By Abdul Kadir Yusof
The damage caused by senior politicians like Tun Mahathir & Tun Daim would have not been possible without the help of able & willing civil senior servants. These government officials were at the beck and call of the political apparatus.
When Tun Dr Mahathir appointed Dr Muhammed Khalid as his Economic Advisor in 2018, many eyebrows were raised. But then again in Malaysia where there is a cosy relationship between businessmen and politicians, and where anything is possible. Dr Muhammed seemingly appeared out of nowhere, after experiencing a series of fast track promotions.
Upon earning his PhD, he was at IKMAS UKM, ISIS Malaysia, Securities Commission Malaysia, Khazanah Research Institute, amongst others, each stint lasting around 2 years. In retrospect, he must have been a genius or was he very well connected or probably he couldn’t get along with his colleagues?
Interestingly he only talks about Income and Wealth Inequality, but next to nothing about Trade and Investment Policy or Industrial Policy for example.
So much so that he sounded like a broken record! But how could the gains of Economic growth be redistributed, if the Economy didn’t grow in the first place?
In fact there is an uncanny resemblance of Dr Muhammed to the comedian Radzi Khalid (aka Abdullah in Spanar Jaya). Actually Dr Muhammed’s antics does make him a comedian at times. Are these two men are actually related?
Being the brother in law of Daim Zainuddin does grease the wheels, especially when you are not apt in doing business, but bold enough to be a confident talker.
All you need are willing retired civil servants who want to be in the good books of these powerful people. Had it not been for them, it would have been a colossal task for Dr Muhammed to obtain vital socioeconomic data which were scattered all over the place.
During the Asian Financial Crisis one Sulaiman Mahbub was removed from the National Economic Action Council, he retired as Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Secretary General in 2004.
Not long after in 2006, he was appointed as the Director General of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), something highly unusual as a retired PTD officer was made to head EPU.
Sulaiman’s long term desire was to be close to Daim, and this opportunity came to him through Daim’s brother in law.
Arguably Dr Muhammed’s works remains merely an academic exercise, as he is now living the life of a successful bourgeois. Fancy that he is the chairman of a prosperous company? So what then is his contribution to the country?
Aside from making alarming statements, ruffling feathers, but did he do wonders for the economy? Did he reinvigorate our Industrial Policy or Trade Policy or synchronise between the 2 policies for example? What about the maverick Sulaiman Mahbub who is very well connected?
His numerous stunts are too many to list. For example, with his blessings a think tank actually tried to bid for the third car (national) project, likewise the institute hired foreign nationals as their key research personnel.
While during his tenure at the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE), Malaysia saw foreign direct investment (FDI) dry up.
Prompting some to suggest that MATRADE be renamed as Mari-Trade! Sulaiman demonstrated his epic story telling skills ( Kathanika ) when he was the now defunct National Recovery Council (NRC). Everyone was taken for a ride, and especially even the then Prime Minister Muhyiddin.
By many accounts, the NRC was a waste of taxpayers money and failed miserably. So what actually is his legacy? Only the people of Pagoh, Pontian and Batu Pahat would know. Could it be the delicious biryani and the mouthwatering nasi kandar served at Lucky Garden Bangsar?
Sulaiman is known to be fond of frequenting exquisite nasi kandar and biryani eateries. It is rumoured that Sulaiman routinely chews betel while watching old classic films with his associates.
However, his attempt to be the graceful young brother ( aka Nallathambi ) of senior politicians and corporate figures didn’t work out quite well.
At best, he is a capable jester who could entertain those in the driver’s seat. However publicly he projects the image of a learned and pious man.
Enabling him to be in contact with those who are genuinely pursuing the Malay cause.
What about the other retired civil servants who are very well connected?
For Malaysia to move forward, we need to be careful about appointing the right people to the right job. Otherwise they might not add much value to the organisation or country. Instead we should reappoint hardworking and genuine people, who really made contributions.
Unfortunately they are usually sidelined by those same underperforming people who claim that these people are a spent force! This, in addition to the obsession of having paper qualifications, especially a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree, even though it may be from non Ivy League Universities. Whatever it maybe, it is no substitute for common sense and sagacity.
Ultimately it is the politicians who promote such characters, for reasons best known to them. Maybe they went to the same school or were course mates in university. Whatever the reason maybe, the country is deprived of the right people doing the right thing.
This is bad because it also prevents the right people from realising their true potential while wasting the potential of retired people who truly deserve to be made to serve the country again.
Once upon a time in Malaysia, politicians heeded the advice from a professional Civil Service. However, subsequently, the civil service was destroyed, and civil servants started taking orders from politicians. What we are seeing now emanates from this generation of incompetent civil servants.
The civil service needs to be revitalised urgently and only the crème de la crème ought to be hired.
This is Malaysia and unfortunately strange things still do happen, like the curious case of the Prime Minister’s economic adviser and his retired civil servant mentor.