(Putrajaya, July 11)Putrajaya has set up a new propaganda unit, in the same vein as the now defunct Special Affairs Department (Jasa), to spread government propaganda on social media, said sources.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah set up the unit, which is yet to be named, in April after Perikatan Nasional came into power.
The Malaysian Insight has contacted Saifuddin for comment and is waiting for his response.
A government source told The Malaysian Insight that a working paper was submitted to the cabinet as early as March and was approved immediately.
Among the first things Pakatan Harapan carried out when it won federal power in 2018 was to disband Jasa, which by then had earned notoriety for demonising the opposition.
Then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Jasa had to be disbanded to help reduce national debt, which stood at RM1 trillion then.
The Malaysian Insight learnt that an initial budget of RM30 million has been allocated to restart the new entity which is expected to increase in coming months.
“At the moment, the budget is RM30 million, RM10 million for salaries and RM20 million for operational budget but they are expected to get more,” another source added.
However, the unit has not kicked off yet as it is facing financial problems as Budget 2020 tabled by former finance minister Lim Guan Eng did not provide allocation for this entity.
“There are budgeting issues, maybe there needs to be a new budget. They are still using the budget Lim tabled,” the government source said.
The unit will also be renamed and will be operating from level 32 of the Communications and Multimedia Ministry in Putrajaya.
Jasa was used as a propaganda tool by Barisan Nasional to infiltrate schools, universities and government agencies.
The unit earned notoriety for its work painting the DAP as a racist and chauvinist party.
During the run up to the last general election, Jasa organised talks nationwide to “correct the misconception” towards the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, which was linked to former prime minister Najib Razak.
The current set up will start with a headcount of 52 and increased up to 1,000 contract positions upon the appointment of a director-general.
According to another source, the unit was initially supposed to be led by Dr Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek but it came to naught after he had been appointed as the new Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) chairman.
Among the names being bandied about as director-general is Bersatu supreme council member Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who has been vocal defending Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Another name is Saifuddin’s former officer, Zakaria Ab Rahim
However, some factions in Umno, who were linked with Jasa previously, are unhappy with this as they have been left out in the scheme of things.
“Several Umno people who used to be involved in Jasa are unhappy. They were not informed about this and they also want their people to be rehired,” an Umno source said.
About 800 contract staff members from Jasa were let go when the unit was shut down in 2018.
Former Jasa strategic communications division director, Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz, urged Putrajaya to rehire the previous staff as they were not political appointees but went through screening by the Public Service Department (JPA).
“Previous Jasa officers should be given due compensation due to unfair termination of their contracts and the shutting down of Jasa.
“They did a good job before, so they should be given permanent positions instead of contracts,” he told The Malaysian Insight.
Tun Faisal added that instead of this new entity being under the ministry, the propaganda unit should be under the prime minister’s office for more cohesive management.
Jasa was established in 1960 as a special affairs branch under the information services department. Its function was to preserve and safeguard the interests of the government.
In 2017, it was allocated RM22.89 million.