Saturday October 20, 2012
No end to crisis in Kedah
ANALYSIS BY JOCELINE TAN
Kedah is in the throes of an administrative crisis as tensions between Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak and his state secretary Datuk Rasli Basir worsen amid attempts to make the top civil servant resign.
DATUK Seri Azizan Abdul Razak was in a relaxed mood as he mingled with the dignitaries sending off the King and Queen who were leaving for the Haj in Mecca. The Kedah Mentri Besar seems to have recovered from his poor health; he looked steady on his feet and has even put on some weight.
But rumours about his tenure continue to irritate him. Last Wednesday, journalists were calling up his office to ask about reports that he was resigning that afternoon. It was completely untrue and the news portal that published the news has since apologised.
Azizan has no plans to resign. Instead, he is demanding the resignation of his state secretary Datuk Rasli Basir.
Kedah is currently embroiled in an administrative crisis that has drawn parallels to the one that had preceded the appointment of Tan Sri Sanusi Junid as Mentri Besar back in the 1990s. The current crisis has caused the state administration to come to a near standstill and there are endless accounts of how state matters, especially land applications, have stalled for months.
At one level, the crisis is about the fallout between the Mentri Besar and the state secretary. At another, it is about PAS trying to assert control over the Kedah civil service.
The Mentri Besar and his state secretary have locked horns for much of the past year and witnesses have watched them argue openly at meetings.
They are barely on talking terms and Rasli was not allowed to visit Azizan when the latter spent weeks in hospital.
Their fractured ties and animosity are an open secret in the state. But it erupted into the open following Rasli’s decision to transfer one of his district officers (DO) Ahmad Fisol Md Nor from Kubang Pasu to Kuala Muda.
It seemed like a routine transfer but it has erupted into a political issue with PAS politicians claiming that Rasli has no right to order the transfer as Ahmad Fisol is also Kubang Pasu District Council chairman.
They said that while the DOs come under the power of the state secretary, district council appointments come under the political purview of PAS. As such, they are claiming that Rasli has overstepped his powers in taking Ahmad Fisol out of his chairman post.
The PAS side apparently like Mohd Fisol who is said to be sympathetic to the party’s cause. Several district councillors have since staged protests against Rasli, holding up banners calling for his resignation. They are demanding that Rasli reverses the transfer of Ahmad Fisol. However, Rasli is standing firm.
But the story behind the story is that PAS had been uncomfortable with Rasli from the day they came to power.
They believe that Rasli is too connected to the previous Barisan Nasional administration and they want someone who is more in tune to their political agenda.
Rasli had retired in 2011 but his services were extended for a year. In June this year, he received another one-year extension. Azizan’s administration was very unhappy about it but there was nothing they could do.
Historically, Kedah was an Unfederated Malay State; it has its own civil service system that answers to the Sultan who is now the King. The Sultan gave his consent to the tenure of Rasli - not once but twice. Besides, Rasli has a good personal relationship with the Sultan – they play golf together.
Azizan is said to prefer elevating the current State Financial Officer Datuk Mohd Puat Mohd Ali to the state secretary’s post.
Puat is also from the previous regime, but he is ambitious and has grown very close to PAS leaders, especially Datuk Amiruddin Hamzah – the man tipped to be the next Mentri Besar. In fact, Puat and Amiruddin are currently in New York on some official business.
Some said Azizan’s relationship with Rasli took a turn for the worse last year because he suspected that Rasli was not exactly neutral over the attempt to push him out of the Mentri Besar’s post. He felt that Rasli was on the side of Datuk Phahrolrazi Mohd Zawawi who would have taken over as Mentri Besar had the coup succeeded.
Phahrolrazi is ostensibly staying out of the fray and has also disassociated himself from the protests by PAS municipal councillors although he is the exco in charge of local government affairs.
“They did not discuss with me or refer to me before they held the protest,” he said.
Moreover, he is in Azizan’s bad books and has been sidelined since the failed coup attempt. But everyone knows that the King had invited Phahrolrazi to Kuala Lumpur for a round of golf a few days before His Majesty left for Mecca. But the weather was not good and they spent the afternoon chatting over tea in the palace.
“Tuanku is aware of the situation but I do not know his stand,” Phahrolrazi claimed.
PAS politicians want Rasli out before the general election rolls around. They see a shadow behind every rock and they are fearful of sabotage.
But their treatment of the top civil servant in the state may have backfired. Rasli is not exactly a popular top official but the state civil service is unlikely to take kindly to how one of their own is being treated.
“They have damaged the image of the state. How can councillors demonstrate on the roadside?” said one state official.
Rasli’s immediate future is hard to predict. He was appointed with the Sultan’s consent and some are concerned that demands that he resign will affect the administration’s relations with the palace.
Phahrolrazi said the decision lies solely with Azizan and that the ball is “at the Mentri Besar’s feet”. Azizan loves football but it has been a long time since he kicked a ball. However, he is unlikely to give up on his attempt to kick his state secretary out of the way.
In the meantime, the crisis can only get worse.