Has reformist Anwar just scored an own goal, lost it big this time?

SINCE becoming Prime Minister (PM) two months ago, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been saying all the right things – such as promoting good governance and democratic institutions, getting rid of corruption, nepotism, cronyism, political appointments – to reform this ailing nation of 60 years.

He even said ministers and deputy ministers cannot make political appointments for their own office except from existing civil service.

But the appointment of his daughter Nurul Izzah as his senior finance and economics advisor, has did that all in. It came as a lightning bolt from an eerie darkening cloud that has suddenly enveloped Anwar.

It seems Anwar talks about all the right things but does the direct opposite.

Dr Raman Letchumanan

The reaction from the rakyat – except from those connected – has been furious. The opposition is elated and having a field time poking fun at him. Even those within the fragile unity government are wondering whether Anwar has scored his own goal so soon.

In defending him, his supporters are justifying the appointment, citing the nepotism and cronyism in appointments of previous leaders. Wasn’t that Anwar vowed to eradicate from day one?

I am offering my views here as a former senior civil servant in the administrative and diplomatic service – and being qualified in finance and economics – as a professional chartered accountant and having a PhD related to economics.

As with a consultant or similar capacity, the position of an advisor requires specialist knowledge and years of on-the-job experience. Even if eminently qualified, advisors/consultants are only appointed if there no expertise in-house that requires outside intervention.

Excessive authority

The Finance Ministry should know – since they accredit qualified professionals – consultants and companies. Does the Finance Ministry itself now lack such talent where only the top qualified people are appointed?

In any job application, the first ones to be weeded out are those connected with the top management unless it is a family business. That becomes even more critical especially in the all-important Finance Ministry. How could Anwar appoint his daughter Nurul Izzah all by himself without any due process? Was this decided over breakfast?

According to professional misconduct and ethics, it is wrong to offer any advice for which a professional accreditation is required such as accountants, auditors, financial planners, lawyers and medical doctors. Here, it seems unaccredited Nurul Izzah will advise accredited professionals in the Finance Ministry.

Anwar said he doesn’t require a finance degree to do his job previously and now. There is a saying, an engineer can do a manager’s job, but a manager cannot do an engineer’s job. That is why a competent civil service with the right qualifications is put in place to advise the executive on how to do their managerial job.

Apart from professional violation, it is wrong in contract law and employment law to employ someone without consideration.

The United Nations (UN) pays one dollar each for volunteers to legitimise the employment. In any case, please don’t make a mockery that we taxpayers cannot afford someone to provide much needed services when we are already shouldering a bloated 1.6 million civil servants.

To me, this free service seems to be a ridiculous attempt to justify Nurul Izzah’s appointment. And why keep it secret for one month?

Will Nurul Izzah have her own office staffed with her own officers? What is her job scope? Will she be involved in advising and monitoring the treasury officials’ work, chairing meetings and making decisions? Will she have access to official secrets and internal dealings?

Or will Nurul Izzah only advice Anwar offering her opinions or second opinions which may not be in line with the civil servants? In all aspects, it seems that Nurul Izzah will be running the Finance Ministry especially with Anwar being extremely busy as PM.

She will be the most important person between the minister/deputy ministers and the top civil servants with a direct link to Anwar in office and at home. Of course, there may be duplication with the economy minister. Anwar needs to clarify her role and put it in writing.

Self-reflection necessary

This appointment will continue to haunt Anwar, more so causing great confusion among civil servants and other ministries.

Based on the experience of the government’s charity arm, BAKTI and PUSPANITA, spouses of ministers and top civil servants enjoy priority service from the civil servants over their official work. Of course, the curry favour culture will be amply demonstrated. Treasury officials will pay homage to Nurul Izzah even if her duties prohibit that.

And it will be a classic repeat of nepotism and cronyism pervading the whole administration and civil service in this reformist government.

After a hard-won fight in the 15th General Election (GE15) and with the wisdom of the Rulers, Anwar became Malaysia’s 10th PM. Looking at social media comments, most are having second thoughts about Anwar, whether he is a true reformist he promised to be.

He is certainly alienating the urban, educated and informed class who were solidly behind him. And he seems to be handing over in a silver platter his government to the much-despised opposition.

On wonders if Nurul Izzah’s appointment is worth all this risk especially when it is even smearing all her good deeds. Why get into an unnecessary public acrimony over a small unnecessary matter? Why subject your voters and supporters to this agony?

If Anwar wants Nurul Izzah to have something worthwhile to do after she was toppled in Anwar’s very own fortress of Permatang Pauh during GE15, why not appoint her to a foundation or government-linked enterprise that assists the people with full pay? Call it Malaysia Madani Foundation. Nurul Izzah is best suited for that role.

My appeal to Anwar is please let go of this appointment immediately! And my appeal to Nurul Izzah is to please withdraw from this appointment if you really want PM Anwar to remain in office – and to fight the real enemies of the nation. – Jan 31, 2023


Raman Letchumanan PhD, is a former Senior Fellow at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, a former director at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, and a former head of environment/disaster management at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. Contact: [email protected].

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.


Main pic credit: MStar

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