PETALING JAYA: Cabinet members are “overly dependent” on Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said a DAP leader, adding that it is giving rise to a “yes man” syndrome among ministers.
Charles Santiago says it is time ministers take control of their portfolios.
“The Cabinet is largely dependent on Mahathir, and that’s a mistake,” the Klang MP told FMT in an interview, days after Mahathir’s public admission that he was not happy with the ministers he appointed four months ago.
Santiago said that ministers must toe the line, but also have the courage to question their big boss.
“If Mahathir says no, then you have to question and ask why. If you just say, ‘Mahathir wants it,’ then it shows you’re weak.
“Get his approval and permission, of course, but don’t just do whatever he wants without questioning why.”
Santiago said the Cabinet had been slow in responding to controversial issues, including on the public outrage over a child bride in Kelantan, as well as the shariah caning of two Terengganu women accused of lesbian sex.
“Why didn’t the minister in charge do something about it when the issue was slowly brewing?” he asked.
He said in the case of the marriage of a 41-year-old man to an 11-year-old girl, it was Selangor’s Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah who stepped in by banning marriages of those under 18.
“What the Sultan did was fantastic. This is what our ministers should have been doing, setting the tone that no one should be allowed to marry until after 18.
“But instead, it was all politicised and delayed.”
But Santiago acknowledges that many of the ministers are new, and may be afraid of making decisions.
He said he was furious over the RM50 increase for minimum wage.
“It’s absolutely crazy. Businessmen were laughing at the RM50 increase. Many were ready to give up to RM200 increases in wages to boost productivity in the workplace. They’re worried about that more than anything,” he said.
He said it showed that the National Wages Consultative Council had been sidelined. The council, he said, had proposed RM1,250 as the minimum wage.
“Better to close down the council and make decisions on your own, right?” said Santiago, among the more vocal MPs on labour rights.
He said Bank Negara Malaysia itself had said that a family of four living in Kuala Lumpur would need RM5,200 to make ends meet every month.
He said despite this, the Pakatan Harapan government failed to start things right.
‘Buck up or suffer BN’s fate’
The three-term MP said the Malaysian public is watching the ministers closely, and warned that it would not be long before they start seeing through the facade.
“They’ll start condemning us for making the same mistakes as Barisan Nasional (BN) and brand us as BN 2.0,” he said.
Santiago said there are also some ministers busy dishing out “immature rebuttals” through their secretaries, in response to statements by opposition MPs.
He questioned PH’s commitment to reforms, saying the ruling coalition was just “tinkering” with what BN had done instead of embarking on new programmes as initially promised.
He said although the PH manifesto was not sacrosanct as suggested by Mahathir, it didn’t mean the spirit of their promises and pledges could be abandoned.
“The one issue we harped on during the 14th general election was the cost of living. Now that we are in government, what is our response? A RM50 increase in minimum wage? Come on.”
Santiago said it was time the Cabinet got to work, and not harp on issues such as corruption.
He admitted the obstacles faced by the new government, including a possibly hostile civil service, but said he was confident the Cabinet could improve.
“You learn from mistakes. That’s key. But they need to start consulting with the people instead of being out of touch like BN was in the past, which failed because they were never a democracy.”
Santiago said he would continue to speak out even if it were against his own party.
“We will face the same issue as BN before if we do not allow criticism within the party. Don’t form a wall. You remove yourself from the world and its realities and after 3-4 years, what will happen to you? You won’t be relevant anymore.”