If there’s something that has been glaringly wrong with the Malaysian Cabinet for a long time now, it’s that the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister have been the same person.
While it is fair that the selection of cabinet members should be left to the wisdom of the Prime Minister, there should be limits, especially in the appointment of the Finance Minister.
It is fundamentally wrong for the most powerful person in the country to also be in charge of the nation’s coffers.
In fact, former Bank Negara Deputy Governor Lin See Yan revealed earlier this year that Abdul Razak Hussein was never comfortable holding the Finance Minister’s post when he was Prime Minister, but reluctantly did so after the resignation of Tan Siew Sin.
Razak, Lin said, felt that this violated the principles of checks and balances. In fact, he did relinquish the portfolio as soon as he could.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that another former PM, Mahathir Mohamad, said in a lecture that the roles of Prime Minister and Finance Minister should be separated to prevent a repeat of the scandal associated with 1MDB, which is wholly owned by the Finance Ministry.
Mahathir, who himself had two stints as Finance Minister, said in the London lecture: “We should put a bar” to prevent the Prime Minister from becoming the Minister of Finance.
Mahathir is absolutely right. There needs to be such a separation of power. The Prime Minister cannot be the Finance Minister, and perhaps should not even be the Home Minister, another position which could be abused in the wrong hands.
What is funny is that a visionary statesman like Mahathir, the architect of Wawasan 2020, could not foresee the danger of allowing one person to hold both portfolios, like he himself did. That’s quite unbecoming of someone who idolised Razak and regarded him as his mentor.