MALAYSIA — Malaysia’s 10th Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was recently criticised for appointed his daughter, Nurul Izzah as senior advisor for economy and finance in Prime Minister Office.

Many had expressed concern about the apparent conflict of interest in Ms Nurul’s appointment, which sets a bad precedent for other similar appointments of family members, jeopardising Anwar’s unity government reputation.

But Mr Anwar defended that no nepotism was involved in the appointment of his daughter, and Ms Nurul will work on pro bono basis.

While acknowledging that some people are upset with his decision, he “guarantees” that his administration will continue to fight corruption, the abuse of power and the enrichment of any leader or officer.

Regarding Ms Nurul’s degree in Electronics and Electrical Engineering, which had no connection with finance, Mr Anwar clarified that she also holds a second degree in public and social policy from the renowned John Hopkins University in the United States.

“So, is it true that a health minister must be a doctor? And a water minister must be an engineer? As for Nurul Izzah, she has an engineering degree and a public policy degree. Indeed, I asked her to help me as an adviser at the PMD and MOF.”

He further argued that even leaders from Perikatan Nasional(PN) did not have relevant experience when they were in the government.

PN chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had earlier called Anwar to resign as the Finance Minister and advise his daughter to quit as the PM’s adviser.

The former prime minister recognised Ms Nurul as a “talented woman leader with great potential”,  but reminded her that her future should not be tainted by inappropriate appointments.

Polarised opinions in civil society on Nurul’s political appointment

Ms Nurul is also PKR (People’s Justice Party) vice president.

In GE15 last year, she lost the Permatang Pauh seat to PAS (Malaysian Islamic Party) candidate, Muhammad Fawwaz Muhammad Jan. The latter won with a 5,272-vote majority.

On 3 January, Ms Nurul was appointed as senior advisor to PM. This only came to light when she confirmed her appointment when interviewed by The Star recently.

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) voiced that Ms Nurul’s appointment in this manner is “counterproductive” and easily leads to questions regarding nepotism and conflict of interest.

IDEAS noted that Ms Nurul was a three-term Member of Parliament and possessed a Master’s in Public Policy from a U.S university. She also led a credible study on multi-dimensional poverty with Professor Fatimah Kari — an IDEAS senior fellow — as lead researcher.

“Nevertheless, the impression that this gives is that she has been appointed because she is the daughter of the prime minister, ” said IDEAS in a statement.

“While IDEAS is confident in her ability to contribute meaningfully through national service, and we also appreciate the fact that she is not drawing a salary, the appointment done in this manner is counterproductive and easily leads to questions regarding nepotism and conflict of interest, and even other public policy decisions that will be consequently made by this administration.”

Deputy CEO of C4 said Anwar “setting a wrong precedent”

Sudhagaran Stanley, deputy CEO of Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) called out Mr Anwar for setting a wrong precedent.

“Now, other ministers might do the same and appoint their daughters or family members to lead important portfolios. Where do we draw the line? This is surely not a good governance practice.”

“There needs to be transparency in the political appointment process and the selection (of appointees) must follow the best practices, ” he argued.

Economist Dr Jomo: Nurul’s appointment is not a liability

However, prominent economist Dr Jomo Kwame Sundram opined that although Ms Nurul’s appointment may not look good in the eyes of the public, it does not compromise her capability of fulfilling the position’s role and responsibilities.

When interviewed by The Edge on Monday (30 January), he said Ms Nurul is not a liability as she has demonstrated sound political and policy independence.

“I am also not keen on the Prime Minister being the Finance Minister. I am also not keen on this (Nurul Izzah’s) appointment. But all things considered, the reaction to her appointment is unwarranted, ” Dr Jomo said.

“In an ideal world, I will not advocate this. But she has a level of competency that many people do not know of.”

Dr Jomo said if somebody else was the prime minister, Ms Nurul’s appointment would have been uncontroversial.

Regarding the claim that Ms Nurul is unqualified for the position, Dr Jomo said this also implies inherited gender bias in the Malaysian political scene.

“When the fourth PM Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi appointed his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, I don’t think many people raised that as an issue when he (Khairy) was running the so-called ‘fourth floor’.”

“Similarly, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad assisted his son Mukhriz Mahathir in his political career, I didn’t hear these things being said. Did anybody ask anything about this? I hear this being said especially of Nurul Izzah. I think here you cannot discount the gender question.”

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