Our Ministerial Appointment process is too weak

The appointment of Ministers, EXCOs and every governmental position have been a questionable issue all the time. In every single cabinet, there are bound to be questions on whether the appointed person is credible and possesses the ability to handle the given role. At times, there is a doubt if there is any horse trading or political bargaining in the process of the appointment. 

We all know that a ministerial position comes with an annual budget of millions of ringgit. Whoever sits in that position comes with massive power as well. With Malaysian ministers usually appointed from the pool of elected Member of Parliaments, they are also the group of people that have the influence that decides who is the Prime Minister, although indirectly. 

As many would also know that the appointment of Ministers in Malaysia is rather simple, the Prime Minister usually has the call to decide, although they still have to consult the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. That is why there are always controversial Ministers that have been appointed throughout the history of Malaysia. 

The current questionable Cabinet member would be the Health Minister, Dr Adham Baba. He was literally made fun of in the social media when he suggested that drinking hot water would kill the Covid-19 virus. And with the Health director-general, Dr Noor Hisham appearing to be the person who is taking up the lead role in combating the pandemic instead of his superior. The latest being Khairy Jamaluddin appointed to be in charge of the Covid-19 immunisation programme instead of the Health Minister. Even some including Liew Chin Tong proposed that Khairy be replaced as the Health Minister instead.

I think the problem here isn’t about who to replace as the Health Minister, instead I think we should change the way cabinet members are appointed. It may require an important constitutional amendment, but I believe that it should be done to enable government positions to be held by competent and capable individuals. First is that we must not allow MPs to take up ministerial positions, they should focus on their role to be lawmakers and representing their constituents to voice out in the Parliament. Second is, we should make the appointment of Ministers a more transparent and credible process.

If we look towards the United States, despite Joe Biden having been inaugurated as the President on January 20th, only 7 out of 23 of his proposed cabinet members were officially appointed as I am writing this article. 

Why is that so? That’s because the proposed list of cabinet members by the sitting President can’t be appointed just because the President wants it. It has to go through a few processes to determine if they are suitable or not.

The nominated individuals will first pass through a series of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service and the office of Government Ethics. 

After that the nomination will be submitted to the respective Senate committee with jurisdiction over the appointed position. The committee hearings will conduct a close examination of the nominee, looking if there is any partisanship and views on public policy. The Senate committees can also conduct their own investigations into the nominees. The committee will then present their findings through Senate debates. Unlimited debates on the nomination is allowed until two-thirds of the Senate vote to invoke cloture. Following a vote of cloture, the Senators conduct a vote to confirm, reject or take no action on the nomination. 

And the amazing thing is that the Cabinet members are not debated and appointed as a whole, but individually. Each cabinet position is debated and appointed individually. Thus, from the President’s nomination, some may get appointed, and some may be rejected.

Imagine when our Ministers in Malaysia are not in a way indebted to the Prime Minister for their appointment, they do not owe the PM a favour. When they are appointed by MPs from different political backgrounds, probably the only favour that they owe is the people that have voted for the MPs. And so, the appointed Ministers will have to pay back by performing to the best of their ability in the Government.

Although there are still loopholes, at least we can reduce horse trading by making political bargaining difficult and a more competent team can be appointed to take up the role. 

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 9 February 2021.