Some useful tips for new ministers

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu’s honest admission that he was nervous on his first day of work endeared him to the public.

KUALA LUMPUR: The whole nation is waiting with bated breath for the unveiling of the new ministers and deputy ministers on July 2.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has not yet officially stated which ministries will remain in operation under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

On May 21, 13 ministers were sworn in before Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V at Istana Negara here, joining Mahathir in the new Cabinet.

As of now, it is not known which ministries will be retained or will be merged or dissolved altogether.

The new appointments are not exactly going to be a surprise to the appointees, who would already have been informed. So there is no question of them being unprepared or claiming it was unexpected.

With just a few more days to go before it becomes official, the prospective ministers and their deputies can start making the necessary preparations.

It will certainly stand them in good stead if they look into certain aspects of their “job” and do some homework beforehand.

The communications aspect is among the early challenges the newly-minted ministers and deputy ministers will have to deal with.

In view of the fact that the PH government comprises fresh appointees, it is highly probable that they never had their own press secretary in their political career thus far.

The press secretary, in general, plays an important role in connecting the minister with media practitioners.

This person has to be someone who the minister believes has the ability to convey all his aspirations to the press in a highly effective way and to avert any confusion.

It is a well-known fact that the PH government has taken the social media approach to get closer to the people, hence it is rather active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

At the same time, the role of the corporate communications unit at each ministry cannot be underestimated. This unit not only serves as the main “driver” of information; it also knows the ins and outs and background of any issue involving the ministry concerned.

Through close cooperation between the press secretary and corporate communications unit, it is possible for them to disseminate constructive information related to the minister or ministry accurately and efficiently to the right channels.

From the rakyat’s viewpoint, the “minister” is the “ministry” and the “ministry” is the “minister”.

In their eyes, there is no difference whether a minister is talking in his official or personal capacity.

Whatever he says is considered “official”, “valid'” and “confirmed” although he may be just making a suggestion.

And, yes, it is good to have some translators in the minister’s media team so that his press statements can be translated into various languages.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook was praised by the public when, on the first day he reported for work, he spoke about various issues that affected his ministry, like the functions of the Land Public Transport Commission, illegal driving licences and road safety during festive seasons.

Loke’s proactive action is something that can be emulated by others. That’s the way to go if a minister wants to give the impression that he is well prepared and knowledgeable on his first day in the office.

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu, also known as “Abang Mat” or “Mat Sabu”, made a blunder on his very first day as minister when he did not pause to pay respect to the ceremonial colours of the First Battalion of the Royal Malay Regiment while inspecting the guard of honour during the welcoming ceremony at the ministry.

Although netizens criticised his slip-up on social media, he did not try to defend himself or put the blame on others. He readily admitted his mistake and apologised.

And, when reporters asked him how he felt on his first day as a minister, Mohamad openly admitted that he was nervous. After all, the ministry he heads is no ordinary government office.

His honesty was appreciated by the people. Little shortcomings like the protocol slip-up gave him the “human element”, thus putting across to the public the message that ministers are also normal human beings capable of making mistakes.

Although it is important for newly-appointed ministers to familiarise themselves with all the issues before starting work, there may be certain matters that may have escaped their notice.

It may take them a week or two to meet the various heads of department and management teams before getting a grasp of all the issues.

It is pertinent for the minister to be equipped with the correct information before he speaks to the media or makes a decision pertaining to any outstanding issue. Otherwise, he risks making a decision on the spur of the moment and be forced to retract it later.

It would be wise to weigh an issue at length before making a decision rather than risking flip-flops.

Reporters, lobbyists and members of the public will all be vying for the minister’s attention and trying to get answers. However, they may not get answers fast.

If a minister really cannot respond to an issue, he should just say, “I don’t have the answers yet. Please give me time to do more research,” like Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad did recently.

Any hasty response to an issue by a minister can spell trouble as the ministry will be forced to fulfil a promise that was made without due consideration.

The pressure will always be there, but it is the person at the helm of the ministry who will have to make sure that he only bows to genuine pressure, and not by those who are motivated by self-interest.