Monday 22 Apr 2024
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KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 30): Amid criticism from many individuals and groups against Nurul Izzah Anwar’s appointment as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's senior economics and finance adviser, a prominent economist says the appointment is not a liability as the PKR vice president has demonstrated sound political and policy independence throughout her political career.

Dr Jomo Kwame Sundram said although the optics of the manner of Nurul Izzah's appointment may not look good in the eyes of the public in view of the fact that she is Anwar's daughter, it does not compromise her capability of fulfilling the new position’s role and responsibilities.

“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.

"In an ideal world, I would not advocate this. But she has a level of competencies that many people do not know of,” Jomo told The Edge during an interview on Monday (Jan 30).

The Khazanah Research Institute senior adviser added:  “I think if somebody else was the prime minister, her appointment would have been uncontroversial. I would say her appointment is not a liability because she has demonstrated policy independence in a variety of issues in the past.

“One of the criticisms against her as a politician and MP was that she was very involved in innovating development programmes particularly when it comes to people’s welfare, such as helping single mothers. These programmes did not help her politically, but it showed that she is aware of what is happening in the world of development.”

Besides family relationship, Jomo said the claim that Nurul Izzah is unqualified for the position also implies inherited gender bias in the Malaysian political scene, pointing out that there was hardly any public furore when male politicians gave preferential treatments to their male relatives in the past to advance their relatives' political careers.

“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.

“I think the fact she is a woman is part of the reason why people might think she has no mind of her own. Of course it is not publicly stated, but these are the implicit assumptions,” said Jomo.

Nurul Izzah has a degree in engineering and a second degree in public and social policy from Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Indeed, Jomo sees that it could be to her advantage that she does not hold a university degree in economics.

“The fact that she is an engineer, also means she won't be easily intimidated by people who make quantitative arguments. I think it is very important to recognize this," said Jomo. "How many people who have become finance minister or who are involved in the ministry have training in economics at a postgraduate level?”

Nurul Izzah, the eldest daughter of Anwar, was appointed as senior economic and financial adviser on a pro bono basis at the Prime Minister’s Department and the Ministry of Finance, early this month.

The 42-year-old former lawmaker confirmed her appointment in a media interview on Sunday, prompting backlash as the public and opposition parties decried the assumed preferential treatment.

Edited ByS Kanagaraju
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