Dennis Ignatius: A Return to the Dark Days of UMNO

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Jeopardising the nation’s economic future.

The Covid-19 pandemic has not stopped backdoor Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin from continuing his relentless quest to consolidate power by pushing out appointees of the former government in key agencies and GLCs and replacing them with his own supporters.
To some extent, this is understandable; Pakatan Harapan did the same. What is shocking, however, is the way these appointments are being dished out and the calibre of the people who are being appointed.

The power play has become so blatant that all Perikatan Nasional members of parliament are now set to be appointed heads of GLCs or other agencies (according to media reports quoting Takiyuddin Hassan, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department).

Clearly, Muhyiddin is throwing all caution to the wind in a frenzied effort to secure the support of his MPs before parliament reconvenes; he’s purchasing their loyalty with high-paying patronage appointments. It is the most crude, unscrupulous and blatant abuse of power we’ve ever seen.

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What is equally troubling is that Muhyiddin is putting some of the key, but troubled agencies into the hands of political appointees who are simply not up to the task of providing the kind of leadership that these agencies desperately need.

Take, for example, the appointment of Machang MP and former deputy minister of rural and regional development, Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub, as chairperson of FELDA. He replaces the highly respected, experienced and apolitical Bakke Salleh who was seen by industry players as a steady hand at the helm of an agency with serious legacy issues.

In making the appointment, officials said that Jazlan’s “experience would help to boost the sustainable development of the palm oil industry.” Really? What exactly is his experience?

A lifelong UMNO political hack, Jazlan’s career has been distinguished only by its mediocrity, though he did briefly make headlines when he complained that there were too many homosexuals in Kelantan (as reported in the Star, 3rd March 2017).

And now he gets to play a lead role in one of the country’s most important sectors for which he will be paid handsomely, of course. With more than 5.9 million hectares under cultivation and smallholders contributing 40% of the country’s oil palm production, it is a sector that affects the lives of thousands of people.

Many will no doubt remember that it was UMNO cronies who made a complete mess of FELDA the last time they helmed the agency, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for all the corruption, profligacy and mismanagement that occurred. If there’s one thing the FELDA fiasco should have taught us, it is the absolute folly of putting politicians in charge of such agencies. It is a lesson that Muhyiddin now seems willing to put aside for the sake of political expediency.

Astonishingly, Takiyuddin sought to justify the appointment of MPs to head GLCs with the mind-boggling argument that they are “all qualified” by virtue of being MPs. Being elected an MP doesn’t suddenly make a person wise, highly qualified and capable of helming important economic portfolios.

The asinine ideas of some of these parliamentarians – flying cars, black shoes, spoonfuls of palm oil, air suam, Doraemon and Tik-Tok, to name a few – should at least tell us something about their leadership abilities. Besides, going by the trials now underway, some of the most corrupt people in the country are also parliamentarians.

At a time when the nation is faced with both a grave health crisis and growing economic challenges, at a time when we need the brightest and the best to be in charge, we have the great misfortune of having a cabinet of self-serving, power-hungry deadbeats and doraemons, and now, clueless political hacks heading up GLCs and key agencies.

Muhyiddin and his coalition of double-dealers brought down the government we elected; now they are jeopardising the nation’s economic future as well with these ill-advised and reckless appointments.

There should be no doubt that we are now fully returned to the dark days of the UMNO era. As soon as the pandemic is over, it will be incumbent on us all to mobilize once more in a great struggle to oust this backdoor government at the next election.