September 9, 2018
Fear and Loathing in Putrajaya Redux
Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.”
― Laurence J Peter, educator and author
COMMENT | While the White House is in a state of fear regarding the anonymous op-ed piece in the New York Times about the dysfunction in the Trump administration and the so-called “resistance” attempting to stymie the US President’s more egregious agendas, the opposite thing is happening in this country.
While I am not someone who makes excuses for the Harapan administration when it comes to their reform agenda, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is correct when he says that there are officials in Putrajaya who are purposely stalling the administrative policies of the new regime. There are a couple of points worth considering.
The first is the lack of experience of some of the ministers appointed. Much has been said about the “Call me bro” youth and sports minister, the education minister who wants more responsibility – or is that prestige? – but has no real reform agenda when it comes to one of the more important portfolios of this country, the defence minister who likes to cook, and of course, the finance minister who can’t seem to get enough of exposing the scandals of the past administration and nodding to whatever the Prime Minister says.
Fulfilling campaign promises is one thing but more damaging is a lack of vision of many of these ministers. Besides Gobind Singh Deo who seems to actually have a vision of what his Communications and Multimedia Ministry can accomplish and Transport Minister Anthony Loke, who you may disagree with some of the things he has done – at least, they are doing things when it comes to their ministries and not attempting to define their ministries by their polemics against the former regime.
While this is an important point, it should not detract from what I consider the bigger point – and what the prime minister rightly points out – the sub rosa moves by bureaucrats to hamper the progress of Harapan regime. I have been doing my own snooping around, calling contacts serving and retired, and there is a definitely a conspiracy of sorts to destabilise the Harapan government from within.
One example I put much stock in is when serving and retired state security personnel tell me that there is a movement within the Defence Ministry to “contain” the popular Mohamad Sabu (photo). This means different things to people but the general idea is that reform within the security services comes with the price of exposing the corruption, collusion and God knows what else, which ironically could prove to be a threat to national security.
He is no Robert Gates or Leon Penetta. I wouldn’t trust him with the defense of my hen house. But if you want some light entertainment, you can attend his ceramah-Din Merican
Can you imagine what would happen if forces domestic and foreign, ever discover how compromised our state security apparatus is? So we get all these “investigations” which go nowhere and an inexperienced minister who is grappling not only with his administrative duties but also his political ones, believing that things are running smoothly.
In reality, the petty fiefdoms in the state security apparatus are making moves to conceal buried secrets that could not only bring them ruination but everyone in the food chain.
Furthermore, some minions actually resent that there is a new government. This resentment, depending on the cabal, is based on racism or religious bigotry. Years of the Biro Tatanegara (BTN) horse manure has created a culture that views any “interloping” by non-Malay political operatives other than from BN as trespassing on the provinces of the ‘ketuanan’ types.
No doubt, the propaganda of a New Malaysia rattles their precious sensibilities and these people are ever ready to demonstrate that the bureaucracy can strike back. One recently retired government official told me that these people not only resort to stalling but also hiding relevant documents, misdirecting new and inexperienced aides and attempting to portray everything done by the new Harapan regime as a “witch hunt”.
This, of course, does not take into account what I call the deep Islamic state and their operatives, who are considering working with the committed Islamists within Pakatan Harapan and carrying out their obligations for their handlers within UMNO. Whispering into the ears of easily-rattled Harapan political operatives of the precarious nature of the Harapan alliance when it comes to the Malay vote, they advance an Islamic agenda which is at odds with the supposed “secular” agenda of the new Harapan regime.
However, if you think that this is all UMNO’s fault, you are naive. The infighting within Harapan contributes immensely to the hampering of the reform agenda. My comrade, Malaysiakini columnist Hishamuddin Rais (photo) may have ruffled some feathers when it comes to his writings, but he is more often correct than wrong when it comes to the machinations of the political elites.
There are elements within the bureaucracy who have decided to take sides and the infighting within Harapan plays out in how policy is carried out in Putrajaya. Various fiefdoms have erupted like boils within various ministries where busy factotums carry out the agendas of the Harapan political elite and this sometimes includes frustrating rival factions.
As one frustrated political operative lamented that she has to watch her back when it comes to the bureaucracy because not only has she to worry about the flotsam and jetsam of the former UMNO regime, which includes agents of MCA and MIC, but she has to be wary of not stepping on the toes of her political higher-ups who are wrestling for dominance in various ministries.
A still serving low-level bureaucrat in Putrajaya candidly told me that he is impressed that Harapan has been able to accomplish some of the reforms they promised because with all the crap thrown their way by their infighting and elements from the previous regime, it is remarkable that they are able to function.
Another source said, if only Mahathir was younger and had the support of a committed base, he would whip the government into shape. He has preoccupations which are political in nature which are hampering what he needs to do with the government, this near-retiring source claims.
This, of course, is all part of the political culture in Malaysia which is UMNO-based and something that people in Harapan, who are actually interested in reform, have to contend with. Coupled with their inexperience, they find it difficult to navigate the bureaucracy which is at war for itself and with itself.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.