HERE’S what I want to know: why was Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein appointed to the cabinet, and why is he still a minister despite an appalling track record of saying and doing the wrong things?
Hishammuddin’s statements as Home Minister since he was sworn into Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration in April 2009, betray either how clueless or disrespectful he is about human rights, democratic principles and gender equality.
Examples abound. Most notably:
Hishammuddin famously said he was “thankful” that no “serious incidents” occurred in Perak on 7 May 2009 despite police action in arresting scores of people, including elected representatives, and the unlawful imprisonment of Perak Speaker V Sivakumar.
He also famously declared that lawyers were not above the law in justifying the arrest of five legal aid lawyers who were trying to represent their clients who had been arrested at the Brickfields police station on the night of 7 May 2009. It wasn’t just the Bar Council who was outraged, even the MCA was appalled at the arrest of lawyers who were merely doing their job. But Hishammuddin still found it fit to defend such police action.
Of course, the starkest example of the kind of minister Hishammuddin is was demonstrated when he not only welcomed the Shah Alam cow-head protestors, he also defended them. With Hishammuddin’s powerful and public legitimisation of bigotry and the threat of violence against Hindus in Malaysia, I reckon that Hishammuddin’s behaviour was far more shameful than the protestors’. After all, his is a public office paid for by all tax-paying Malaysians to protect the nation’s, and not some thugs’, interest.
And most recently, Hishammuddin demonstrated a total lack of gender awareness when he declared that Section 498 of the Penal Code was here to stay. His statement in Parliament also reminds us that actually, Hishammuddin, a lawyer by training, has no understanding of Malaysia’s commitments under international law. In this case, it would be the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women or Cedaw, which Malaysia signed in 1995.
What do these gaffes by Hishammuddin tell us? Clearly, he’s an incompetent minister who seems intent on defending the police force for their disregard of human rights and for their inefficiencies.
After all, the Home Ministry‘s mission statement, according to its website, is the “administration of internal security matters in ensuring peace and wellbeing of the people”. How can a minister entrusted with this defend police incompetence and the threat of violence by non-state actors such as the cow-head protestors?
Also, what is Hishammuddin doing about the sheer incompetence of the Sarawak police force? Why has no action been taken against the police in Sarawak for its sloppy investigations into the rape of Penan girls and women despite a government task force report finding evidence of the rapes? Already, the Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) has reported yet another rape in a primary school in the interiors of Sarawak where a teacher is a suspect.
As SWWS points out: “… the lesson for society to learn is that rape happens in the interior and will continue to happen until people who commit this crime know they are going to be found out and held to account for their actions.”
But with Hishammuddin so busy defending the police force for its incompetence and lack of respect for human rights and democratic principles, will those who threaten the “peace and wellbeing of the people” ever be taken to task?
I’d be curious to know what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will eventually be put in place for the Home Ministry. And if these KPIs are drawn up intelligently and fairly, I’ll be willing to wager that Hishammuddin is more likely to fail in meeting his KPIs than succeed.
Even so, will Hishammuddin be retained? That would really be a measure of whether Najib is serious about meeting his own KPIs as the nation’s chief executive officer.
See, the problem with Hishammuddin being a minister isn’t who he is per se. The problem with Hishammuddin is that the selection process of cabinet ministers is governed by political patronage.
On 13 Nov 2009, theSun ran a translation of the Chinese language press reports that quoted Najib as squashing rumours about an impending cabinet reshuffle involving MCA leaders. The Chinese press had speculated that MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat would ask for vice-president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai to be removed as Health Minister because of the fighting between both men.
We all know that such a scenario is entirely possible. After all, by convention, the leaders of the main Barisan Nasional component parties have always been given cabinet positions.
In Hishammuddin’s case, it would not be surprising if he was appointed to a powerful cabinet portfolio because he is Umno vice-president. Not only that, he is also Najib’s cousin and the son of a former prime minister, Tun Hussein Onn.
This begs the question: who merits being appointed to cabinet positions in this country? Surely, if we are to achieve all the development goals that our prime ministers have been so fond of announcing, what we need are appointments based on meritocracy. Not political patronage nor family ties nor positions within a party.
For all intents and purposes, Hishammuddin should step down for his dismal and embarrassing performance as minister. And if he doesn’t have the integrity to do so, he should be sacked. Neither is likely to happen, of course. But I would be happy to be proven wrong.
Jacqueline Ann Surin can’t believe how little shame, intelligence and integrity some cabinet ministers in Malaysia have.
Read previous Shape of a Pocket columns
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