Media Release: State Portfolios must be separated from the CM



Press Statement 21 May 2018

PETALING JAYA (Tuesday): Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s denial that there is no conflict of interest between being chief minister while holding the finance porfolio highlights the necessity to reform this widespread practice in Malaysian governance at the state level.

“Tun Dr Mahathir must be commended. Even he listened to the demands of the rakyat to abide by the promises of their own manifesto to not allow the PM to hold any other ministerial post. Such a such a separation has a clear and logical reason. if there is any thing that the 1MDB crisis has taught us, it is that such concentration of power opens up the avenue for abuse, and this has to be practiced by state governments as well.”

Cynthia Gabriel, C4 Center

Last week, Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal “assured” Sabahans that there will be no conflict of interest as he “wanted to make sure state finances are on the right track”, despite his predecessor Tan Sri Musa Aman also holding both portfolios. He is quoted saying, “It doesn't mean that if I’m holding the Finance ministry there will be a lot of abuse.”

Checks by C4 Center shows that many state governments in Malaysia who have declared their executive council portfolios or cabinets still maintain this practice of the Chief Minister holding the Finance or economic planning portfolio. This includes Sarawak, Selangor, Malacca, Johor, and Terengganu. The Penang state government has bucked this trend by at least giving the economic planning/finance portfolio to its Deputy Chief Minister II.

This practice contradicts the spirit of reform as contained in the election manifesto promises of Pakatan Harapan. In Promise 12, it is mentioned that “The Prime Minister will not simultaneously hold other ministerial posts, especially the post of Minister of Finance”, in light of Najib Razak’s concentration of power.

This highlights that the finance portfolio is particular susceptible to abuse. This is further exacerbated as many states also own and operate their own state investment firms, such as Menteri Besar Incorporated (Perak), Warisan Harta Sabah, Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor (Selangor), and Chief Minister Incorporated (Penang). While Sabah is not officially part of Pakatan Harapan, we urge Shafie Apdal to reconsider transferring the portfolio out as a matter of good governance to instill the confidence required to prevent further mismanagement.

Sabah has been plagued with two back-to-back great scandals, first in 2016 with the “Sabahgate” scandal, and then in 2017 where Shafie Apdal himself was investigated.

Similarly, PKNS and CMI Penang are not without controversy of their own, which underscores the need for multiple layers of oversight and the decentralisation of power.

Such scandals cannot be allowed to further continue. GE14 demonstrated the desire for systematic reform away from the leader-worshipping culture of before. Therefore, assurances of a chief minister are insufficient. They must also be backed up with real change: transfer the portfolio to someone else in the cabinet or state EXCO.

What has been promised in spirit at the Federal level must also be practiced at the state level. C4 Center recommends that all state governments especially in West Malaysia, must also make similar changes in the spirit of reform that brought Pakatan Harapan into power.

Released by:
Cynthia Gabriel (Ms.)
Executive Director, C4 Center