Nothing special about this special envoy

While the whole country is preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic, backdoor Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has sneaked in another political appointment – PAS president Hadi Awang was made special envoy for the Middle East, replete with ministerial rank. 

Make no mistake; the appointment is nothing but a political sinecure designed to reward Hadi for supporting the coup that brought Muhyiddin to power. It will provide Hadi with all the perks of a minister (and believe me, there are many) without having to do much to earn it. Not bad for someone whose only ambition is apparently to return to being a fisherman.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised given that it has become standard practice in Malaysia. BN appointed as special envoys a good number of politicians who had outlived their usefulness. Even the reformist Pakatan Harapan government did the same, appointing a DAP leader special envoy to China. Their cynicism is stunning; they all criticise such appointments while in opposition and then turn around and grab them once in power.

Special envoys are normally appointed for specific diplomatic missions. Ours are simply well-connected politicians looking for a free ride, unlimited travel and entertainment expenses and a diplomatic passport. It’s just a sheer waste of public funds. 

Our special envoys have rarely served any useful purpose. They bring very little to the table; more often than not, they simply undermine the work that Wisma Putra and our ambassadors do.

In Hadi’s case, one wonders how useful his appointment will be given that the Saudi government itself has reservations about his credentials. In 2017, Saudi Arabia and its three Gulf allies extended their so-called “terror list” to include the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) accusing them of “working to promote terrorism through the exploitation of Islamic discourse.”

Ironically, the prime minister’s office touted his membership (he was vice-president) in IUMS as one of the reasons why he was chosen as special envoy. So, now we have someone who is a member of a group which the Saudis deem a terrorist organization representing Malaysia as special envoy to the Middle East. The Saudis must, no doubt, be thrilled.

Who’s next? A former prime minister as special envoy to the Anti-Money Laundering Global Task Force? Or perhaps a certain fugitive preacher as special envoy to India? 

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |3rd April 2020]

Published by Dennis Ignatius

Passionate Malaysian | Former Ambassador and career diplomat | Political affairs columnist | Human rights and international affairs commentator

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