Commentary Local Politics

Politics kills off political platforms

Gone after 60 years.....

Gone after 60 years.....

Written by Aziz Hassan

May 31, 2018.

Recollections & Reflections – A commentary

ONE would have thought that after three weeks, everything would have settled by now to allow the new government of Malaysia to move on with the business of governing but unfortunately this hasn’t been the case.

You of course cannot sail full steam ahead until you have named your full Cabinet and it’s anyone’s guess when this will happen.

In the meantime there is still a lot of talking and back-chat, with allegations and counter-statements filling the air. This too is a most unwelcomed distraction that can be avoided if everyone leaves out what seems like one-upmanship and the politics of vengeance.

But for a government that hasn’t yet formed its full complement, the New Malaysia has been treated to an overwhelming dosage of news, announcements and decisions.

There was a flurry of movements with a few days of the swearing-in of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as the country’s seventh prime minister – his second after the first spell of 22 years lasting until October 31, 2003.

Apart from decisions affecting his predecessor Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Mahathir moved in some current and former civil servants suspected of various indiscretions, including imposing a travel ban. Others thought to have been penalised or victimised by the previous administration were either promoted or transferred to their original posts, with almost all of these movements and decisions linked to 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

There were also decisions to terminate the contracts of 17,000 people said to be political appointees, disband the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) and move 800 employees to the Transport Ministry and also the Special Affairs Department or JASA which has a little over 1,000 employees. There’s been no statement as to how many were permanent staff and how many on contract but what is certain is that this department had been in existence since 1958, just after Malaysia’s first general elections in 1957.

The one agency or department that is very much in the news is the Biro Tata Negara (National Civics Bureau) set up in 1974 under the Culture, Youth and Sports Ministry but by June 1982, a year after Mahathir took office as PM the first time, moved to the PM’s Department. That was also when its name was changed to BTN. The decision to open offices in the states was made in 1987.

The momentum against it is such that it should not surprise many if BTN goes the way of JASA.

In justifying the move to disband JASA, for example, Mahathir mentioned that its work became too political. Expect the same if BTN too is disbanded. That these two outfits were doing political work was an open secret because they have been at it since the late 80s especially.

A friend who once worked at Angkasapuri recalled how a team was tasked with drafting the concept. He attributed the shift in the focus of these two to a proposal by former information minister, the late Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat.

The veteran politician known affectionately as Tok Mat mooted this change in approach after Mahathir’s close shave of a victory for the Umno presidency against Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in 1987.

Mahathir embraced the idea and the shift began.

Also affected by this move were departments or agencies like Kemas and JKKK that dealt mainly with the rural communities or rather the rural Malays. Unbelievable too was the fact that there were political operatives even in the Farmer’s Organisation Authority or LPP. But after a while you realise that this makes sense because LPP also deals with the rural communities, mainly small-time Malay paddy farmers.

Thus to pile the blame solely on Najib’s administration doesn’t tell the correct and real story behind the politicisation of JASA, BTN and the others mentioned here.

In the wake of the strong views on BTN’s existence, the most sensible suggestion comes from former Kepong DAP Member of Parliament Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, undoubtedly a voice of moderation in the party.

Tan was on the panel to rebrand BTN and feels that so long as it is possible, BTN should be allowed to continue functioning but by going back to its original principles and certainly minus the politics.

His voice though appears to be in the minority because news reports indicate that the cry for blood among New Malaysians, including the new government’s politicians, remains strong because the euphoria over Pakatan’s victory has not doused off completely.




About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.