By Abdul Haris Nasution

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Since the 14th General Election (GE14), Malaysia has witnessed a whirlwind of transformative changes, with the nation eagerly anticipating the fulfillment of Pakatan Harapan’s ambitious election promises. Among the most intriguing initiatives is the establishment of the Council of Eminent Persons, a collective of distinguished Malaysians whose expertise and service to the nation are poised to steer the country towards a brighter future.
The Council, composed of seasoned professionals and former public servants, is tasked with providing insightful recommendations on the economy, institutional reforms, and a spectrum of policy matters. Despite being retired, these experts represent a reservoir of wisdom and experience that Malaysia can ill afford to ignore. Their inclusion in the Council ensures that their invaluable insights continue to benefit the nation.
This initiative is a commendable move, creating a platform for these luminaries to contribute meaningfully to the country’s progress. Alongside this Council, Malaysia boasts a diverse array of think tanks, each playing a crucial role in shaping public discourse and policy. Universities have established some, while others have been initiated by non-governmental organizations. 
Foremost among these is the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), renowned for its comprehensive analyses and policy recommendations. The Academy of Sciences Malaysia, a venerable institution with over two decades of history, stands out as a leading advisory group on scientific matters. Meanwhile, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) has also emerged as a significant player, influencing policy with its well-researched positions.
Globally, think tanks are cherished as fountains of innovative ideas essential for national development. They offer strategies to boost the economy, foster science and innovation, and sustain social integration. However, their effectiveness hinges on their independence, objectivity, and freedom from political interference. It is crucial that their perspectives are not stifled simply because they challenge the status quo. Indeed, the greatest ideas in history often stem from dissenting views, underscoring the importance of nurturing critical thinking from an early age. Incorporating “think tanking” lessons into the school curriculum could cultivate a generation adept at ideation and analysis.
As Malaysia navigates this new era, the academic community has particularly welcomed the government’s pledge to revive academic freedom in universities. Will there be a repeal of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, or at least the removal of its restrictive provisions? Certainly this would herald a new dawn for intellectual freedom. 
Research and development (R&D) remain pivotal in an innovation-driven global economy, extending beyond technological advancements to encompass knowledge development for informed policymaking. Think tanks epitomize this dual role, conducting research that directly feeds into the policy ecosystem. Therefore, investing in “think tanking” is tantamount to investing in the nation’s future.
The current administration’s efforts to dismantle barriers to free expression are a breath of fresh air, widely regarded as a significant stride towards robust nation-building. By ensuring that think tanks can operate without fear or favor, Malaysia taps into a vital source of ideas that can drive progress and innovation. In this renewed landscape, “think tanking” is not just a buzzword—it is an essential component of the nation's strategy to achieve sustainable development and prosperity.
Sticking out like a sore thumb
Meanwhile, what emerges from various media reports are that one particular institute, once a bastion of economic analysis and policy advice in Malaysia, is on the brink of a significant rebranding exercise. Soon, it may be shedding its national identifier. This change, apparently reflects the current administration’s desire to distance itself from an institution that has seemingly lost its way and failed to deliver on its promises. 
Once populated by the Prime Minister's close associates, the Institute’s Board members are now viewed as opportunists who have outlived their utility. The institute's operational structure itself is perplexing: only two research staff supported by seven administrative personnel, leading to an unprecedented and troubling ratio of researchers to Board members – six Directors for every two researchers, a configuration unheard of in the annals of think tank history!
Currently at the helm is an economist whose name barely registers among the academic and policy-making communities. A retired director from the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) recollects the incumbent's previous role as a mere secretariat functionary, relegated to making phone calls and taking notes rather than offering substantive advisory input. The retired director further insinuates that the incumbent's ascent to the CEO position is less a reflection of merit and more due to his close ties with prominent political figures. 
A professor from a public university highlighted the anomaly of appointing a CEO with no significant research credentials or academic publications. "It is unprecedented to see a think tank led by someone who lacks scholarly recognition and has no substantial contributions to economic thought," remarked the professor. This sentiment is echoed by an economist at a local bank, who revealed that the incumbent is a serial entrepreneur, casting further doubt on his capacity to effectively manage MIER.
The institute’s recent history of leadership instability is equally troubling, with several CEOs in as many years, none of whom have seen through their term. 
This alarming narrative extends to the current Board of Trustees, which is seen as being staffed by individuals well past their prime, some nearing 80 years old. These Board members, described by sources as opportunistic, have purportedly driven the think tank into a state of disrepute, prompting the contemplation of removing the national identifier to salvage our nation’s image and national pride.
The Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) has yet to comment on the potential rebranding and whether it reflects a direct intervention from the Prime Minister’s office. Nonetheless, the move signals a critical juncture for the Institution, as it grapples with internal lethargy and a pressing need for renewed credibility and relevance in Malaysia’s economic discourse.
In essence, the fall from grace of the Institution is not just a story of mismanagement but also a cautionary tale of how venerable institutions can falter when divorced from meritocratic principles and rigorous academic standards. The potential renaming, stripping the nation’s name from its title, serves as a stark reminder of the imperative to uphold integrity and excellence in the pursuit of national development and policy formulation.
*Abdul Haris Nasution is an observer of Southeast Asian affairs.*