Time for a war Cabinet

“Malaysia is now waging a war. A war with a cunning, technologically advanced enemy who has only utter disdain and disregard for age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, socio-economic status or political affiliation. This enemy is programmed to destroy,” wrote Dr Venugopal Balchand.

Venugopal had served as the regimental medical officer of the 19th Royal Malay Regiment. So, he does know when a country is at war — even if the enemy is invisible and unseen.

It is therefore no surprise that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has been called Malaysia’s first wartime prime minister since independence.

If that is so, then he needs a war Cabinet. According to Collins Dictionary, a war Cabinet is a committee formed by a government in a time of war.

Muhyiddin’s current Cabinet was constituted just before the war — the Covid-19 war. It is and remains a peacetime Cabinet.

But with the country now at war, Muhyiddin’s peacetime Cabinet is not an efficient way to execute war efforts.

Compare Muhyiddin’s Cabinet with Winston Churchill’s wartime Cabinet of 1940.

In 1940, Britain was confronted with two of the most important questions in her history. The first was who should lead Britain in the war against Nazi Germany. There were two candidates but it was Churchill who succeeded Neville Chamberlain as prime minister.

Churchill formed a war Cabinet, initially consisting of the following members:

  • Prime Minister & Minister of Defence: Winston Churchill (Conservative);
  • Lord President of the Council: Neville Chamberlain (Conservative);
  • Lord Privy Seal: Clement Attlee (Labour);
  • Foreign Secretary: Lord Halifax (Conservative); and,
  • Minister without Portfolio: Arthur Greenwood (Labour).

Churchill strongly believed that the war Cabinet should be kept to a relatively small number of individuals to allow efficient execution of the war effort.

Even as the war Cabinet would undergo a number of changes in composition over the next five years, it was kept small. On Feb 19, 1942, Churchill’s reconstructed war Cabinet consisted of the following members:

  • Prime Minister and Minister of Defence: Winston Churchill (Conservative);
  • Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs: Clement Attlee (Labour);
  • Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons: Sir Stafford Cripps (Labour);
  • Lord President of the Council: John Anderson (National).
  • Foreign Secretary: Anthony Eden (Conservative);
  • Minister of Production: Oliver Lyttelton (Conservative); and,
  • Minister of Labour: Ernest Bevin (Labour).

Churchill did not believe in having members who would have “nothing to do”.

Margaret Thatcher’s war Cabinet during the Falklands War was similarly small, consisting of seven members as well.

Theresa May was also urged to establish a “war Cabinet” to oversee Brexit, mirroring the approach used by prime ministers of the recent past to make decisions during armed conflicts or incidents like foot and mouth, when normal Cabinet committee processes are too cumbersome to keep pace with the demands of decision-making.

A 10-member “war Cabinet” was duly formed by May.

Churchill was said to be a prime minister of a coalition government. But his war Cabinet looked more of a unity government.

Perhaps this is what Malaysia needs as the country faces a war with an unseen enemy. Muhyiddin’s peacetime Cabinet is too large and cumbersome. Too many people are talking, with one contradicting the other. The rakyat are left confused.

Significantly also, it is on an expanded public payroll.

The day-to-day decision-making process at the top of government requires a smaller group if it wants to be able to respond with speed. Thus, Muhyiddin needs to establish a war Cabinet.

After more than a year at war — with 100 deaths in three days — he needs to do things differently. His peacetime Cabinet too cannot be indifferent. It’s time for the Cabinet to make the ultimate sacrifice. Take a break for a wartime Cabinet to take over.

A war Cabinet that is a unity Cabinet.

Record high 44 Covid-19 deaths

PETALING JAYA: The health ministry has reported a record high 44 Covid-19 deaths and 4,140 cases in the past 24 hours.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said there were 3,432 recoveries, bringing the total number of those discharged to 422,329.

In a statement, Noor Hisham said the total number of infections now stands at 466,330.

There are 42,135 active cases with 482 patients being treated in intensive care and 250 requiring respiratory assistance.

Meanwhile, the 44 deaths take the number of fatalities to 1,866. The deaths involved 43 Malaysians and one foreigner.

The highest number of deaths recorded in a day before this was 39 deaths on May 12.

There were 4,131 local infections today, comprising 3,728 Malaysians and 403 foreigners, as well as nine imported cases.

Selangor recorded the highest number of cases with 1,507.

This was followed by Johor (433), Kuala Lumpur (398), Penang (338), Sarawak (324), Kedah (239), Negeri Sembilan (190), Perak (182), Terengganu (119), Pahang (116), Kelantan (109), Melaka (97), Sabah (60), Putrajaya (23), Labuan (3) and Perlis (2).