Herculean task awaits PM’s Cabinet


PRIME Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (picture; left) and his newly appointed Cabinet members are expected to hit the ground running to ensure the country’s recovery is on track, while keeping politicking at bay.

Despite largely being a recycled minister line-up from the collapsed Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, the people have high expectations that Ismail Sabri and his team would right what was wrong and improve policies and strategies of the previous administration.

KRA Group strategy director Amir Fareed Rahim said Ismail Sabri’s team has their work cut out for them.

“The twin crises of health and economy must continue to be addressed immediately.

“There is simply no honeymoon, and there can be no business as usual,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

With the core economic team in the Cabinet retained, Amir Fareed said there would be policy continuity and consistency, which is positive for investors looking into regulatory risks.

Malaysia has rolled out eight aid and economic stimulus packages worth RM530 billion since March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country.

“The economy is on track for recovery but given the enormous challenge ahead, especially for the economy as we are staring at a long and painful recovery, the government must not be afraid to pursue new bold ideas for the nation’s best interest,” Amir Fareed said.

As of Aug 28, of all the states and territories, only Labuan is in Phase 4 of the National Recovery Plan whereby transmissions are contained, adequate system capacity and high vaccination rates are achieved.

Ismail Sabri said the Cabinet would possess a high-performance work culture as he seeks to conduct appraisals for every ministry in the first 100 days.

As it is, the most critical ministries to deal with the pandemic — Finance; International Trade and Industry; Defence; Health; and Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti) — are helmed by the same faces as during the PN administration, except for a switch between Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba and Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar for their new portfolio at Mosti and Health respectively.

“In terms of political risk, the Opposition has agreed to help in cooling down the political temperature in support of the wider ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ (Malaysian Family) framework as per the meeting with the PM recently.

“They will have to prove it in the months to come and on the Parliament floor, especially in supporting Budget 2022,” Amir Fareed said.

By striking and potentially formalising a deal with the Opposition parties, he added that stability could be achieved, and this would be good for investor confidence.

Ismail Sabri’s team is the same size as his predecessor Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration, with 70 headcounts including the PM post, which was heavily criticised as a “bloated Cabinet”.

“The lack of fresh faces is alarming,” Amir Fareed said, “but hopefully there will be no lack of fresh ideas in the Cabinet.”

Given the nature of coalition politics, especially one with a small majority, he said it is understandable that the PM would need to play a delicate balance between promoting competency, rewarding loyalty, acknowledging seniority and mediating the competing interests of his political allies.

“It is a safe Cabinet line-up for Ismail Sabri, given the tough political terrain that he is navigating, being a PM who is not a president of a political party,” he said.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Assoc Prof Dr Azmi Hassan said most importantly is for the government to demonstrate that they are a stable unit and the parties within the administration need to show that they would support the PM.

“The Cabinet is all of the same ministers, but the leadership is very important to give direction. One of the critical directions is that the PM wants to evaluate the performance of each minister within 100 days.

“Each minister would need to present their key performance indicators, what they want to do, their visions, objectives and how they would achieve them,” Azmi told TMR.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia senior lecturer (political study) Dr Mazlan Ali said political truce between the PM and Pakatan Harapan, led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, would boost confidence among investors and outsiders in general.

In turn, this would pave a more straightforward path for Ismail Sabri and the Cabinet to execute their plans to bring the country out of the crises without major political disruptions until the next general election.

The PM has pledged that the new Cabinet would be more open and in tune with the national aspiration through more efficient service delivery and information.

The government, as some still argue, is just PN 2.0. Therefore, Ismail Sabri and all his 69 ministers and deputy ministers are bound to prove their worth for the nation.