Side Views

The case for Rosmah to replace Muhiyiddin – Wenger Khairy

Right now, Umno's social media machinery is in internal turmoil trying to deal with some very pointed comments made by the ex-Editor in Chief of the New Straits Times, Dato Kadir Jasin. In his articles, Dato Kadir Jasin has taken issue with some of the statements made by the Prime Minister and his apparatchiks. The first gripe has to do with a speech made by a delegate at the recently concluded Umno General Assembly who defended the Prime Minister's decision on allowing his wife to travel by the Government's jet on account of the PM's love and concern for his wife. The second issue has to do with the statement made by Dato Seri Najib himself when he paid tribute to his wife's ability to resolve seemingly intractable issues on account of her personal relationships with leaders in the Middle East country.

The talk in the grapevine has been dominated by these discussions. Of course Dato Kadir gives it as good as it gets when he questions aloud the efficiency of a Government bloated with Ministers but still having to rely on the wife of the  Prime Minister to get things done. He concludes that since Datin Seri Rosmah has distinguished herself in a manner that puts the cabinet to shame, then perhaps she should be made a super Minister in charge of several portfolios, including the Education Ministry that is currently being (mis)managed by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Now, originally this was taken to be a tongue-in-cheek suggestion, but the longer one ponders about it, the less outlandish the proposal sounds. Take for example the Education Ministry. The results of  the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a global comparative ranking exercise puts the Malaysian 15 year old firmly at the bottom rung, and this in spite of billions of ringgit being spent annually on "education". Under the stewardship of the usual "Agama, Bangsa dan Tanah air" rah-rah crowd  , our students have fared even worse than the average Vietnamese student when it comes to Mathematics, Science and Reading.

If indeed Datin Seri Rosmah was made a Senator and then presided over this super Ministry, it would be quite conceivable that she would execute far better than Tan Sri Muhiyiddin. After all, she has shown some fortitude in developing the Permata program - the first efforts towards addressing the education needs of preschool and kindergarten children. And politically it may not be so bad, because right now, people are so fed up with poor alternatives on both sides of the benches, that they might just be willing to give even crazy sounding ideas a chance just to see how this thing turns out.

The involvement of an unelected spouse of a Head of Government in domestic affairs is not without precedent. During Bill Clinton's presidency, Hillary Clinton played an active role in trying to craft a healthcare policy. This involvement had led to some extremely vitriolic attacks directed against her by the Republican politicians. However, there are some important differences when trying to draw parallels between the Former First Lady of the United States and the current First Lady of Malaysia.

Number one, is the quality of the leadership in Malaysia cannot be compared to the quality of the leadership in the United States. The United States cabinet boasts of extremely highly qualified Cabinet Secretaries and full time policy staff who are smarter than our RM7 billion consultants. Thus, there could be conceivably be an issue for a US First Lady taking active involvement in the affairs of the United States as there are more than enough capable people to fix the problems. But in Malaysia, our Cabinet just lacks the depth and the Special Officers, consultants and top ranking civil servants are more interested in making money or indulging in their pet hatreds, than delivering results. So there are big differences, and the fundamental issue which is of importance to the country as a whole is whether or not Datin Seri Rosmah will make a better leader than lets say, a Tan Sri Muhiyiddin? And if you compare what Datin Seri Rosmah has achieved with what Tan Sri Muhiyiddin has, or perhaps the lack thereof, it seems only natural to postulate that she will do a far better job as Education Minister than the current incumbent.

Secondly, if Datin Seri Rosmah is made for a bigger role than just serving as the Prime Minister's Wife, then she might as well be admitted to the Cabinet and preside over a portfolio that suits her energy and tenacity. This is an argument against political pundits who claim that a Najib - Rosmah cabinet will cause brickbats to be thrown by the Opposition.

In this regard, brickbats will be thrown, so long as Datin Seri Rosmah breathes. She is a feature fodder of the Opposition in their campaigns and she will continue to be a feature of the Opposition attacks. The question is whether or not these attacks have any traction?

Here is where things could differ. If indeed Datin Seri Rosmah shows the fortitude required to clean up the Education Ministry and stamp her authority, the people will find it difficult to ignore the results.  The results of a better Government is what will actually dictate people's support, not petty arguments and thrash talking. And if Datin Seri Rosmah can deliver it, then why not give her a try.

After all, Malaysia is the land of Endless Possibilities. –, December 13, 2013.

* Wenger Khairy reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.


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