February 1, 2023
SINGAPORE – Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is facing criticism over the appointment of his eldest daughter Nurul Izzah, who lost her seat in the general election, as his pro bono adviser on economics and finance.
Despite the fact that she is not being paid, critics say the appointment looks like nepotism, as Ms Izzah, 42, does not have experience in economics and finance.
Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M), a non-governmental organisation, says the move “gives the wrong signal, and if not rectified, it will be a factor that will show up on the Corruption Perception Index”.
“Hopefully the Prime Minister will intervene and make adjustments so we don’t lose Nurul Izzah’s talent,” TI-M president Muhammad Mohan was quoted as saying by The Star daily.
A former member of a pro-Anwar group of activists has also slammed the decision. “The perception is simple. Out of 32 million people, is there really no one else who can be the Prime Minister’s adviser?” former Otai Reformis secretary Abdul Razak Ismail was quoted as saying by the Free Malaysia Today portal.
Datuk Seri Anwar on Tuesday defended the appointment of his daughter. “Nepotism is where (a family member) is given a position to abuse power, enrich themselves, obtain contracts and get paid a huge sum. This is not the case,” he told reporters.
Ms Izzah has a degree in engineering and a second degree in public and social policy from Johns Hopkins University in the United States. She is the vice-president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), which is led by her father. In the last general election, she lost her Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat, a traditional PKR stronghold, to Perikatan Nasional by nearly 6,000 votes, after having won it in 2018 with nearly 16,000 votes.
Despite his reservations, economist and Khazanah Research Institute senior adviser Jomo Kwame Sundram said Ms Izzah had demonstrated sound political and policy independence when dealing with a number of issues in the past.
“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,” he said.
“In an ideal world, I will not advocate this. But she has a level of competency that many people do not know of,” Dr Jomo was quoted as saying by The Edge Financial Daily on Monday.
“I think the fact (that) 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.”
Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told The Straits Times: “I think nepotism comes into play when there are obvious elements of playboy dilettantism or impending kleptocracy.
“Nurul Izzah has the pertinent qualifications and is widely viewed by progressive Malaysians as capable future prime ministerial material. So at worst this is a valuable training ground for her to remain useful and visible, and at best, a way to draw out the economic views of the younger yet responsible generation that she represents.”
Concerns about nepotism in Malaysian politics have been fuelled by numerous past incidents. For example, former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was criticised after appointing his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin as his close adviser.
There was also disapproval when Ms Nurulhidayah Ahmad Zahid, the daughter of Umno president Zahid Hamidi – who became deputy premier in December – was appointed to the board of government agency SME Corporation in January 2021.
Lawyer Andrew Yong pointed out that Ms Izzah’s new position is unpaid. He tweeted: “In my view, there is nothing fundamentally wrong about someone with Nurul’s political experience working for her father essentially as an unpaid political assistant. But the use of the title of ‘senior adviser in economics and finance’ is clearly a presentational error.”
Some long-time supporters of Mr Anwar said they were unhappy with the announcement.
Company secretary Michael Ariva, 42, told ST: “I am very disappointed. I have been a strong Anwar supporter since the Reformasi days. He has always been against nepotism and promised reforms. Nurul Izzah is not qualified. It is nepotism.”