Friday, March 22

A kitten called ‘cincin’ in the cabinet


A LEARNED friend called and enthusiastically fired his shot: “Name me the new Minister of Education?”

I had just gone through the list not more than 30 minutes ago, and made a note to remember his name. But it just did not stick!

“OK, you win. Please enlighten me,” I replied, not wanting to stress my brain cells on the name of somebody who could be anybody.

“… it was a long pause, surely trying to search the name on Internet. It was his turn to feel embarrassed. Obviously, he laughed too hard and the name slipped his mind.

Now, everyone can be a minister. In Malaysia, it appears to be the case.

This latest cabinet reshuffle is historical, just as the day is, marked by the execution of Thomas Cromwell, the English lawyer, statesman and chief minister (it was not called prime minister yet) of King Henry VIII, by order of the king, for treason and heresy on Tower Hill on July 28, 1540.

Oh, the order was by a bill of attainder which, in essence, is a pronouncement of the king, declaring someone(s) guilty of some crime and punishing them without a trial.

I am not suggesting anything. Just recounting the historical significance of the day. I certainly don’t want to be accused of protesting against the government and risk being charged for attempting or committing any activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

Back to the extraordinary new cabinet which axed five ministers, appointed a new deputy prime minister, seven new ministers, three ministers with new portfolio, and 11 new deputy ministers. Adding to those ministers and deputy ministers retained, we really have a bloated cabinet, the biggest in history.

Over dinner the next day, my mother said she was amused by the new DPM. Referring to his comment reported in a Chinese daily, she said: “He kept saying the power of appointment of cabinet members was the prerogative of the PM, and I counted, he repeated it eight times.”

Does it mean the PM can appoint anybody and everybody into his cabinet? Yes, of course. But who dares say the parliamentary democracy we inherited is perfect?

During his reign, Gaius Julius Caesar A Germanicus, the Roman emperor nicknamed Caligula, made his favourite horse, named Incitatus, a senator and had wanted to appoint it his consul.

Recorded in the Roman History, Incitatus lived in a house with a troop of slaves and furniture. It had its stall of marble, eating oats mixed with gold flakes from a manger of ivory, tailor-made purple blankets and wearing a collar of rare precious stones.

The Senate was enraged by his insult and humiliation and Caligula was assassinated before Incitatus was actually made his consul. Then, the eccentric emperor had shown his utter contempt for the government of Rome: his horse can do a better job than the senators and the elites.

The Roman Republic, including Caligula’s reign, was the first government in the western world to practise representative democracy, the antecedent of our present-day parliamentary democracy.

In the discussion group deliberating the constitutionality of the removal of the AG, a learned friend reminded us of the Watergate scandal and the resistance of the then administration of US president Richard Nixon to the US Congress investigation that had led a similar constitutional crisis.

The president dismissed the Attorney-General, the Deputy AG and the special prosecutor, assigned to investigate the scandal. Nixon and his aides also made use of the enforcement agencies to harass activists and political figures.

With the expose and discovery of multiple abuses of power and faced with vociferous public outcry, Nixon ultimately resigned as the US president himself in August 1974.

Sixty-nine people were indicted for their involvement in the scandal. Forty-eight people, many of whom Nixon’s close aides and top administration officials, were found guilty and imprisoned. No activist, journalist or political figures were charged for attempting or committing any activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

So, I don’t know if those somebody somebody would feel honoured or apprehensive to be appointed as a minister or a deputy minister at this exceptional juncture.

Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) president Akhbar Satar described the cabinet reshuffle as ‘dramatic’ and fitting into a series of political manoeuvrings in the country.

Commenting on the development, he said with the removal of Muhyiddin who criticised 1MDB, the two separate 1MDB investigations, led by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and special task force comprising the police, MACC and Bank Negara co-ordinated by the AG, appeared hidup segan mati tak mahu (neither here nor there) or even dead.

He was critical of the removal of the AG and the accusation that one key member of the special task force, investigating 1MDB, is a co-conspirator in a plot to bring down Putrajaya, as obviously such will stifle the work of the task force.

Similarly, it is in the opinion of the TI-M president that the appointment of four PAC members, including the chairman, into the cabinet will put a stop to the 1MDB inquiry by the PAC.

Further, noting the suspension of The Edge Financial Daily and The Edge Weekly which were aggressive in exposing the alleged wrong-doings in 1MDB and the appointment of new police Special Branch chief and an untimely fire at  the police headquarters in Bukit Aman where purported “unimportant” documents were destroyed, the TI-M warned of the public perception there is a concerted effort to stop the investigation into 1MDB in its tracks.

The public perception, if anybody cares, is a cabinet to contain the 1MDB conundrum.

No cabinet is big enough for Incitatus. The Prima Major, however, has a beloved kitten which he went online, asking his fans and friends to suggest its name. The result was undisclosed but I had thought that “cincin” is fitting for a prime ministerial pet.

Surely, a kitten precious as a ring will be one loyal custodian. “Don’t let the cat out.” What better way to keep the 1MDB secret than having a kitten called “cincin” in the cabinet?

I can sense Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is relieved, if not thoroughly happy he is out of this cabinet. His posture and tone in the ‘leaked’ video shows his relief from the realisation he has been freed from something he detested:

“Saya kata, kenapa masuk account you? Duit berapa? (I asked, why enter your account? How much?) 700 million US dollars! Kalau kali (If multiply by) 3 point something, 2.6 billion. That goes into his personal account. Ini dia sebut.

He admitted …”

Many are puzzled why he is so calm and had not reacted to the expulsion. But why should he? Go watch the ‘leaked’ video which the IGP described as just a short video recording of a conversation mentioning a certain amount of money has been transferred into somebody’s account and doesn’t constitutes an offence. The former DPM was composed and unburdened.

Will you be happy, to be in the gang dining with food served in plates of ivory? Or will you be happier, to be out of the pack, freed from things you despised?