Maszlee’s successor must be a better person

Dr Jeniri Amir

Rumours about several ministers and deputy ministers will resign have been buzzing since the findings of a survey by Malaysiakini news portal a few days ago that showed that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) ministers were doing poorly.

According to the survey results, 10 out of 28 ministers failed to carry out their respective tasks. This is a bad result. Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik failed miserably — with only 16 points given by the people. The lowest score (10 marks) was given to Entrepreneur Development Minister Redzuan Yusof.

In a short time, Maszlee, an academician, turned into a politician and subsequently Education Minister, the expectations placed on him were very high. As a former university lecturer, frankly, my students have never got such low scores. To my best memory, the lowest score I ever gave was 24 and that’s because they usually couldn’t answer the questions, partly because they didn’t study hard or were lazy to study.

About 3pm on Thursday, I received a WhatsApp group notification that Maszlee would be holding a press conference. Netizens and the public were convinced that there would be a big announcement made by the Simpang Renggam MP.

And as expected, Maszlee announced his resignation at a special media conference in Putrajaya late Thursday afternoon. After the announcement, Maszlee only answered three questions from the media and then headed to his car (a Perodua Myvi) and drove out of the ministry building as he waved at his officers.

According to him, the decision was made after his meeting with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir, who he described as a father.

“On the advice of the Prime Minister, and on the principle of obedience and discipline to the party and government leadership, I, Maszlee Malik, with heavy hearts, resign my post as Education Minister effective Jan 3, 2020,” he said.

A few months ago, Dr Mahathir had expressed his desire for a Cabinet reshuffle, drawing puzzlement as to when the reshuffle would take place.

Critical Targets

His purpose may be to motivate other Cabinet ministers to work harder due to the people’s poor perception of their performance. The debate in some quarters over the last few months on the change of ministers and ministries has been raging since.

The former lecturer, who is often the target of the criticism, in his speech also listed the Education Ministry’s (MOE) achievements under his leadership.

In early Dec 2018, the Prime Minister mentioned that he believed his two Cabinet ministers, P. Waythamoorthy and Maszlee, had done their best in carrying out their duties.

Quite contrary to this, however, Dr Mahathir’s media advisor Datuk A. Kadir Jasin on his blog had earlier claimed that the Prime Minister had ‘lectured’ the two ministers.

When asked about the matter, Dr Mahathir said: “I just talk to them. No lectures, just talk.”

Maszlee, however, saw his own performance from a different perspective.

“I have not rated myself as a minister for the past six months; instead I am evaluating myself as a person who wants to learn. I will give myself 9.95 out of 10,” he told Malaysiakini.

When asked about his best performance (until Dec 2018), he replied he was never satisfied.

At a special press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 13, 2019, Maszlee presented the achievement of the MOE themed ‘Education for All’ (Pendidikan untuk Semua) in which the ministry focused on five items contained in the 53 national education system reform initiatives. Clearly, at this point, he didn’t think the Prime Minister wanted him to step down.

“We still have a lot to do and this is just the beginning. What we do today is for our children at school and university.

“2019 is the year of the beginning of change, where we want to lay a strong foundation to ensure that the country can move towards an integrated and high quality education system,” he said at a briefing session.

If he had known he would be leaving so soon after presenting that report card, one wonders if he would have bothered with such a lengthy report at all.

As the biggest beneficiary of the 2019 budget, the five things the MOE is focusing on is bringing love back to education; the quality of teaching and learning; autonomy and accountability; Malaysia Membaca; as well as manifesto.

In the 40-page report card, Maszlee had detailed the achievements that touch on all aspects of national education including students, teachers, infrastructure, system reform, digital reform, Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET), higher education and graduates, and making Malaysia a Reading Nation by 2030.

Back to when Maszlee’s name was announced as the Education Minister, many were excited — he is a former lecturer, author, political analyst and can communicate in English, Malay and Arabic fluently.

The Education Minister is one of the most important positions in the Cabinet. In fact, whoever was appointed had the potential to become the next Prime Minister — Tun Abdul Razak, Dr Mahathir, Tun Abdullah Badawi, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, and even Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had served as Education Minister, hence, the hope for Maszlee was very high.

Strangely, from the very beginning, many of his actions and statements sparked controversies, affecting his image and reputation. Many of the policy issues were not addressed effectively by him. He was severely criticised for suggesting students to wear black shoes to school and study swimming at school.

Would journalists want to undermine their own stupidity or were they bent on portraying Maszlee as a stupid Education Minister? Why should the issue of black shoes be raised? It is common practice for the media to cite an interesting angle even though the minister was talking about other bigger issues.

On top of that, the most controversial was his failure to deal with the issue of Jawi calligraphy. The pressure from Dong Zong further complicates the issue and some of that burden rest on Maszlee’s shoulder. He was also seen as weak in addressing national education policy matters and often bending over to DAP’s call.

To Save Image

The question is, will Maszlee be a scapegoat? Does he have to sacrifice to save the party’s image when the performance of most PH ministers is considered too bad by the people? Will there be more ministers and deputies who will resign?

For some, his action could save the country’s education system from getting worse so his resignation was appropriate.

According to the survey conducted by Malaysiakini, it seems that many ministers should resign because they, like Maszlee, have failed to record a good performance. In other words, a Cabinet reshuffle is inevitable.

So, who is Maszlee’s successor? One thing for sure is that successor must be a better person than Maszlee.

Dr Mahathir must ensure that, and if he must bring in a non-politician professional, like he did when he became the fourth prime minister, by roping in Tan Sri Musa Mohamad, that time a vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia, why not?

Of prime importance is the country’s education system regains some sense of respect in the academic world and one that is capable of bringing Malaysia on the road to a high income nation by 2030 — and beyond.