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Reformation or regression? A discussion about nepotism

Nepotism in Malaysia

The act of using your power or influence to get good jobs or unfair advantages for members of your own family’ – Cambridge dictionary

Nepotism in Malaysia is something we are all too familiar with. The idea of needing a ‘kabel’ (a connection to someone in power) to succeed has permeated all walks of life. From your local kopitiam being passed between generations to the CEOs son getting a cushy job with ease, nepotism is a layered concept that exists at many levels.

At the top floor, we’ve seen no shortage of people leveraging ‘kabels’ in politics. From ex prime minister Najib Razaks use of of his fathers credibility to marrying into power in the case of Khairy Jamaluddin, it is a tried and tested tactic. In any case, it is obvious that wanting the best for your loved ones is human nature. Whether it is moral, especially with the stakes at hand is a more contentious topic.

Prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim recently appointed his daughter, Nurul Izzah as Senior financial advisor. This garnered flak from notable figures such as ex prime minister Muhyddin Yassin who opposed the move stating it was unprecedented and the promise of reformasi was an empty one. Others such as president of Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) Muhammad Mohan made note of Nurul Izzah’s capabilities but said it gave a wrong signal that nepotism and cronyism of years past was making a comeback.

The prime minister recently unveiled Malaysia Madani, an ethos that sees sustainability, prosperity, innovation, respect, trust and compassion as 6 pillars for Malaysia moving forward. Should there be a 7th not so hopeful pillar

added to that list?

Anwar’s response (and hypocrisy)

Following the backslash, Anwar has stated that he welcomes criticism to ensure healthy practice under his administration. He also bites back that among those who criticize him have given millions of Ringgit worth of contracts to their children.

The prime minister argues that it is not nepotism since it is pro bono and she is not receiving a salary. However, this seemed like a strategic move as a counter card against allegations. Moreover, diverting attention to her salary and not the influential government position gives the wrong impression. Like the kopitiam owner and the CEO, the prime minister is a human and who can blame him?

Well, us.

Anwar himself has historically been vocal against nepotism in politics. This hypocrisy is likely why the backlash has been unrelenting. His additional position as Finance Minister also puts her directly underneath him introducing conflict of interest issues as pointed out by Muhammad Mohan.

In defense of the appointment

One figure in support of Anwar is the renowned economist Jomo who believes that she is not a liability. He states that Nurul Izzah has demonstrated sound political and policy independence citing her years of experience as a member of parliament. Although less than ideal, he believes that the backlash is unwarranted.

Anwar has stated that Nurul’s role would involve ensuring transparency in the administration and to monitor procurements and tenders so that processes are carried out properly. Critics were quick to point out her lack of educational background in finance. However, the success of Khairy Jamaluddin as ex-health minister with no medical background proves that a good job can still be done.

Moreover, this decision was transparent and made public. The prime minister could have made a more lucrative deal away from prying eyes but chose to bare the criticism.

Playing devils advocate, I think Nurul will likely do a good job considering her experience in politics and positive reputation. This is not exactly the case of an inexperienced child being put in the CEO seat. In a world where

nepotism is ubiquitous, should we paint both these instances in the same shade?

Looking forward

As qualified as Nurul Izzah is, the precedence by which she was picked was still unfair. Out of all the potential candidates for the position, a politician coming off a loss in GE15 was picked by her father for the leadership of our country. Even though nepotism in politics is not new, it is still important that we hold our leaders accountable.

The coming months will determine which direction the father-daughter duo take our economy towards. One potential compromise is that Nurul’s capabilities should be utilized in a different ministry, not under her father. On the other hand, The political analyst Azmil Tayob suggested establishing a group of advisors creating a check and balance system. In any case, it is likely that the prime minister will stick to his guns on this issue reserving these discussions to hypotheticals.

Yes, nepotism is not ideal especially at the highest level of government. It is our role as the Rakyat to point out its unjust occurrence among our leaders. My hope in writing this article is to expand the discussion surrounding it. Understanding the nuances of something ‘bad’ is a step towards avoiding categorical thinking.

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