As GE14’s indelible ink begins to chip off, the machinery of Government has started clanking again. Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad revealed the much awaited for posts for Cabinet, but only three of them, while the rakyat nervexcitedly awaits the rest. The three are Muhyiddin Yassin as Home Minister, Lim Guan Eng as Finance Minister and Mat Sabu as Defence Minister.
On the other hand, lots of others are delighted at the idea of having Mat Sabu as defender and protector of the realm. If he says, “You shall not pass”, sure kenot pass.
BUUUT people do raise a good question. We decided to write an article about the Ministry and found out you don’t necessarily need military experience as most people would assume (plus we sprinkled on a bunch of cute Mat Sabu memes).
Actually, what does the Minister of Defence do?
Every morning the Minister of Defence sees which countries to bomb, shoots a cow with a bazooka, and lights a cigar as the ashes fall into his teh tarik and yeah we’re just pulling your leg. Besides, Mat Sabu would probably be more comfortable holding a spatula than a bazooka, since he is a kickass cook.
The Ministry of Defence, or Mindef for short, is led by the Minister of Defence, who is none other than meme king, 64-year-old Penangite Mat Sabu, and assisted by a Deputy Minister. Mindef contains two main services – civilian, headed by the Secretary General and Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF), headed by the Chief of the Armed Forces.
The Minister is responsible for implementing the National Defence Policy and manage resources provided to the armed forces to defend the country.
“The primary objective …. is to protect and defend national interests which form the foundations of Malaysia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and economic prosperity.” – plucked from the National Defence Policy
Basically, these branches: defence, national security, army, navy, air force, intelligence and all related branches (which you can read here) are under Mindef. So they will jaga our country’s territories on land, water and air space. But each would have its own head, working with and advising Mat Sabu.
It is Mindef’s job to administer these Acts: Armed Forces Act 1972, Arms Act 1960, National Service Act 1952, National Service Training Act 2003, and Veterans Act 2012. Additionally, it is responsible for maintaining training schools for officers, like the National Institute of Defense Studies and the Armed Forces Defense College to name a few. The Minister is also in charge of National Service (NS).
The Minister is also involved on the ASEAN level to ensure a peaceful and dynamic Southeast Asia, though nowadays the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting has expanded its borders to include non-ASEAN countries as well. One thing to note about Malaysia’s policy when it comes to being involved in foreign wars…it does not! We only send our troops for peacekeeping missions. In fact, we’re the 8th biggest Asian contributor to the UN’s peacekeeping arm.
However, it is important to note that the Ministry is a completely civilian institution, subject to the decisions and directions of the National Security Council (NSC). The Minister chairs the Armed Forces Council, which is responsible for administrative, command, and disciplinary matters related to the force, however matters relating to their operational use is NSC’s turf.
The power to declare war, however, rests with Parliament…not…that…we need to declare war, because our nation’s stance strictly
“Renounces the use of threat and application of force as a means of settling international conflict and advocates and practice the peaceful resolution of disputes.” to quote Mindef
That said, we have the smallest overall army size [110,000 (active) + 296,500 (reserve) = 406,500 total] compared to all our neighbours, even Singapore! We also have 74 tanks, 55 jets, 8 warships, and of course, 2 submarines *cough*
To be fair, one of the reasons for why our army is less equipped than our neighbours is because we’ve been lucky enough to not have any major insurgencies like Thailand, we’re also not under possible major threat from bigger countries, like Singapore is, and we’re much smaller in land mass compared to Indonesia, so there’s less need for a big army or a lot of equipment to defend our borders.
Aiyaa civilian role? So we’ll never get to see Mat Sabu Rambo it up in army uniform holding a bazooka?
Turns out there are many Defense Ministers without experience around the world
The role of a Defence Minister varies a lot from country to country. In some, the Minister is only in charge of general budget matters and procurement of equipment, while in others the Minister is an integral part of the operational military chain of command.
In many nations it is a strong convention for the Defence Minister to be a civilian, in order to highlight civilian control over the military, though it’s not uncommon for the Defence Minister to have a bit (or even extensive) military experience. In less democratic countries, the minister is often an active military official.
In the UK, the previous Defence Minister Michael Fallon stepped down after a scandal and PM Theresa May appointed Gavin Williamson, someone with no former experience with the armed forces, although he also kena flak for lack of experience. Senator Marise Payne is Australia’s first woman Defence Minister, who has held several ministerial portfolios, though she has no known military background. As for the US’s current Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, he was formerly a Marine Corps General, however, having said that, 3 in 10 Defense Secretaries never served in the Armed Forces.
Now let’s Look East 😛 for Asian examples. Singapore’s current Minister of Defense Dr Ng Eng Hen is actually a surgical oncologist with a private practice before going into politics and held other portfolios before this post. His predecessor Teo Chee Hean on the other hand served in the navy. Meanwhile, India’s Defence Minister is also a woman, Nirmala Sitharaman, who is an economist.
China is very unusual in that the Ministry of National Defence (MND) is relatively powerless with no command over army. The MND is mainly a liaison and protocol office to communicate with foreign militaries, coz well, most other country’s have one, so China needed something. However, the Minister is usually a senior, although not always the highest ranking, military officer.
In Thailand’s case, PMs often hold the post concurrently, and nearly all ministers have been on active-duty or are retired high pangkat officers. If you look at the list, only 4 of them have no military experience – Chuan Leekpai, Samak Sundaravej who was a TV chef, but who had strong ties with the military, Somchai Wongsawat, who was in the civil service and judicial service, and Yingluck Shinawatra, who’s a regular businesswoman and politician, the first female and youngest Thai PM.
And then there’s Mat Sabu :)))
So how will Mat Sabu fare?
When Mat Sabu was announced as the new Defence Minister, many of his friends who know his sense of humour told him, “Jangan main tembak-tembak lagi ya!”. Another posted, “Abang Mat banyak experience, dulu kecik kecik main tembak-tembak”. But jokes aside, he is taking his mandate seriously. Speaking at a press conference, he told reporters he’s already got plans.
“This is a big challenge to me, I will conduct a preliminary study and hold a meeting with all the senior officials of this ministry. I want to know what’s going on in this ministry and what needs to be done as well as recommendations that will be brought up.” – Mat Sabu said at a press conference, quoted from NST
Analysts and army veterans are looking at this positively, saying he could really SHINE due to his rich experience as a fearless politician who was imprisoned twice under the ISA in 1984 and 1987.
Former Transport Ministry Sec-Gen Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said the most important qualities Mat Sabu needs for the job are integrity, decisiveness and a willingness to learn. Let’s face it, integrity, the man’s got. He is the only Pakatan Harapan President to declare his assets (he owns RM105,000 in cash and RM758,000 in property, if you’re curious). Heck, his party name is Amanah!
To top it off, the Armed Forced have pledged full commitment to the new Defence Minister, plus the Veterans’ Association of the Malaysian Armed Forces are welcoming of his appointment. It looks as though he will have good support.
And if you still don’t think Mat Sabu can get tough, we’d like to remind you of this…