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The good and bad of putting federal territories under Anwar

Logistically and administratively, things will be simpler although concerns remain that the prime minister will also become the de facto FT minister.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
3 minute read
The Putra Pedrana building in Putrajaya which houses the Prime Minister's Office.
The Putra Pedrana building in Putrajaya which houses the Prime Minister's Office.

The move to convert the federal territories ministry into a department under the Prime Minister's Department (JPM) has raised questions about its leadership and whether Anwar Ibrahim will end up the de facto minister in addition to the portfolios he already holds. 

The administrative restructuring was announced by Chief Secretary to the Government Mohd Zuki Ali on Dec 23. 

Zuki also named Rosida Jaafar as the director-general of the new Federal Territories Department. 
Lawyer Rafique Rashid said that dropping a ministerial portfolio was a good move as it would enable the government to cut down on expenses. 

Nevertheless, he said the one-time ministry would come under the auspices of Anwar, who already holds the finance portfolio in addition to the top office. 

As there is no longer a minister in charge of the federal territories, he said, the question would arise of whether Anwar will assume the role as well 

"Will we have Anwar as the prime minister, Anwar as the finance minister and Anwar as the de facto federal territories minister?

"This is something he must be transparent about. Is Rosida there to replace the role of minister, or just to be a figurehead? 

"As long as this matter is not explained, Anwar is the de facto federal territories minister," he said. 

The federal territories ministry was established in 1979 to coordinate planning and development for Kuala Lumpur and the wider Klang Valley area.  

In 1981, it was downgraded to a divisional unit under JPM known as the Klang Valley Planning Unit. 

It was given ministry status once more in 2004, under the administration of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, with Isa Abdul Samad appointed as its minister.

Special focus was then given to the progress of the federal territories, namely Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya. 

Rafique said another issue of interest was Article 42 of the Federal Constitution which concerns the power of the Pardons Board. 

If a case is tried and handled in Kuala Lumpur, he said, the minister responsible for the federal territory will be among the sitting members of the board. 

"This means that he will be part of the composition or a member of any pardons board related to regional cases," he said. 

Noting that former prime minister Najib Razak's case is ongoing in Kuala Lumpur, he said this would be a "very important legal issue".  

According to Article 42, the Agong has the power to grant pardons and postpone punishments or legal relief after receiving advice from the Pardons Board, which consists of several parties including the attorney-general. 

Rafique said the announcement was likely to trigger conflict as the current government comprises a combination of coalitions including Barisan Nasional and its lynchpin party Umno. 

"There is also the issue of the former prime minister from Umno, who may have to rely on the Pardons Board in the case of the SRC International trial which saw him sentenced to 12 years in prison." 

Analyst Mazlan Ali of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said there were several possible reasons for placing the ministry under the jurisdiction of JPM. 

Firstly, he said, the prime minister might want the areas within the federal territories to be managed directly under JPM, to enable a close watch of their progress. 
"There are many issues under the umbrella of the federal territories," he said. 

"For example, there have been many problems related to matters of land embezzlement over the past few years, as Kuala Lumpur is a city with high property value. 

"We have heard of many issues related to corruption under this ministry." 

And by placing the ministry under JPM, he said, Anwar could monitor matters directly, to ensure that problems such as corruption and misconduct do not crop up. 

Mazlan also said it would be easier to place Putrajaya, the country's administrative hub, under the supervision of JPM, especially when it comes to the planning and development of the region. 

"And under this new administration, the federal territories will be governed by a director-general, so there will be less politicking.

"We know that the federal territories ministry has become the focus of businessmen looking for opportunities.

"Perhaps the prime minister has a vision in abolishing the ministry and placing it under JPM."