Replacements of political appointees must be qualified, with no strings attached

It was a case of deja vu for Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk upon learning that the government had axed political appointees in federal statutory bodies and government-linked corporations, effective immediately.

The decision was said to have been discussed during the Cabinet meeting yesterday. A directive signed by Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali, dated yesterday, was issued to the secretaries-general of government ministries.

“Announcing that political appointees would be terminated is one thing. We need to see what happens next,” said Azeem, director of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Policy Research and International Studies.

“If you recall, when Pakatan Harapan (PH) won in 2018, Tun (Dr) Mahathir Mohamad said the same thing. However, those who came in were ‘their people’.”

After PH won Malaysia’s 14th General Election in 2018, Dr Mahathir said the government would terminate the contracts of 17,000 political appointees who served in the previous administration.

“When PH collapsed in 2020, the same situation happened, and nothing much has changed since then. I do not see how it will change this time around.”

As the current government consists of several coalitions instead of being dominated by a single party, it may not have the political will to do what it wants.

“I am sure the officeholders and supporters want something in return for backing PH. That is the nature of horse-trading in politics,” said Azeem.

“Actions speak louder than words. I hope the government follows through on its promise, and appoint only those who are qualified, with no strings attached, to these jobs.”

He said the government should allow the board of directors to make the selection to ensure there is no political interference.

Azeem conceded that those appointed – qualified though they may be – may have close ties with political parties or a leader.

“What if we have highly qualified individuals who are members of a political party? Some would still see it as a political appointment,” he said.

“If you conflate a person’s position and qualification with politics, we will get an ambiguous picture.”

Azeem said the line between politics and business is blurred, and it is difficult to divorce one from the other. That is especially true for government-linked companies (GLCs).

“We also need to scrutinise the GLCs, see what they are doing and how they contribute to the country,” he added.

Separately, Azeem said political appointments were seen as “normal”, as the government would need the person appointed to GLCs to “play ball” and listen to its needs.

“We glorify the business world but even in non-GLCs, the person appointed to the top post, is almost always in favour of those in control of the company,” said Azeem.

“The business world is shrouded in secrecy, and ordinary folks do not have access to what is happening behind closed doors.”

Azeem said one way of avoiding this was to bring in outside talents from overseas, either a Malaysian or a foreigner.

However, if a foreigner is appointed, it might be seen as a snub of local talent.

“I sympathise with the government. Any appointment would be open to interpretation,” he added.