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A leaner cabinet under Najib? (Updated)

(Updated 10:47pm, 31 March 2009)

KUALA LUMPUR, 31 March 2009: Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who is set to take over the prime ministership from Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is expected to introduce a leaner cabinet, analysts said.

They said that a smaller cabinet would be more in tune with the current situation and in line with the new Umno president’s vision to have a line-up that is solid, efficient and with integrity.

They also expect several ministries to merge to address redundancy among agencies and create a better coordinated as well as efficient administrative machinery.

“With a smaller cabinet, wastage of resources can be avoided. The delivery system can also be improved further,” political analyst Associate Prof Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff told Bernama today.

Abdullah said last week that he would seek an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, on 2 April to convey his intention to step down as prime minister and pave the way for the leadership transition.

Apart from the prime minister and his deputy, there are 29 ministers in 27 ministries, including five in the Prime Minister’s Department.

Dr Mohammad Agus foresees that based on the current situation, Najib is expected to trim down the cabinet to between 20 and 24 ministries, which he said was the ideal size of the government.

Universiti Malaya’s media and communications lecturer Associate Prof Dr Abu Hassan Hasbullah said the cabinet could be restructured further, especially ministries in charge of media, communications and information technology.

“As it is, there is a overlap of functions involving several ministries,” he said, citing the creative industry as an example.

The industry is now being overseen among others, by the Filem Negara under the Information Ministry, Film Censorship Board (Home Ministry), National Film Development Corporation (Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry) and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (Energy, Water and Communications Ministry).

Dr Abu Hassan suggested that the Information Ministry be retained to take charge of the dissemination of government information, covering television and radio stations as well as the Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama).

A special ministry should be created, he said, to take charge of the multimedia and communications industry, including film development.

“The cabinet structure should be set up to reflect pragmatism in line with the current situation,” he said.

Players in the transportation industry echoed the sentiment, with Pan-Malaysia Bus Operators Association saying that at the moment, the sector was being looked after by 13 ministries.

“It is better to coordinate all these functions,” its president Datuk Mohamed Ashfar Ali said when contacted.

Veteran politician Tan Sri Abu Zahar Ujang said the prime minister had the prerogative to determine the cabinet size.

Saying that it would be of little use to have a large but inefficient cabinet, Abu Zahar said, the cabinet line-up would reflect Najib’s leadership style.

“This is the first thing which the people see and judge,” Abu Zahar said, adding that how people assess Najib’s cabinet would be reflective of their support toward Umno and Barisan Nasional.

In the Umno general assembly last week, six ministers lost in the contest for posts — one for the deputy presidency, three for the vice-presidencies and two for the supreme council seats.

They are Rural and Regional Development Minister Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib who contested for the deputy presidency, and Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin and Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim who contested for the vice-presidencies.

The two who lost in the contest for the supreme council seats are Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said and Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad.

Shahrir had said that he would resign from the post.

Dr Mohammad Agus said the choice of cabinet line-up would determine the country’s direction in the years to come before the people would again make their choice in the 13th general election.

“Cabinet appointment is not for the prime minister to seek popularity but to put in place leaders who are capable of carrying out the trust given by the people,” he said. — Bernama

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