Thursday, August 4, 2011

Does MIC Deserve Three Ministers?

Thursday, 04 August 2011 00:53
Malaysian Digest
Does MIC Deserve Three Ministers?

by Kee Thuan Chye

PRIME Minister Najib Razak is being cavalier with taxpayers’ money in making MIC president G Palanivel a full minister. His promotion from deputy minister will incur increases in Palanivel’s salary, perks, claims and pension – and the rakyat will be paying for them. Is it justifiable?

The MIC has only four Members of Parliament, but it now has a line-up of three ministers and two deputy ministers. How is that proportionate? If T Murugiah had not lost his senatorship last April and thereby his deputy minister position, there would be three MIC deputy ministers now.

It’s surprising Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa have not uttered a squeak about this. Which reinforces the general perception that Perkasa fights shy of criticizing the ruling party and may actually be linked to it, despite claims to the contrary.

Why do I say the MIC now has three ministers?, you ask. Well, let’s not forget Samy Vellu. Less than eight months ago, he was appointed – also by Najib – to be Malaysia’s special envoy to India and South Asia with ministerial status (my italics). That was apparently his reward for stepping down as MIC president. It was to give him face through a dignified exit. But why was that necessary?

I raised questions about it then. I asked why the MIC should get another ministerial position after its poor performance at the last general election (GE). Where is the regard for values if rewards are given when they are not deserved?

Now Najib has further displayed this lack of values by giving a third ministerial position to a party that has performed miserably. So, to answer my own question about whether it’s right to make Palanivel a minister, I say unequivocally, “No.”

What purpose is served by promoting Palanivel?

According to Najib: “I want to return to the era of Abdul Razak where there were two Indian ministers in the Cabinet.” Is that all? Just because he wants it? Where’s the good reason? It sounds almost as whimsical and flippant as saying Abdul Razak was his father and therefore he must emulate the latter.

He also says the decision proves that the Government is committed to the Indian community and intends to work closely with them; and giving them another minister is giving them the opportunity to play an even more effective role.

What, pray tell, is that “role”?

If you suspect it is to support Barisan Nasional (BN) at the next GE, you would probably be right. Najib is clearly trying to win Indian votes with this move. But if public funds have to be incurred for him to do that, it cannot be proper. Why should taxpayers’ money be used to keep BN in power? BN is only the government of the day; it cannot use public resources to improve its chances of getting re-elected.

Najib may also feel that Palanivel should hold the same rank as MIC’s deputy president, S Subramaniam, who is already Human Resources Minister. But it is not Najib’s duty to give Palanivel face by putting him on ministerial par with his deputy. Palanivel must, first of all, deserve the position.

The question is, does he?

He was not duly elected at the 2008 general election. He in fact lost his Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat. And when it came time for a by-election for that same seat in 2010 – because the PKR candidate who had defeated him died while in office – he was not chosen to be the candidate. Instead, a much junior MIC member, P Kamalanathan, was selected. What did that signify?

It seems at the time, Najib himself did not favor Palanivel, and for a good reason: Palanivel was not liked by his constituents when he was the MP there; they said he was seldom seen in the vicinity.

Nonetheless, when the by-election was over, Najib made Palanivel a deputy minister in the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry. This was apparently both consolation for his being bypassed as Hulu Selangor candidate and preparation for his takeover as MIC chief.

Najib accomplished this by using the backdoor method of making him a senator first. This was the same method he employed to make ministers out of other politicians openly rejected by the rakyat in 2008, like Koh Tsu Koon and Shahrizat Abdul Jalil; and also to make deputy ministers out of election losers Awang Adek Hussein and Chew Mei Fun.

Bringing back losers in this unsatisfactory manner has made Najib’s practice questionable. The same goes for his appointment of Palanivel as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

Besides, why do we need yet another Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department when there are already five – Koh, Nazri Aziz, Nor Mohamad Yakcop, Jamil Khir Baharom and Idris Jala? Is there so much work to go round for six?

What positive effect will his appointment have on the public interest? How will he better serve the rakyat when he was a disappointment to his Hulu Selangor constituents?

Such considerations, however, don’t seem to matter to Najib. What matters most is the Indian vote. He probably sensed that he had lost some Indian support after the unpopular month-long detention of the six Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members under the Emergency Ordinance (EO). Making the offer to Palanivel is his attempt to salvage the loss.

The timing tells it all.

First, Subramaniam (on July 27) and then Palanivel (on July 28) publicly called for the PSM 6’s release. “I spoke to the Prime Minister several days ago and asked him to release them,” Palanivel said, as if to declare that the PM would listen to him. Then on July 29, the PSM 6 were actually released.

This made it look like the MIC could take credit for the release of the PSM 6, which would go down well not only with Indians but other Malaysians who had expressed outrage at the detention. But knowing how our wayang politics works, we may not be wrong in thinking that the release decision had already been made before the MIC’s appeals.

After all, why did Subramaniam and Palanivel choose to speak up only a month after the six were detained? Why did they not speak up when the arrest was first made of the six and 24 others on June 26 on suspicion of “waging war against the King” and “resurrecting Communism”? Why did they not come out then to say that such a suspicion was ridiculous? They kept quiet; their silence was an endorsement. They were complicit to the arrests as partners of the ruling regime.

Be that as it may, on July 30, at the MIC’s general assembly, Najib announced making Palanivel a minister. That being the day after the PSM 6’s release, it was obviously calculated to add to the feel-good momentum. As a result, Najib’s ratings might well go up, and those of the MIC’s as well.

But before Indians exult and decide to swing back to BN, what they might need to ask is how they will benefit from this. As minister, will Palanivel dare to speak up for them when at his own party’s general assembly last weekend, delegates were directed not to discuss the Interlok issue? When it comes to the big issues, will he be able to stand up to big brother Umno or just be a “running dog” doing its bidding?

And as for the PSM 6, the story is not yet over. Five days after their release, they were charged for being in possession of subversive documents, and will be tried together with the other 24.

Perhaps Palanivel’s first test as minister should be talking to the Prime Minister and asking him to drop the charges. Let’s see how far he can get with that. If he succeeds, then we can truly say that he deserves being made a minister. And that taxpayers’ money is being wisely spent.


*The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer.

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