Tony Pua on Why He was Not Appointed Minister

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The choice to be “macai rather than minister.

When Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad named his cabinet members for the new Pakatan Harapan administration after the 14th general election (GE14), one of the questions that emerged was why Damansara MP Tony Pua was not among those named.

Pua had been a vocal critic of the 1MDB scandal, as well as a former member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) tasked with investigating the state investment fund.

At a forum with his constituents yesterday, he revealed that the reason he had not been chosen as a cabinet member was that he preferred to remain in the Finance Ministry as Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng’s special officer, a position in which he felt he could contribute more to the country from behind the scenes.

Koh Jun Lin/Malaysiakini

“It is a choice and I think it is the right choice because the Ministry of Finance is really huge. There is no one person who can run the show.

“The minister is unfortunately in a position where he has to do a lot of formal functions: He has to meet foreign ambassadors, he has to attend cabinet meetings; he has to do a lot of these things where a lot of the grunt work, you’d need a separate team to take care of it.

“(We need to) work with ministry officials, look at policies, look at issues… I think me being there helps a lot so that things can run faster. That’s the happy choice that I’ve made,” he told the forum in Petaling Jaya yesterday.

The forum was organised by DAP’s Taman Paramount branch and was attended by about 30 people.

Pua and Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming had been appointed as Lim’s special officers beginning May 22, both without pay. Ong has since been appointed as deputy minister of trade and industry.

Job satisfaction

Pua said soon after his appointment, it quickly became clear that his work in the ministry is impactful and helped the government save a lot of unnecessary spending.

Koh Jun Lin/Malaysiakini

“It is quite clear that perhaps I can do more helping Lim Guan Eng as a macai (lackey) in the Ministry of Finance doing things that I’m good at, doing things that I enjoy doing and gather a whole lot of satisfaction from, than perhaps taking out a ministerial or deputy ministerial position in perhaps some other portfolio,” he said.

As such, he said his name had not appeared in DAP’s list of proposed ministers.

“It is not the case that I’ve been neglected by the party, the party doesn’t want me, or whatever. I typed that list myself,” he added.

As for why he accepted the job although it offered zero pay, Pua jokingly cited the job satisfaction and bragging rights as the reason.

“Nothing can pay you for the experience of being able to save RM15 billion in four weeks. I can go down now boasting to everyone that, ‘I can cut RM15 billion in four weeks, you can or not?’

Azneal Ishak

“So, it is extremely satisfying to be able to do that,” he said, prompting laughter from his constituents.

No absolute rule on ‘backdoor’ ministers

Meanwhile, to a question about his views on ministers and deputy ministers being appointed through the “backdoor” via senatorial appointments, Pua said there should not be an “absolute rule” on the matter.

He said because of Malaysia’s first-past-the-post electoral system, some qualified candidates would inadvertently lose the election because they were contesting in a tough seat, whereas some lesser qualified candidates may win instead.

Hence, he said there should be some leeway to allow qualified candidates to be appointed as ministers and deputy ministers through senatorial appointments if they had lost in elections, as long as the process is not abused as a means to offer political rewards.

As for the defeated Ayer Hitam DAP candidate Liew Chin Tong’s appointment as deputy defence minister, Pua said, “He did it (contest in Ayer Hitam) for a reason.”

“He did it to make sure that Johor is a real front line. He needed to do it to show that we are serious about winning, I think his sacrifice should be – not rewarded – but noted and should be taken into context,” he said.

Liew, who is also the Johor DAP chief, was defeated by MCA’s Wee Ka Siong by a slim majority of 303 votes in GE14. Liew has challenged the election results through an election petition.

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His appointment as senator and deputy minister had prompted criticism from opposition politicians, who accused Harapan of hypocrisy because Harapan leaders had previously criticised the BN administration for appointing ministers and deputy ministers through senatorial appointments.

Streamlining agencies

Meanwhile, another speaker at the forum, Rajiv Rishyakaran, revealed that he had been appointed as a special officer to Energy, Green Technology, Science and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin.

Like Pua, he said he would not be receiving any pay for his role in the ministry.

He said he would now have to be more careful with what he says compared to his previous role as Petaling Jaya councillor and his current role as Bukit Gasing assemblyperson.

This is because he cannot and should not pre-empt announcements to be made by Yeo.

“Suddenly I’m wondering what to write on Facebook. So, then I looked at Pua’s Facebook and realised that he also doesn’t write,” he said.

In his new role, he said he was surprised to learn that the Environment Department does not have enough enforcement vehicles and laboratories, and Malaysia has grown dependent on imported coal to meet its energy requirements.

He added that there are 40 agencies under the ministry’s purview, and these would have to be streamlined.

Koh Jun Lin/Malaysiakini

“There is no witch hunt to chop the civil service […] We are definitely not going around making people redundant.

“But in terms of making agencies more efficient, that is the aim – how we are going to do that, we won’t rush into it. So, there is no announcement; if there is an announcement, it will come from the minister and not from me.

“But, there has to be some rationalisation to jive together institutions that have similar purposes so that we can achieve more without unnecessarily firing people,” he said.

As examples, he pointed out that the ministry has three agencies dealing with matters related to outer space, and other three that deal with nuclear energy. – Malaysiakini