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Clever boys no longer welcome on 4th Floor – The Malaysian Insider

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on April 3, 2009

The Malaysian Insider

APRIL 1 – Not wanted: Bright, young professionals and with degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and other top tier schools. Some are calling it the Fourth Floor Syndrome while others are just saying that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak just does not want to be saddled with accusations of being a hostage to young, inexperienced minds, on top of all the other baggage he is already lugging into his new office.

So do not expect Malaysia’s next Prime Minister to follow his predecessor and surround himself with bright young advisors. For that matter, do not even expect the Oxford types to be given any floor space on the Fourth Floor of the Prime Minister’s Office in Putrajaya.

He appears wary of following the path of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who scored high marks initially with the public for staffing his office with bright young men and women but later, when despondency over his premiership grew, found himself pummelled by his critics in Umno for supposedly abdicating decision making to the Fourth Floor, the moniker for his advisors.

Abdullah defended his young advisors, arguing behind closed doors with party officials that they prepared sound policy papers and briefs and provided a good sounding board for ideas thrown up the civil service and private sector.

Ultimately, he insisted, all decisions were made by him and there were numerous occasions when he did not follow the advice of his team, many of them thirty-somethings.

Still, public perception was different, largely due to sniping attacks by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and other interest groups, who felt that the Fourth Floor was having inordinate say in the running of the country or were blocking their projects and “brown envelopes’’ from reaching the Prime Minister.

Dr Mahathir’s attacks found traction with several Umno ministers and warlords who could not accept that a team of political greenhorns had Abdullah’s ear. This long list included former Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Rafidah Aziz, who disagreed with the National Automotive Plan and was against the Khazanah Nasional inspired-plan to sell a stake in Proton to Volkswagen.

The Fourth Floor Boys were also blamed for giving Abdullah wrong advice on election strategy for Election 2008 yet the reality was that by 2007, the Prime Minister, bowing to pressure from his party, had stopped meeting his young advisors on a daily basis.

One of his advisors even cautioned Abdullah several months before March 8, saying that Barisan Nasional was going to face the perfect storm of issues and Opposition strength.

Regardless of the value of having young talent and a source of different ideas, Najib is sticking to the team of officials who have served him since he was defence minister and deputy prime minister.

The Malaysian Insider understands that if and when necessary, he will tap talent outside his office for policy input. But, wanting to avoid the perception that he was building his own Fourth Floor, they will not be given permanent employment in his office.

This is the case now with a team of international policy consultants and public relations experts helping draw up a 100-day programme for the new administration. This includes how Najib should project himself and the policy announcements he should consider making in the early days of his administration. In all probability his visit to Sin Chew Daily yesterday was part of the choreographed plan to reach out to the Chinese community.

Six years ago, Abdullah’s team of advisors, including the Fourth Floor brains, drew up a similar 100-days programme. It was brimming with promise and hope. The publicity surrounding the plan was so successful (remember that visit to the Immigration Department?) that everyone believed that Abdullah was Malaysia’s Great Reformer.

But the delivery was flat. That is something Najib needs to take on board two days before he is sworn in as Prime Minister.

It does not matter whether he has a Fourth Floor stacked with Ivy Leaguers or whether the policy input is from Boston Consulting Group or McKinsey. It is whether all the nice words can be turned into real action.

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