Yo bro, you need to buck up – big time

Syed Saddiq and Zakir Naik

It was a picture that irked many.

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman hosted controversial preacher Zakir Naik for dinner, took a picture with him and uploaded it on social media on Aug 24. He basically had urged Malaysians to forgive Zakir Naik and move on.

This came as an unpleasant surprise to many as the Muar MP had some 10 days earlier joined a chorus of voices demanding Zakir Naik be deported to India following the latter’s racial and religious comments. Those who are not in a forgiving mood include some of Syed Saddiq’s colleagues in the Cabinet.

This is the latest series of missteps by Malaysia’s youngest minister, who took the world by storm purely due to his age (he turns 27 on Dec 6) and poster-boy look.

Within the same week, his reasoning of getting more youths employed via Gojek got industry observers wondering if the Pulai-born has ever ridden a bike in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and other Southeast Asian nations to understand the complexity, characteristics and cultural differences on the road.

Also in question is the appointment of 13 Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) members which Syed Saddiq has yet to truly justify. In fact, in March this website had revealed two ranking PPBM members were brought in to head the ministry’s corporate communications department and to beef up the National Sports Council’s corporate communication department, raising eyebrows among those within Wisma KBS and NSC.

It is understood the 13 were appointed under the payroll of the NSC to oversee and ensure sports programmes and initiatives implemented at the federal level trickled to the respective states.

The 13 would then inform the minister and/or the ministry regarding the progress and challenges faced to paint a clearer picture at the state level.

Apparently, some states have not been “sports friendly” and as such development of sports there at all levels has been rather slow.

The appointment of such personnel, however, is not new as up until last year, the NSC had staff attached to the state high performance sports unit. They were tasked to monitor the progress of elite athletes and ensure directives and funding from NSC were used as intended.

But there are those within the ministry who agree such an appointment could be viewed as ethically wrong – further damaged by a picture showing Syed Saddiq enjoying a meal with those appointed at Bangsar earlier this month.

Syed Saddiq’s announcement of increasing the allowance for interns from RM300 to RM900 starting Sept 1 also caught those in other ministries and agencies off guard.

Given the current economic situation and the tightening of belts, ministries and government agencies will end up freezing or lowering the intake of interns. Offering RM500 per month or an hourly rate instead, as commonly practised, would have been a better solution. More importantly, the idea should have been discussed with all concerned to gain better insights.

For the record, the minimum basic salary of the lowest grade (N19 / S19) in the civil service is RM1,352, excluding allowances.

If Syed Saddiq wants to truly make a difference, perhaps he could start looking at the termination clause within the civil service. Speak to the decision makers of the various ministries and agencies and you will learn that it is challenging to terminate a non-performing civil servant where the same money could be better used elsewhere.

Then again, let’s be reminded that he is the Youth and Sports Minister, not the Prime Minister and neither Chief Secretary to the Government.

Then there was a simple exercise of introducing the Malaysian Sports Challenge which created an unnecessary uproar. It was only after the issue escalated that Syed Saddiq explained that the Malaysian Sports Challenge complemented Hari Sukan Negara. As to why an English name was used instead of Bahasa Malaysia, Syed Saddiq and his team could have easily diffused the situation by introducing a Bahasa Malaysia and English name from the start.

The maturity and experience, which is severely lacking, among those surrounding the minister is truly evident.

Syed Saddiq’s defenders will cry that the minister should not be judged so quickly. He has after all lowered the voting age to 18, empowering youths politically, and even opened the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil to all over the weekends – initiatives that will go a long way.

There may have been pockets of good ideas here and there. Sadly, that’s all.

Seen as Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s blue-eyed boy, Syed Saddiq is turning into a liability for the prime minister with his eagerness to please the boss. It has somewhat made him the new ‘Salleh Keruak’ or ‘Rahman Dahlan’ – Umno leaders of the past who were always quick and eager to defend former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak over everything and anything under the sun. Look how that turned out for the duo and their ‘boss’.

With the Manila SEA Games three months away and the Tokyo Olympics barely a year away, it remains to be seen if the minister has set any expectations for the elite athletes and their supporting teams. After all, millions in taxpayers’ money have been used to prepare the nation’s finest for these Games.

For now, the words “suram” (gloomy) and “uninspiring” have been used to describe the national sports scene.

If there was a ‘minister for all portfolios’, then Syed Saddiq would be the best man for the job based on his antics.

But he is not. He is trying hard to champion the welfare of the youths while struggling to understand the dynamics of Malaysian sports.

The country has been bruised repeatedly in recent months over racial and religious issues that have been politicised. Sports, as evident in the past, could have quickly healed such episodes and can teach the people, especially the younger generation, to be Malaysians.

And this is where the Youth and Sports Minister of Malaysia has disappointingly failed.