By Sang Tulis
While it is certain the head of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, Tan Sri Rastam Isa is set to be replaced with a Pakatan Harapan nominee, attention is now focused on his deputy, Datuk Steven Wong.
Tongues are waggling on who will replace Wong at the once prominent think tank which has now been placed under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A source familiar with workings of the institute says the “Sword of Damocles” is hovering over Wong’s head since the Pakatan Harapan government came to power.
She said Wong had a long association with the think tank, but little to show in terms of research output, policy briefings or spearheading any significant research initiatives.
“ISIS has been in steady decline and if the new government allows this to continue, there is little to be expected from the think tank, considering the lacklustre contribution of the top leadership,” she said.
The source added it was crucial for a complete leadership renewal at ISIS as the government needs fresh input to steer the country out of the mess created by the previous regime headed by Najib Razak.
Meanwhile, an ISIS insider was quick to point out that whoever is set to replace the top two positions must be grounded in foreign policy or must be well anchored in economics to bolster its researchers’ capabilities and be useful to policymakers.
“Steven Wong is not an economist nor is he schooled in foreign policy and international relations. With a Masters in Commerce from Australia, his research output to date barely does justice to his present position. Many others inside ISIS Malaysia see his days as being numbered.”
Drawing a direct comparison, the insider went on to say that until recently, Wong was also the head of Economics but there was little contribution from ISIS Malaysia in this area, compared to the time of the late Dr Zainal Aznam Yusoff or the late Professor Dr Ismail Salleh who was also from ISIS.
“I know morale amongst staff at all levels of ISIS is low and a clean sweep of the top leadership is paramount for ISIS to play its intended role in nation-building. The problem is that its management staff lack leadership and direction. Definitely a disappointment,” adds a senior bureaucrat based in Putrajaya.
He made reference to the head of Economics which was altered to “Economics, Trade and Regional Integration” to allow the unit to be run by a relatively junior, Firdaos Rosli. Firdaos was initially seconded from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry as Fellow but was rewarded as the Head of the division despite the lack of credentials.
Aside from manufacturing BN-centric opinion editorials criticising the Pakatan Government’s economic policy, he has little to show in terms of alternative views through policy briefings or research projects.
The fact that he only has a business degree but was promoted to such a position was also highlighted.