First 2020 Cabinet meeting to discuss reshuffle after Maszlee’s resignation

Other issues on the agenda may include a decision on the winning bid for PLUS and the new concessionaire for govt’s vehicle fleet

by ASILA JALIL/ pic by BERNAMA

Dr Mahathir had consistently dismissed talks of a reshuffle and defended his ministers every time the question was asked. – pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

VARIOUS topics surrounding Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) governance made headlines last year, but one issue often highlighted is the Cabinet reshuffle, which is expected to be discussed today as the year’s first Cabinet meeting kicks off.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had consistently dismissed talks of a reshuffle and defended his ministers every time the question was asked, despite the public’s criticisms on the performance of the 19-month-old government.

However, in November last year, the PM finally revealed that possible changes to the Cabinet may take place before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders 2020 Summit, which Malaysia will host.

He touched on the topic following PH’s defeat in the Tanjung Piai by-election on Nov 16. PH candidate Karmaine Sardini lost by a majority of 15,068 votes to Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng, far surpassing Dr Mahathir’s expectation of just about a 2,000-vote defeat.

The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently reported that a Cabinet reshuffle is imminent this month as discussions involving various stakeholders including PH component parties are believed to be ongoing.

PH is made up of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, PKR, DAP and Parti Amanah Nasional, and is also partnered by Parti Warisan Sabah.

Besides a Cabinet reshuffle, here are various other issues that might be explored by the ministers today.

Maszlee’s Replacement

Talks of a Cabinet reshuffle resurfaced after Dr Maszlee Malik’s abrupt resignation as the education minister on Jan 3. Maszlee, who is also the Simpang Renggam MP, said his resignation was under the advice of the PM after meeting the latter the day before.

His replacement is yet to be announced but a few names have cropped up almost immediately following Maszlee’s resignation.

There were talks that the former International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad may return to the Cabinet to helm the portfolio.

Mustapa was the higher education minister from 2006 to 2008. The Jeli MP defected from Umno after the 14th General Election and joined Bersatu on Oct 27, 2018.

He, however, dismissed suggestions that we would take over the role.

Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir and Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah were also speculated to be Maszlee’s replacement.

Both individuals have also dismissed the speculations.

Govt Fleet Vehicle

Spanco Sdn Bhd’s concession on the government’s vehicle fleet came to an end in December last year after solely managing it for the last 25 years.

The New Straits Times reported that Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail had confirmed that the government is amid appointing a company which could supply vehicles for ministers and senior government officials.

Media reports have also stated that seven companies have placed their bid for the fleet management contract. The new 15-year concession involves 12,500 vehicles with an estimated value of RM300 million annually in management fees after the fifth year.

Among the names that are running for the contract are Spanco, Naza Group of Cos-Berjaya Bhd Consortium, DRB-Hicom Bhd and Sime Darby Bhd.

PLUS Malaysia

The Cabinet is also expected to reach a decision on PLUS Malaysia Bhd. Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said last week that further delays on the decision will add on to the government’s massive compensation charges.

The government currently has RM972.5 million in compensation payments following its move to freeze toll hikes at 21 highways last year.

Khazanah Nasional Bhd is currently the biggest shareholder in PLUS with a 51% stake, while the remaining 49% stake is held by the Employees Provident Fund.

PLUS has four bidders to date and they are — Tan Sri Halim Saad, construction company Widad Business Group Sdn Bhd, equity firm RJJ Capital and conglomerate Maju Holdings Sdn Bhd. Khazanah had also proposed to purchase PLUS.

Critical Allowance for Doctors

Another issue that was highly debated towards the end of last year was the Public Service Department’s (JPA) decision to slash the critical service allowance for doctors, nurses, engineers and other professionals who joined the civil service this year.

JPA said the decision was made after a thorough review mandated by the Government Remuneration System which was introduced in 1992.

The decision received wide criticism from industry players and various Cabinet members.

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman voiced his disagreement with the decision and further discussed the issue with Dr Mahathir, which led to the postponement of the allowance withdrawal.

Syed Saddiq also said the matter will be brought up in the next Cabinet meeting.

Khazanah Nasional

Issues pertaining to Khazanah had been widely reported due to its asset disposals with an aim to repay its maturing debts, as well as for new investment.

In October, Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali said Khazanah had divested assets totalling to RM18.8 billion between May 2018 and June last year as the government is pushing the fund to pare down its debt which reached about RM55 billion last year.

There were also talks on the sale of Khazanah’s Malaysia Airlines Bhd. It is reported that the national carrier is losing an average of RM100 million a month.

Dr Mahathir had said he is willing to consider selling the carrier if a good offer comes along.