Malaysia needs a consolidated Infrastructure Ministry

Since the formation of the federation in 1963, the federal cabinet had grown from 29 members (Tunku Abdul Rahman’s 3rd Cabinet – 1964) before peaking to 93 members (Abdullah’s 2nd Cabinet – 2004). The position of parliament secretary has never been filled since Abdullah’s 3rd Cabinet – 2008. Constitutionally, the Prime Minister is given the discretionary privilege to determine the number of ministries and its office bearers.

The current Muhyiddin cabinet is made up of 70 members comprising of 32 federal ministers and 38 deputy federal ministers excluding the Prime Minister position. The Muhyiddin cabinet is made up of 62 elected Members of Parliament (MP) from Dewan Rakyat and 8 appointed Senators from Dewan Negara. Excluding the position of Prime Minister, 27% of the elected MPs are members of the Muhyiddin Yassin federal cabinet. This comprises 55% of the 112 MPs that provide confidence and supply to Muhyiddin Yassin.

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, there are 32.75 million people living in Malaysia as of the first quarter of the year 2021. The ratio of ministries to population is 1: 1,056,000 and the ratio of cabinet members to population is 1: 467,857 excluding the Prime Minister . The number of ministries should be declining to reflect the increased efficiency of the public administration.

Mahathir undertook a large-scale privatisation policy during his first tenure as Prime Minister which shifted the federal government from a public goods service provider into a public goods service regulator. Mahathir’s argument that privatisation leads to a smaller and more efficient government did not materialise at the federal cabinet level. Instead, Mahathir’s cabinet grew by 33% between the year 1981 to 2003.

The Muhyiddin cabinet introduced the position Senior Minister for Infrastructure Development. YB Fadillah Yusof from the State of Sarawak holds the Senior Minister for Infrastructure Development. The Senior Minister for Infrastructure Development coordinates the fragmented federal infrastructure sector under the purview of 6 different ministries.

The federal infrastructure sector is unevenly divided under the purview of:

  1. Ministry of Environment and Water (KASA)
  2. Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT)
  3. Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (KeTSA)
  4. Ministry of Communication and Multimedia (KKMM)
  5. Ministry of Transport (MOT)
  6. Ministry of Works (KKR)

The federal government did not focus on building the administrative capacity of the state and local government which involves devolving of federal powers. Instead, the federal government had consolidated greater power from the state governments. The overbloated federal cabinet led to fragmentation of the public administration, which led to higher non-renumeration costs, wider bureaucracy, redundancies, and inefficient central planning. Malaysia could not effectively solve critical issues such as climate crisis, welfare reach and disaster response under the fragmentation of the federal infrastructure sector.

Implications on The Performance of Non-Infrastructure Related Ministries

Several agencies that should be in other ministries are attached to these 6 infrastructure-related ministries. For example, the Fire and Rescue Department (JBPM) under KPKT should have been merged with the Malaysia Civil Defence Force (APM) and placed under the Ministry of Interior Affairs (KDN). The merger of APM and JBPM would improve the cohesiveness and response capability towards disasters, saving precious lives.

The jurisdiction to regulate community finances under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT) such as moneylending and pawnshops should be merged into Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM). BNM possess better capacity, regulatory and enforcement to deal with community financing. BNM is regulating other community financing such as P2P lending, microcredit schemes and foreign currency kiosks.

The Minister of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM) should take over broadcasting and media development-related agencies such as RTM, BERNAMA and FINAS. KPWKM should also take over the management of residents’ associations (RA) and joint managed bodies (JMB). KPWKM is the prime mover of targeted community projects which requires access to media, RA and JMB to propagate government social agenda. The Department of Social Welfare under KPWKM will improve its community reach through the network of RAs and JMBs.

Inter-Ministerial Conflict of Interests

KPKT currently is pushing for incinerators under the veil of Waste to Energy (WTE) to deal with rising municipal waste. According to the National Solid Waste Management Department, organic waste such as food and garden wet waste makes up more than 50% of total solid waste composition. Thus, incinerators are the least viable method to attain energy from the waste. The best method to deal with organic wet waste is to produce bio-methane under controlled anaerobic digestion. The bio-methane could be fed into gas power plants to displace the amount of fossil-methane (natural gas) used to generate electricity.

