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Rafizi heads 'toothless' ministry stripped of important portfolios, says Azmin

The former economic affairs minister says it focuses only on policy issues, with the agencies and departments previously under his supervision removed.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
Former economic affairs minister Mohamed Azmin Ali speaks in an interview with MalaysiaNow in Bangsar.
Former economic affairs minister Mohamed Azmin Ali speaks in an interview with MalaysiaNow in Bangsar.

Former economic affairs minister Mohamed Azmin Ali says the ministry under his successor Rafizi Ramli lacks power and scope in portfolio, comparing it to the time when it had jurisdiction over major government economic powerhouses under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Azmin, who was economic minister from 2018 to 2020, described the ministry in its current state as "toothless", adding that it had been relegated to policy issues while the agencies and departments previously under his supervision had been removed.

"Maybe Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim doesn't want to give power to Rafizi," the former PKR deputy president, who last served as the international trade and industry minister, told MalaysiaNow in an interview.

"The economy ministry has returned to its original state of working only with the statistics department, examining figures and data without any direct involvement in economic diversification." 

Anwar and Rafizi were seen to be at loggerheads at the last PKR election, where the prime minister had supported Saifuddin Nasution Ismail for the position of deputy president. 

Rafizi however defeated Saifuddin, and many of those on the PKR central leadership council are seen as being from his camp. 

The economy ministry was originally established as the economic affairs ministry in 2018, after PH's historic victory at the general election that year. 

Azmin was appointed to the portfolio under the leadership of then prime minister Mahathir. 

Key agencies such as Felda, Risda and Felcra were also placed under his authority. 

Azmin himself meanwhile prepared arguments and answers in Parliament for entities such as Khazanah and Petronas, which generally come under the jurisdiction of the prime minister. 

The Halal Development Corporation (HDC) was also monitored by the ministry, to help the development of the halal industry – an issue previously associated with the Islamic Religious Development Department or Jakim.

"The halal industry was a large-scale affair, valued at trillions of US dollars," Azmin said. 

"It involved raw materials, finance and supplies up until the final product. Because the chain was so wide, HDC was placed under the ministry. 

"That was the wisdom of Mahathir, who saw the economy in a larger context."

Azmin also presented the Felda white paper in Parliament during his time as economic affairs minister. 

Rafizi was appointed as economy minister in the aftermath of the 15th general election which saw the formation of the coalition government late last year. 

The ministry's website shows that it has one department – the statistics department – and five economic corridors, as well as seven government-linked companies in addition to state economic corporations. 

Rafizi, the Pandan MP, established the People's Income Initiative with three branches: Intan, Ikhsan, and Ihsan.

He introduced vending machines for small businesses under the Insan programme, and commented on a number of issues such as food prices and the cost of living, although these come under a different ministry. 

Most recently, he announced that his ministry was opening applications for the direct allocation of minor projects. 

During the first PH administration under Mahathir, Ayer Hitam MP Wee Ka Siong said the economic affairs ministry at the time had become more powerful than the finance ministry under Lim Guan Eng. 

He also labelled Lim as a "bookkeeper", saying he held no real power. 

Azmin however said that his ministry had not been powerful in the context of position, but rather in terms of the portfolio given to it, which he said was different from the scope given under Anwar's leadership. 

"The economy ministry now is toothless," he said. "Its leadership is also toothless. Nothing is moving. 

"It has formulas, but the people living in crisis have no need for formulas. 

"The people want things to be done, and solutions for the economic issues at hand." 

Before 2018, economic affairs came under the Prime Minister's Office without any designated ministry. 

Azmin said his ministry had been formed to monitor economic affairs due to Malaysia's economic diversity.

It was reincorporated into the Prime Minister's Office during the administration of Muhyiddin Yassin, who appointed Mustapa Mohamed to oversee the portfolio. 

Azmin meanwhile took over as international trade and industry minister until the general election last November. 

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