The recent disclosure that Nurul Izzah Anwar, a former Pakatan Harapan MP who failed to defend her seat in last year’s general election, was appointed as a senior economics and finance adviser on 4 January, allegedly by her father, who is the PM and finance minister, raises serious issues about the practice of political appointments by the new PH-led coalition government.
Will the abuse, process and bad practices of political appointments under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim remain the same as was previously done by the Barisan Nasional and Perikatan Nasional governments, despite talk of good governance and promised real changes and reform including transparency and accountability.
Political appointments have been known to be abused by governments as a means to secure and maintain support of MPs – whether from within one’s own party (or political coalition) or otherwise – for one to be able to continue as prime minister or to hold on to executive power in government. This use of ‘political appointments’ ought to be considered a form of corrupt practice.
Political appointments have also been abused by the appointment of one’s own family members, party members and friends to positions that inevitably can enable financial gain for the appointees and powers.
Political appointments have also been abused to undermine democracy, by the denial of the people’s right to democratically elect their community leaders, local government and even senators in Malaysia.
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A political appointee is more likely to act in line with the will of the political appointer, rather than for the interest and good of the people and communities.
People’s participation and decision-making powers can be stolen by such political appointees who make decisions on their own without any real consultation with and participation of the people.
Appointment of daughter
In the appointment of Nurul Izzah, there is still a lack of transparency in the selection and appointment process. Did it even follow the principles behind the demands for open tenders, as apposed to direct appointments?
The fact that this appointment, which allegedly happened on 4 January, was kept secret, only to come to light when Nurul Izzah herself disclosed it in a recent media interview several weeks later, does not augur well for the prime minister and the cabinet, as it lacks transparency. Any such information should have been disclosed to the public immediately.
The prime minister has absolute discretion in the appointment of cabinet members, as stated in the Federal Constitution, but [that discretion] does not extend to the appointment of others to government positions. The executive power lies with the cabinet not the prime minister, save when the laws provide specifically that a particular discretion can be exercised solely by the prime minister, minister or some other person.
There is a need to disclose whether the appointment of Nurul Izzah was done by the prime minister, finance minister or some other person. It is best practice that the people are informed which law was relied on in the appointment of Nurul Izzah or any other political appointee. The names of the political appointee, the law relied on, and the amount of salary and allowance that the appointee will receive must be disclosed.
UN documents like the UN Guide for Anti-Corruption Policies state that “generally, favouritism, nepotism and clientelism involve abuses of discretion. Such abuses, however, are governed not by the self-interest of an official but the interests of someone linked to him or her through membership of a family, political party, tribe, religious or other group”.
In hiring “a relative, he or she acts in exchange for the less tangible benefit of advancing the interests of family or the specific relative involved (nepotism)….”
As such, Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) takes the position that the appointment of Nurul Izzah by her father is clearly nepotism and can be perceived as an abuse of power. Even if it was done pursuant to a power explicitly provided by law, it may still be an abuse of discretion contrary to the principles of good governance.
Nurul Izzah’s qualification to be Anwar’s senior economics and finance adviser may not be the issue. Were other qualified persons like academics, proven business personalities and others even considered?
In political appointments to positions in government or government agencies, certain matters need to be considered:
- Legal basis for the appointments – What law allows for the appointment of say Nurul Izzah or other political appointees to government positions? It is absurd to say that a prime minister or a minister can simply appoint anyone for any position as he or she pleases, as it is simply not right
- Liability for actions or omissions of political appointees – With ‘power’ that comes with the appointment, the question that follows is whether the appointee will also be personally liable for actions or omissions especially those that cause damages or loss to Malaysia or others? Can [the political appointees] be sued? Will the appointing minister and the government of Malaysia be vicariously liable?
- Public officers or not – It must be made clear whether Nurul Izzah and others appointed by ministers or the government … are public officers or not? Will they also be subject to the Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) 1993 regulations? Who does Nurul Izzah and other such political appointees report to – to the prime minister, the finance minister, the cabinet or Parliament?
- Financial implications – Even though Nurul Izzah may not be paid an allowance or salary in the carrying out of her duties, the government will inevitably expend money and resources. Will this money come from a ministry’s budget or the government’s budget?
- Employment or appointment contracts – Will the services of political appointees immediately end when the particular minister or government that appointed them cease to hold power? Or will Malaysia be liable to pay termination benefits or compensation or damages for early termination of contracts? This is a concern for the people, more so when sometimes some of these political appointees may be employed with rather high salaries and with fixed term contracts
On 14 December the Malaysian cabinet decided that chairpersons and directors on the boards of federal statutory bodies, Ministry of Finance (Inc) companies, government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies who were political appointments would be terminated effective immediately.
All political appointees and directors in such bodies and companies had their services terminated. How much did Malaysia have to pay them when the services of these ‘political appointees’ were terminated?
There was hope that reforms, including possibly the end of the appointment of politicians, would be put placed before any new appointments were done. Unfortunately, there has been almost silence after the termination exercise of political appointees. Have new persons been appointed secretly?
One concern about political appointees is the question of the qualification and competency of these appointees. The appointment of the ‘wrong’ persons can lead to abuse of power and loss of the people’s money.
Sadly, some appointees may focus on enriching themselves or their ‘friends’, and it can result in the poor performances of government agencies or government-linked companies. Felda, the pilgrims fund board Tabung Haji, Malaysia Airlines, 1MDB and SRC International are examples where political appointees may have brought about losses or failures.
In 2019 it was highlighted how Malaysian government-linked firms had on average underperformed their private sector counterparts over the last 10 years. “The data is very clear; total returns – share price and dividends – of non-GLCs [government-linked companies] are about five times greater than GLCs over a 10-year period,” said a panel member at a forum.
On 24 January the Perak state government announced the shutdown of 27 of its subsidiaries identified as non-performing and burdensome to save costs. Menteri Besar Saarani Mohamad was reported as saying that the Perak State Development Corporation subsidiaries affected by the closure were were not carrying out business activities and had failed to contribute fo the state government.
Will Prime Minister Anwar and the federal government also take drastic needed action as was done in Perak? Will the political appointees (or the ministers responsible for the appointments) who caused or contributed to these failures and losses be held personally accountable and liable?
Anwar had previously lamented about the very high wages and allowances paid out to political appointees, sometimes even higher that allowances for MPs. Will the new government legislate on the maximum remuneration and matters related?
Even after 1MDB and SRC, it seems that many politically appointed directors have yet be made liable. Sometimes, these political appointments are simply about benefits and power, with no responsibility for failures and losses caused.
Reforms are most needed, and it best be made clear by means of laws – and not left to the uncertain discretionary powers of ministers.
Parliament also should play its role in monitoring political appointments by the executive branch of government. Will Parliament, or the relevant parliamentary select committee investigate the appointment of Nurul Izzah and other political appointees of this PH-led coalition government?
Madpet also calls for the end of political appointments of kampung, kampung baru, kampung orang asli and community leaders. These leaders and people’s representative must be democratically elected by the people. The people’s right to democratically elect their own local government and even senators must happen.
Madpet calls for real reform in the political appointment process: the selection and appointments must be done without any discrimination by an independent body preferably – and not left to the sole discretion of the prime minister or minister. Nepotism must be avoided.
Madpet urges the Malaysian human rights commission Suhakam to investigate the nepotistic appointment of Nurul Izzah by her father, as such abuse of power or discretion directly impairs on the rights of all Malaysians.
Suhakam could also provide recommendations for best practices in good governance on when and how such appointments can or ought to be done in a transparent, accountable and non-corrupt manner. – Madpet