I am rather disappointed, although not surprised, that Najib plans to keep the Ministry of Finance portfolio despite having a substantial portfolio in being the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
The rationale given, if reports are to be believed, is that Najib wants to oversee the delivery of a 60 billion ringgit ($16.77 billion) economic boost... “as he would need to oversee the economy which is going through a challenging period”.
The Ministry of Finance portfolio is a heavy responsibility and, it should be headed by an out-and-out economics specialist. The MOF is about the implementation of the scarce financial resources contained in the Treasury's coffers and, the types of borrowings that the government needs to obtain to finance a fiscal deficit.
The Prime Minister has an even more major responsibility for the overall welfare of the nation in every conceivable aspect.
The thing that inevitably happens with dual portfolios is the dilution effect on strategy, operations and management responsibilities. I'm sorry to say that the perception is that the Second Finance Minister is like a Deputy Minister. There's no way that he can have carte blanche the way a sole Minister of a portfolio has.
If the Prime Minister of contemporary Malaysia feels the need to take concurrent charge of the Finance portfolio, what message does it send out?
One possible signal is that there is no one else that is capable.
The second possible signal is that the Prime Minister does not trust anyone else to do the job properly.
The third possible signal is that the Finance portfolio is the vehicle for political patronage. With this portfolio goes the base of political power just like the Ministry of Education was said to be a base of political power until the 1980s.
The fourth possible signal is that the government will still practice the dishing out of rent-seeking policies whenever and, wherever, possible.
Of course, it may also be said that only a Prime Minister merangkap Minister of Finance can effectively implement transparency in dealings with the stimulus packages and normal Treasury contract awards.
But, all that leaves us with scepticism about how one mere mortal who happens to Prime Minister of Malaysia, can, within a 24-hours and 365-day cycle, also deal effectively with a demanding portfolio like the Ministry of Finance and, yet, do both satisfactorily.
Besides, given the difficult economic climate, why handle the Finance portfolio where almost no one is going to be happy? Better to leave it to someone else who's head will be on the chopping block.