A “drastic revamp” is in the offing at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia (ISIS) that will see many key personnel shown the door, while it sees a sizeable cut in funding when its current funding cycle ends, a source in Putrajaya said.

He declared the change in the leadership as necessary to bring the institution in line with the aspirations of the new Pakatan Harapan government, which is in need of input from think-tanks such as ISIS.

The highly placed bureaucrat said the cut in funding and the revamp of ISIS is in-step with Putrajaya’s intention of ensuring ISIS steps up its game as a government funded think tank that contributes towards national policy development and assist the new Malaysian government’s effort to push for change.

“At a time when national finances are stretched and the government has to scale back allocating funds to farmers and fishermen, there is no justification to continue giving the same allocation to non-performing entities such as ISIS, “ chimed in a Pakatan Harapan Member of Parliament.

ISIS Malaysia came into the spotlight lately as an institution failing to give input towards nation building policies and had already been sidelined by the previous Barisan National government, which paid for advise from global consultancies to fill in the void left by ISIS.

Many attribute this to its poor leadership and lack of clarity in its direction.

Its chairman Tan Sri Rastam ended his tenure on January 8th and was already facing wide speculation the PH government would simply let him run down the clock on his contract so that a new, more vibrant chairman could be appointed. In the meantime, the spotlight is on his deputy, Datuk Steven Wong, who is holding the fort until a suitable replacement is found for Tan Sri Rastam.

“Although Rastam was chairman in name, Steven was literally running the show at ISIS, but he was a disappointment with no significant research initiatives to his credit and certainly did not inspire any contribution from his researchers,” adds a senior bureaucrat from Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry who has worked alongside ISIS.

“He was just a passenger in the institute and if any funding is to be channeled into the institute, it would have to be after Steven leaves the institute, unless Putrajaya wants to risk a backlash from its electorates or even its own MPs,” he said.

A Pakatan parliamentarian said it was pointless if the scarce resources of the government is given to the same people responsible for bringing down the standards of ISIS, “A complete renewal of leadership is needed. Then we can see fresh input and ideas before extending any fresh funding to ISIS. Simply put, continuing the present level of funding with the same set of management staff would mean squandering taxpayers money”, she said.

Two decades ago, ISIS was the go-to think tank in Malaysia, with multinational corporations paying it to take on big research projects, but over the years its standards declined with the private sector now completely abandoning it.

“There was a time, when the Shells and the Exxons would seek expertise from ISIS, but over the years, the private sector stopped working with ISIS. Then came the next stage, when even government agencies found little reason to seek the assistance of ISIS with many saying that there was no talent at the institution,” a bureaucrat said.

A foreign academic schooled in political science and International affairs, said that a cursory examination of its management and citations would make ISIS a “laughing stock”.

“If there are no policy papers and research projects being spearheaded by its management staff, what more can be expected from its ordinary research staff. In the more advanced countries, such an institution would have been long closed down, but in Malaysia the senior ISIS elders are bent on holding on to their positions,“ she said.

The broad consensus is the need for renewal of leadership of its top management staff at ISIS if it is to be a useful institution to the government.



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  1. ISIS has outlived its usefulness. Demise is better than resuscitation. A new forward-thinking entity should be created with a new vision and mission that match, and in concert with, current time, trends and circumstances. Most importantly, it can and must value add to create wealth opportunities for the country through the seed and nurturing capital by the present Government, but be totally independent in talent-driven operation and futuristic-driven pursuit of objective-consultative ventures.

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