Why didn’t Nurul Izzah say ‘No!’

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has appointed five experts to an advisory body to advise him as the finance minister. The team will be led by Petronas adviser Tan Sri Hassan Marican. The others are FVSB executive chairman Datuk Ahmad Fuad Md Ali, Sunway University economics professor Dr Yeah Kim Leng, Universiti Malaya economics professor Datuk Dr Rajah Rasiah and, Sarawak Energy Bhd chairman Datuk Abdul Hamed Sepawi.

It was not stated if the team includes Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah who was appointed as senior finance adviser and has been serving in that capacity since Jan 3 on a pro bono basis (So, are the experts!). So, what then does Nurul do in the finance ministry?

According to Anwar, her duty is to ensure transparency in the administration and to monitor government tender procurement to ensure that they are done in an orderly manner, the New Straits Times reported.

Anwar may be serious about his reason or reasons for Nurul’s appointment but it seems dubious as it raises questions on the need for such an appointment.

Aren’t there staff in the finance ministry already doing the job assigned to Nurul? Will she be duplicating their job or checking on them? Why would she have to do this job which ministry staff should be doing, anyway? Surely, there are senior staff these staff report to to check on them? So, why is Nurul needed to duplicate their duties? Just appoint a finance minister!

Her job is redundant unless there’s an ulterior motive — to dig up dirt. If so, Anwar needs to tread very carefully because he has to contend with the Official Secrets Act. If Nurul is working for the government — even for free — she is subject to the Official Secrets Act and if found having divulged official secrets to the prime minister, she — and the prime minister, too — could be taken to court.

So, Anwar is putting his daughter in a compromising position. Having the ear of her father, she will also put the staff on tenterhooks because they won’t know what feedback will be brought to her father’s attention. Is this creating a positive work environment reflective of a reform-minded prime minister?

By placing a close relative in a position with access to government information and reporting to him, Anwar has blurred the lines between filial loyalty and professional accountability.

It is the same with Dewan Rakyat Speaker Johari Abdul who has denied claims that his son was appointed as a special officer to assist him in Parliament. He went to great lengths to explain that his son Muhammad Iqbal was working for him and is paid out of his own pocket.

If Muhammad Iqbal is not working for the government, then, he shouldn’t use government resources to help his father; he shouldn’t have an office in his father’s office. He can work from anywhere else to help his father but not in the government.

If Nurul’s position in the finance ministry is to help her father and not the government, then she should not have an office in the ministry nor have the authority to access information privy only to government staff.

Even if technically not illegal, family members should not work for their parents in an official capacity in government. Anwar may follow the practice of former US President Donald Trump who appointed his daughter and son-in-law to key positions.

Surely, Anwar is aware that that was one of the factors that led to the loss of support from both his own Republican Party and those who voted for him previously and which led to Trump failing to win a second term as president.

If Anwar continues making indefensible decisions, he, too, risks losing ground support and it may not bode well for his unity government.

It is hard to believe that Nurul is not aware of the issues surrounding her appointment. What is most baffling is that this child of Reformasi who for two decades chanted “corruption and cronyism” alongside her father quietly acquiesced to the latter when put in a similarly compromising position.

She must have her reasons but what is demonstrated is an inability to say “No!” when the situation warranted it, and, as a result, she has disqualified herself from public office. If she can’t say “No!” to her father, can she say “No!” to his supporters who come to her for help? What proof has she demonstrated that she would not be influenced or manipulated?

Has Nurul been infected with the common Malaysian political malaise? Vocal and strident in calling out corruption, cronyism and bad governance and demanding reforms when in the opposition, but when the power of government is within grasp, all such lofty principles and constitutional adherence are thrown out and replaced by gutter-driven political expediency or convenience or plain cheating?

It is because of this one characteristic that Malaysian politics is in the state it is in. Malaysian politicians can’t say “No!” to power and position and that is the reason why they can be easily bought. Woe on the people if they are placed in public office!

It is extremely disappointing that the poster girl of Reformasi was unable to resist the Malaysian political malaise. Very, very disappointing indeed.


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