This reduces carbon emissions from both landfills and fossil fuels. Currently, landfill operators can only sell the electricity generated from bio-methane but not the bio-methane itself as fuel for electricity. The cost of anaerobic digesters could be recouped by selling bio-methane to the nearest gas power plants. The cost of acquiring an electricity generator to convert bio-methane into electricity is uneconomical for the landfill operators. The regulatory power to execute such solutions is divided disproportionally between KeTSA and KPKT. Instead of pushing for bio-methane injection into gas power plants, KPKT is pushing hard for incinerators under WTE.

Utilising the Industrialised Building System (IBS) will reduce cost, time, and reliance on foreign labour to build public infrastructure such as Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) and affordable homes. Hence, there is a strong motivation within several ministries such as KPKT and MOT to make IBS mandatory. However, construction standards are regulated by KKR through the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB). Fragmentation prevented KKR from feeling the motivation to impose new regulations onto the construction capitalists.

The fragmentation of infrastructure-related ministries led to over-exploitation of energy resources to power the national economy. KeTSA and KASA are pushing for environmentally friendly buildings to reduce consumption of electricity and water respectively. The regulatory powers to impose construction standards for environmentally friendly buildings are under the KKR. Fragmentation prevented KKR from feeling the need to enforce environmentally friendly buildings standards, and instead made it as voluntary measures to appease the construction capitalists.

The fragmentation of infrastructure ministries led to failure to impose efficiency standards on electricity and water for industrial and household equipment leading to overconsumption. The Electrical appliances efficiency benchmark rating is issued by Suruhanjaya Tenaga (ST) under KETSA. Meanwhile, water appliances efficiency benchmark rating is issued by Suruhanjaya Pengurusan Air Negara (SPAN) under KASA. The fragmentation between KeTSA and KASA for electricity and water prevented the creation of singular efficiency standards for electrical-water appliances such as dishwasher, washing machines and water heaters.

Fragmentated standards increased the compliance cost which increases the resistance from manufacturers for adoption of efficiency standards. The rate of wear and tear of the existing electricity and water infrastructure increases in tandem with overconsumption for electricity and water. The overconsumption and overexploitation of resources demands unnecessary public investment for newer energy power plants, upgrading the electricity grid, new water treatment plants etc.

This deprives public resources and tax money from other critical sectors such as public transport, rural electrifications, and rural roadworks. The failure to enforce efficiency standards for buildings and equipments had hampered the demand needed to stimulate green technology industries and create green jobs needed to stem unemployment and underemployment.

The fragmentation of federal infrastructure leads to poor urban planning leading to excess reliance on private mobility. Urban planning, roadworks and public transportation are three important sub-components of public infrastructure on any town planning to sustain growing populations. However, the jurisdiction of urban planning, roadworks and public transportation are fragmented under KPKT, KKR and MOT respectively. The tolled highways developed by KKR had made some cities and urban spaces inaccessible by pedestrians and public transport operators.

MOT works through the Road Safety Department of Malaysia (JKJR) but MOT carries the responsibility to reduce road accidents. Potholes and poor road maintenance have led to multiple road accidents in Malaysia, but the jurisdiction of road quality is under KKR. Blending used plastics and/or used tyres into road construction improves road durability but it is slightly costlier. This contradicts with KKR’s focus to increase the kilometres of road surfaced per Ringgit.

The Way Forward For This Great Federation

The operational mechanism of the federal government needs to be consistently revisited to ensure top-notch efficiency and eradicate unproductive bureaucracy. The federal government should have established a Ministry of Infrastructure to consolidate all infrastructure affairs several decades ago. This would have sped up policy execution timeframes, reduced costs, optimised assets lifespans, and even saved lives. The consolidated Ministry of Infrastructure would increase coordination for transport, energy, water supply, sanitation, waste management and the infrastructure corridor.

The positive impact of establishing a Ministry of Infrastructure will be felt in other ministries as it allows for relocation of certain agencies and departments hoarded by the six redundant infrastructure-related ministries. The Prime Minister’s main priority is to optimise public services and goods from the public resources and taxes. The fundamental question remains unanswered, does the federal political establishment led by Prime Minister have the political will to reduce the cabinet by five ministries?

Sharan Raj
Central Committee
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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