Monday 05 Jun 2023
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This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on December 5, 2022 - December 11, 2022

The announcement that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim would also take up the position of finance minister came as a surprise.

It is because one of the many lessons learnt from the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) fiasco is the need for a separation of powers between the prime minister and finance minister. When one person holds both positions, it can lead to the abuse and mishandling of public funds.

In fact, come March next year, Malaysia will need to redeem a US$3 billion (RM13.16 billion) bond taken by 1MDB. The money is coming out from the development expenditure, meaning funds meant for the benefit of the rakyat will be channelled elsewhere.

By taking up the position of finance minister as well, Anwar, who became the 10th prime minister on a reform platform, surely knows that he is opening himself up to attacks.

Therefore, in a carefully crafted press conference, he also announced the appointment of former Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) president and CEO Tan Sri Hassan Marican as head of a group of advisers that will assist him in the Ministry of Finance (MoF) on a pro bono basis.

The MoF is the second most important portfolio in the cabinet after the prime minister. This is probably the first time a group of advisers will be assisting the minister.

Apart from refashioning the MoF, Anwar in his defence can probably count on his track record as finance minister as a reason for taking up the position.

The then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had removed Anwar as finance minister, following a clash between the two personalities in determining the country’s direction as the 1998 Asian financial crisis ravaged the region.

During Anwar’s tenure as finance minister, the country’s budget was in a surplus position. Since then, no finance minister has been able to achieve a surplus budget — in good and bad times.

As for Hassan, he is a well-known name in the oil and gas industry. During his tenure at Petronas, he was known for defying orders from Putrajaya, which was then led by former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Among the instructions that Hassan refused to accede to was the appointment of persons closely aligned to Najib to the Petronas board.

It is hoped that Hassan and his team of advisers, as well as other members of the cabinet, will speak out — even against the prime minister — if there is any mishandling of public funds in the MoF.

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