TRH said this recently “We are in uncharted waters with no one at the wheel”.

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So what’s going on here? (sourced from TMI).

JAN 21 – Behind closed doors, some ministers are concerned. They know that Malaysians are watching their every step and chewing on every word that escapes their lips.

These ministers are concerned that there appears to be a tendency for the government to reverse its own decisions at the first hint of opposition and worse yet, a trend among some of their colleagues to toss aside the concept of collective responsibility when discussing public policy.

These observations were made in the wake of a decision by Sime Darby Berhad to withdraw its interest of taking a stake in Institut Jantung Negara, an offer which sparked off a firestorm of criticisms by Malaysians, and a less than confident performance by Cabinet ministers to defend their decision to approve a plan by Air Asia to build a new budget travel terminal in Labu.

Since then, the Cabinet has rescinded its support for the Race Relations Act, adopting the same position put forward several months ago by critics of the legislation. There also appears to be some hesitation among ministers to articulate reasons why the Cabinet approved the plan to build a new low cost carrier terminal, with Agro Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin wondering aloud if there was need for another terminal.

So what’s going on? Why is the government appearing hesitant in its decision-making? Why are some ministers keen to distance themselves from what are collective decisions?

One possible answer could be the changed political landscape since Election 2008. With a more powerful Opposition presence in Parliament and much less goodwill among Malaysians, government ministers appear less secure in the face of any backlash to policies. Many of them do not have the conviction to explain and defend a particular course of action, especially when the chorus of rejection is loud.

Some of them do not believe that they have the luxury of expanding political capital at a time when the ground sentiment is still anti-establishment. So when the voices against the privatization of IJN became louder, the ministers ran for cover. This despite the fact that the proposal was put before the Cabinet and that representations were made to senior ministers by several people, including the chairman of Sime Darby, Tun Musa Hitam.

Why a Cabinet so short of political capital even gave in-principle approval to the combustible plan is a mystery? Fingers are now being pointed at the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, the Second Finance Minister and others. But the fact remains that the Cabinet saw it fit to approve the IJN plan.

It is no secret that there was a palpable sigh of relief in Putrajaya when Sime Darby announced that it was withdrawing its proposal in the face of strong public sentiment.

A similar pattern is emerging with regard to the KLIA East proposal. There has been precious silence from the government on why it approved the plan to build a new LCCT away from KLIA. Transport Minister Datuk Ong Tee Keat offered some morsels of information but nothing that could illuminate the Cabinet’s thinking on the issue.

Since then, everyone from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to Khazanah Nasional Azman Mokhtar has weighed in on the subject. But the government has maintained its silence, perhaps once again unwilling to use its political goodwill to fight off the critics and unsure whether it can be persuasive enough to win over the doubters.

For supporters of the Barisan Nasional, it has been painful to watch this dithering by the government.

They remember with fondness that a hallmark of the Mahathir years was the ability to push through difficult and unpopular policies.

The plans to build the Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Putrajaya were controversial.

But the former Prime Minister rarely wilted at the first sign of trouble and his Cabinet seldom reversed its decisions as a result of some opposition.

He and his ministers went ahead with unpopular policies and plans if they were convinced about them. Sure, the Opposition was not as strong as today and the Internet had not been developed as medium of information and news.

But the challenge then was always about getting the job done and proving the critics wrong.

Now the challenge of getting over the first hump seems too daunting a prospect for the government. Now the prospect of getting into a bruising debate seems too daunting a prospect for some ministers.

The problem with this approach is simply this: cut and run cannot be the answer for any government serious about keeping its credibility with its citizens and foreign investors. Several government officials say that the flip-flop is just a by-product of the transition period between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Hope so.

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A by-product eh? More like toxic waste from the UMNO-led BN as a result of unrestrained endemic corruption and blatant abuse of government agencies to suit the mood and taste of the powers-that-be.

Lame-duck AAB was tossed out by his own party comrades and brethren while the ‘unelected but anointed’ NTR will hold the reins of federal power by March ’09.

If this had occurred with BN riding high from a large electoral mandate, it would have been par for the course.

But it certainly is not.

GE12 resulted with BN losing 4 + 1 states plus it only garnered 51% of the popular votes. Add to this, two humiliating by-election losses in Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu, the continued trend hammers home the call from Malaysian citizens for BN to enact real reforms. While the former had AAB’s footprints, the latter were entirely NTR’s. While both had nothing to offer in terms of national reconciliation since GE12, NTR seemingly had support from within UMNO to chart a better future for the nation.

Alas, NTR faltered at KT, laying bare the notion that the unqualified and the vanquished has no business trying to usurp the mantle of national leadership when even small battles are ‘unwinnable’ for him.

Let’s not kid ourselves that BN still enjoy unrequited goodwill from Malaysians to steer this country through uncharted economic uncertainties during 2009 and beyond, and if the above report is any indication, we are indeed in deep, troubled waters.

If we are to put blinkers on a flip-flopper, perhaps we can ‘guide’ him on the straight and narrow path. Therefore, its incumbent on all of us to secure this option, rather than leaving it to 2000 plus UMNO delegates to decide OUR COLLECTIVE FUTURE.

Lastly, I believe an opening can be created for a trade commissioner in Iceland where frocks are voluminous and with the perpetual coldness, a frozen impasse realised.