We must together chart a new way forward to save our beloved nation.
– Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim
The dust had hardly settled following the 15th general election (GE15) which resulted in the country’s first-ever hung parliament and the subsequent shuttling of emissaries from the Pakatan Harapan (PH) camp to get coalitions to form a unity government. And now Prime Minister and Pakatan chief Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has another no less easy task to complete, which is to form a Cabinet – not any Cabinet, but one which will be different from the previous ones as he promised in his election manifesto.
His pre-election pledge was to form a lean Cabinet, avoiding the usually bloated Cabinets of his predecessors, with some ministries having unnecessary two deputy ministers. Some of the previous ministries could have been merged into one to be effective and reduce costs.
Anwar has stated categorically that his forthcoming Cabinet appointments should not be seen as a reward for coalitions and individuals who backed him to form the unity government which was suggested by the King.
Anwar didn’t mince his words when he emphasised his commitment to stop the ‘rewarding culture’. “It’s not a reward for the political masters. I want them to support me for the policies I bring, my commitment against corruption, and to resuscitate the economy.”
He is expected to announce his Cabinet tomorrow if there is no last minute requests and appeals by individuals and parties to be included in the ‘lean Cabinet’.
Anwar heads a unity government made up of PH, Barisan Nasional (BN), Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS). He also has the support of Muda, Warisan and Parti Bangsa Malaysia (PBM) MPs as well as Independents.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister No. 10 has reiterated his pre-election pledge not to receive a salary and is talking about cutting his Cabinet members’ salaries. This move, though could raise eyebrows among ministers and their deputies, has gone down well with the ordinary people who view it as a measure to address the rising cost of living and to resolve the country’s economic problems.
The previous Cabinet before GE15 had 32 ministers and 38 deputy ministers. Oh gosh! Did we really need that many? Some may argue that since we have only a population of only 32 million or so, why the need for a fat Cabinet?
Potbellied ministers and deputies perhaps we can accept lah, just as we do have members who are small-built, some well-built, others hulky; and those who are physically attractive while others are average looking. We need these people to ‘add colour’ to the Cabinet. But the country can certainly do away with a bloated Cabinet.
Let’s take a look at past Cabinets since pre-Merdeka. Tunku Abdul Rahman’s first Cabinet from 1955-1957 comprised 17 ministers and deputy ministers.
His second Cabinet from 1959 included three new portfolios, and added three new ministerial posts without portfolios. The portfolio of Interior and Justice was split into two separate ministries.
By the time of his third Cabinet, an independent nation was emerging, and Tunku added three more new portfolios, including portfolios for Sabah and Sarawak Affairs.
By 1969, the Cabinet totalled 19 ministers and five assistant ministers.
Since 1970, 18 Cabinets had existed. Because space is limited I will just provide a quick rundown of the number of members in eight Cabinets.
Second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak’s second Cabinet from 1974-1976 had 21 ministers and 17 deputies for a total of 38 members.
The rest of the seven are:
- Tun Hussein Onn’s second Cabinet (1978-1981): 23 ministers, 23 deputies – total 66
- Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s sixth Cabinet (1999-2003): 27 ministers, 31 deputies – 58
- Tun Abdullah Badawi’s third Cabinet (2008-2009): 30 ministers, 37 deputies – 67
- Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s second Cabinet (2013-2018): 37 ministers, 34 deputies – 71
- Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s seventh Cabinet (2018-2020): 28 ministers, 26 deputies – 54
- Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s Cabinet (2020-2021): 30 ministers, 38 deputies – 68
- Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s Cabinet (2021-2022): 32 ministers, 38 deputies – 70
I do acknowledge that we are a growing population, therefore we can argue that we need more representatives to handle the growing nation. And we do have to accept the fact that we’ve grown politically as well – during Tunku’s first Cabinet, there were only 52 parliamentary constituencies. Now we have 222 and there are plans for a redelineation exercise to increase Sarawak and Sabah’s constituencies.
The question now is, which of the two kinds of growths – population or political – caused the Cabinet to grow to its current size?
For the answer I’ll quote a report in the June 21 2022 edition of the Cilisos portal: “Based on recent news, it might be the second one. Just a few months ago there was a political scuffle when Zuraida Kamaruddin, the Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, left Parti Pribumi Bersatu (PBM) to join Parti Bangsa Malaysia.
“An argument over who should take over her ministerial post ensued, because PBM insisted that the post belonged to the party under a quota. While this incident may not be representative of the actual situation, it suggested that at some levels, our ministers are appointed by their political affiliations rather than merit.”
The portal also provided a sort of disclaimer when it said: “We’re not qualified enough to say which ministerial position and their deputies are non-essential. However, one wonders if we need so many to get to where we are now.
“Perhaps if Malaysia excels at every portfolio that we come up with, there wouldn’t be about the size of the current Cabinet. But looking at the state we’re in, we wouldn’t disagree with all the people saying our Cabinet is bloated. The Cabinet size may be ‘optimum’, but the contents are another story.”
I end off by throwing my support behind the 10th prime minister for his leaner and meaner Cabinet to pull Malaysia out of the doldrums.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.