placing someone who is not from the state. It is best to give it to someone else.”

Kamil was also quoted as saying: “I heard from some parties that the Sarawak government wanted a Sarawakian. I think everyone knows that and they did voice their dissatisfaction over not being consulted on my appointment. I don’t want to be involved in any politics. I just wanted to contribute.”

This should apply to the Unimas board of directors as well. “…the root cause of the upheaval in Unimas board of directors” must be addressed, and given the unfriendly attitude of the PH government towards Sarawak it is plain foolish to accommodate pro-PH elements in the board.

It is spring cleaning time, clean the Unimas board of directors, get rid of the stooges of politics.

There are so many qualified Sarawakians waiting to serve the university, and not political parties the way stooges do.

We now know Kamal’s appointment had not been proper — Kamal also knows that, which was why he quickly resigned — would it not be proper to give back the job to the guy who should still be there if the improper had not been committed?

Why is Tan Sri Sulong Matjeraie, whose term was good until April 30 2021 not immediately brought back? Surely it is only proper to get Sulong to return to work and see his contract through.

Get Sulong to return to work and help him clean the mess in the Unimas board of directors. The board must be free of any political power play and players. If there are such elements there, get rid of these because the university must remain an academic institution and not any political party’s war room.

Dr Mahathir said he should be Education Minister, and he is now.

Sulong was Unimas chairman until the improper happened. He should be back as chairman now. That’s only proper.