To the victor goes the spoils

The biggest battle going on right now is not the war against Covid-19; it is the intense manoeuvring behind the scenes as backdoor Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin moves to consolidate his power. He knows that sooner or later he is going to face Parliament and a vote of confidence.  He is using the respite provided by the lockdown to strengthen his hand by dishing out key appointments to ensure maximum support for his still untested coalition. 

He’s already appointed 70 of his supporters to cabinet as ministers and deputy ministers but there’re still a lot more clamouring to be rewarded for their support. Many of those who were involved in the “Sheraton Move” which brought Muhyiddin to power expect to be amply rewarded. Backdoor governments don’t come cheaply, after all.

Furthermore, each of the leaders involved has his own cronies and relatives that want a share of the pie as well. The total number will eventually run into the thousands. Just read Professor Terrence Gomez’s groundbreaking book, Minister of Finance Incorporated, and you’ll get an idea of just how monstrous the political patronage system is. 

Those who complain about the burden of upkeeping our bloated civil service might be shocked to know that our political patronage system is just as costly given that some of these appointments cost taxpayers between RM30,000 to RM80,000 a month per person, not counting the lorry-load of other perks that come with the job. 

In the meantime, the government asks Malaysians who are struggling to cope with the pandemic to dip into their own EPF savings to survive. 

The appointment of cronies and political hacks to GLCs, statutory bodies and other government agencies is only the beginning; just wait till the scramble begins for contracts. And with the mother of all political battles (GE15) looming, everyone will soon be scrambling to find ways to build up their war chest. Expect to see cronyism, patronage and corruption rise to new levels.

Hadi Awang, the PAS president, was recently appointed Special Envoy to the Middle East – a largely empty and meaningless appointment that will nonetheless provide Hadi with a very handsome income. It will also give him the ministerial status, albeit backdoor, he has longed coveted.   

In the meantime, a number of Pakatan Harapan appointments are being revoked to make way for Perikatan Nasional appointees. More will follow. The key criteria will be loyalty to the regime; professional qualifications are always optional with such appointments. Rumours are rife that even some of those implicated in the 1MDB scandal will soon be making a comeback.

It is, I suppose, the way things are done in Malaysia. Now that the other side has returned to power, they want all their old high-paying cushy jobs back. They will also want to remove holdovers from the PH era who might insist on continuing the crusade to expose all the wrongdoings and corruption that have long plagued the country. The quid pro quo for UMNO’s support will ultimately involve some memory loss, if you know what I mean.

And don’t be surprised to wake up one of these days to reports that the whole 1MDB affair was actually fake news, a devious plot by the DAP to discredit a noble leader and undermine the position of the Malays. Or that 1MDB was actually a brilliant idea that was ruined by the unfavourable publicity and fake allegations made by PH politicians.  

To the victors not just the spoils but the power to rewrite history.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |5th 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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