PRIME Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has opted for a cabinet with a difference.
For the first time, there will be no deputy prime minister. Understandably so. The No. 2 position had been a thorn in the flesh of many prime ministers in the past.
A few never made it to No. 1. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim lost it twice, though on the second occasion he wasn’t technically a deputy prime minister yet.
Instead, integration is expected to happen at four senior ministers’ level: International Trade and Industry (Datuk Seri Azmin Ali), Defence (Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob), Public Works (Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof) and Education (Dr Mohd Radzi Md Jidin). They will assist the prime minister.
An interesting addition from the corporate world is CIMB Bank Bhd chief executive officer Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz as finance minister.
Not exactly a lean cabinet — there are 31 ministers versus 25 previously — but we hope it will be nimble enough to be one that delivers.
When technocracy meets politics there can be pleasant surprises. So too when the old mix and mingle with the new, as they do in the Muhyiddin cabinet.
There is a happy absence, too. Coalition members of parliament who are facing criminal charges have been kept out.
Muhyiddin and his cabinet have some daunting tasks ahead. Covid-19 is top of the list.
For sure, he needs a capable health minister. But the fight against this fast-mutating novel coronavirus shouldn’t just stop at the Health Ministry’s door.
It must be fought on several fronts. In the words of the World Health Organisation, Covid-19 can be pushed back but only with a collective, coordinated and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government.
Integration that happens at the senior ministers’ level may just make the turf tussle a rare rant.
Our ailing economy needs attention, too. The long-drawn political uncertainty in the latter part of last year and the incapacitation of supply chains by Covid-19 call for a big think.
Stimulus package is but a start. Malaysia’s way forward requires more. Life after Covid-19 must be addressed.
Financial markets are nervous, a sign that they need speedy soothing. Economic policy must be revisited. But first the debate about monetary versus fiscal policy as an antidote for the Covid-19-hit economy needs to be settled fast.
It will be unfortunate if we wait for the economy to get worse. Now that the crude oil prices are heading south — as this Leader was going to the press, benchmark Brent was US$36, a fall too far from our budget price of US$62 — companies may be facing a cash crunch.
Lay-offs may not be far off. The new government must not allow this to happen. Companies must be helped so that they do not make the staff pay the price for a mingling of many miseries.
Muhyiddin’s cabinet mystery may now be no more, but his detractors will continue to be unhappy. To be fair to the prime minister, he has kept to his word to have a clean cabinet.
This the opposition must acknowledge. Consider it an extension of an olive branch of sorts. They will expect Muhyiddin to do more, and he should.
Reconciliation may heal some old wounds, though not all. The opposition must reciprocate, too. Magnanimity on both sides will take us forward.