Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Najib eager to avoid Fourth Floor syndrome

This Malaysian Insider report entitled Najib eager to avoid Fourth Floor syndrome is interesting in the aspect of skullduggery and speculation. Reports like these are indulgent of the chicanery and gossip-mongering that typifies politics and governance in Malaysia.

If we were to trouble ourselves to look at this matter from the prism of governance, it will be evident that the presence of personalised advisers with such proximity to the leader emulates the style of constitutional democracy practiced by the United States of America.

In the US model, the Executive branch of government is formed by 2 elected politicians, namely, the President and the Vice President. The President, in particular, has a carte blanche discretion to appoint personal advisers and Cabinet members. The personal advisers are directly appointed. Cabinet appointees have th sucessfully run the gauntlet of scrutiny of the Legislative branch of government in the form of the Congress.

Lest we conveniently forget, Malaysia practices a parliamentary democracy that originated from the Westminster model from the United Kingdom. A Prime Minister, in this model, may have political secretaries and parliamentary secretaries. Private secretaries are also employed. But other types of advisers that have no official role are regarded with great scepticism.

Our first three Prime Ministers practiced governance in the conventional parliamentary method. The departure from this approach came with Dr M who leapfrogged past the official coterie of support staff and inner office staff. It may well be that as the innovator of this decidedy un-parliamentary and un-Cabinet and un-Civil Service approach, Dr M was, in turn, sceptical of the calcified characters clinging to the corridors of power.

Dr M, as we all know, was at all times a political leader in search of a fresh perspective. He was an exemplar of (with apologies to Robert Frost) the road less traveled. In so doing, he sought and, consistently acknowledged personalised advise. In this sense, Dr M created a precedent of sorts.

Given that Dr M's shadow writ large for more than 2 decades it should not be too surprising that this aspect of, what I am calling, extra-Executive approach to governance, particularly on economics management and policy-formulation, came to be regarded as the modus operandi by his immediate successor.

Perhaps it is just as well that this so-called Fourth Floor issue is lingering because, like anyone who reads the Tao Te-ching will be aware, by pointing to the thing that is apparent, we also show what is absent.


What is absent and, has been absent for far too long is the twin departments that had proven to be so invaluable in past administrations. They are the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) and the Implementation and Co-ordination Unit (ICU).

Remember EPU and ICU?

Whether it is a branding issue or, otherwise, I'm not sure. But in 1997 the NEAC was created. It tended to supplant the EPU.

Now we have an Economic Council which is also supplanting the EPU.

The EPU is now a mere shadow of its former self. It has become a rubber-stamp to put into its letterhead the proposals originating from the advisers. EPU's current role is so restricted that the impression one gets is that now the EPU only prepares FIC Applications and modifies FIC Guidelines.

What has happened to the EPU and ICU?

If there is calcification in the rank and file then, change the staff.

To borrow a phrase from David Halberstam, EPU and ICU and the rest of the Prime Mnister's Department should be employing the best and brightest.

Then and, only then, can future Prime Ministers wean themselves from this need for extra-Executive advisers...unless there are other reasons for retaining such advisers that escape my limited imagination.


satD said...

Hi Bro de minimis..how u been?

How much have we 'spent' for all these extra-executive "Con-Sultans" anyway???

de minimis said...

hi satD

Now that is an interesting question. But I prefer to let bygones be bygones and concentrate on how to prevent such practices from recurring. I'm sure there are enough barracudas who will look into past practices.