Fate of FT Ministry unknown, but does it matter?

It may seem like business as usual at the Federal Territories Ministry in Putrajaya, the administrative capital of Malaysia.

However, those in the ministry are unclear as to what their future holds after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim did not name a Federal Territories Minister in his Cabinet line-up.

It is understood that the ministry, with some 300-odd staff, could be placed under the Prime Minister’s Department. Such a move may pose multiple challenges – redundancies and duplication of roles.

“We still liaise with the agencies under us. But we have not been informed exactly where we will be placed,” said an officer within the ministry, who requested anonymity.

“There is no honeymoon period and we have been instructed by the ministry’s secretary-general to function as usual. But we do not have any programmes on the ground, as we do not have a minister,” the staff added.

Several agencies fall under the purview of the FT Ministry. They include Kuala Lumpur City Hall, Putrajaya Corporation, Labuan Corporation, the Federal Territories Lands and Mines Office, and the Federal Territories Sports Council.

A spokesman from the Prime Minister’s Department told Twentytwo13 this afternoon that there has been no directive from the higher-ups, or if the ministry would be placed under it.

Sources, however, said that if it does happen, the ministry would merely act as a coordinator among the agencies under its jurisdiction.

“You will probably see its deputy secretary-general playing the role of coordinator. The role of the ministry’s secretary-general could also be made redundant as the chief secretary to the government is already in the Prime Minister’s Department.

“There will also be a lot of redundancies, as there are already existing units under the department. The duplication of roles must be looked into,” a source who is familiar with the ministry’s inner workings added.

Right step forward?

Former Kuala Lumpur mayor, Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail said the decision not to have an FT Ministry could be Anwar’s way of trimming the fat off of the public service.

“But the running of the agencies under the ministry will remain,” said Ahmad Fuad.

“While the ministry existed previously, there was also a time when it was abolished and placed under the Prime Minister’s Department. So, this is not something new,” he added.

Ahmad Fuad, who served as mayor between 2008 and 2012, said this would mean that the heads of agencies currently under the FT Ministry could report directly to the prime minister.

This was how Tan Sri Elyas Omar, who was Kuala Lumpur’s third and longest-serving mayor, functioned.

“Elyas reported directly to (Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad). But now, you have Labuan Corporation and Putrajaya Corporation.

“This means the heads of these agencies must be present during post-Cabinet meetings and answer directly to the prime minister. They must be hands-on,” he added.

History of FT Ministry

First established in 1979, the FT Ministry functioned as a planning and development coordinator for Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley.

In 1987, the Federal Territories Development Division, which was under the Prime Minister’s Department, took over the role of the FT Ministry. The abolition of the ministry saw the FT Lands and Mines Department and FT Religious Department being placed under the PM’s Department.

The FT Ministry was revived in 2004 by then prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The ministry’s main function was to oversee the progress of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, and Labuan.

In 2009, the jurisdiction and function of the ministry was expanded to include the eradication of urban poverty and to carry out wellbeing programmes in cities.

In 2013, the Local Government and Housing Ministry took over the role of carrying out nationwide wellbeing development programmes. The role of the FT Ministry was then directed to planning, development, and wellbeing in the federal territories.

The jurisdiction of the ministry was widened in 2019. This saw three agencies, namely the Department of Town and Country Planning (PLANMalaysia), National Landscape Department, and Federal Territories Lands and Mines Department, falling under its purview.

In 2020, the functions of PLANMalaysia and the National Landscape Department were returned to the Housing and Local Government Ministry.

A redundant ministry?

Stakeholders, including rate payers have, for years, described the FT Ministry as “redundant” due to its overlapping roles with many other ministries and agencies.

While the ministry oversees policy matters in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, and Labuan, the focus has always been on the nation’s capital. This is because Putrajaya is too small, while its role in Labuan is not significant.

While laws prescribe that the mayor of Kuala Lumpur administers the municipal duties of the nation’s capital city, the FT Minister may give the mayor directions on policies, and the mayor shall give effect to all such directions.

Despite wide powers, the mayor remains subservient to the FT Minister, with some arguing that the KL mayor sometimes ends up being a ‘puppet’ of the FT Minister.

This means the mayor does not have the final say on matters concerning development, housing, licencing, and even billboard applications in the city. Even land matters come under the purview of the minister.

Previously, the ministry – through its welfare arm Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan – took the role of the city council and mayor even further, as it was involved in housing, billboard, as well as parking management matters in the city.

Critics argued that the ministry should formulate policies, including on development, traffic, and floods. Yet, nothing much ever comes out of it.

The scrapping of the ministry could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. This would allow the decision-makers to re-examine its true purpose and goals, en route to creating better and sustainable federal territories.