The search for the top two honcho’s at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) has intensified with the Chairman of ISIS, Tan Sri Rastam Isa’s tenure about to end in December and his deputy, Datuk Stephen Wong in the middle of next year.
Several names had been bandied around in recent times as to who should lead the illustrious institution. Among them are Dr Chandra Muzaffar, a leading expert on peace, justice and Middle East Affairs. Another is Dr Muthiah Algappa, a Malaysian associated with many think-tanks in Washington and finally Dr Jomo Kwanme Sundram, who currently sit on the prestigious Tun Hussein Onn chair at the institute.
The need to replace the existing leadership at ISIS and install a new team is part of the Pakatan Government’s effort to ensure think-tanks would give valuable feedback to the policymakers of the day and assists it in its nation-building efforts.
It is hoped the new leadership would have the grit and determination to carry out the research agenda’s, policy recommendations and research projects that were notably absent with the present leadership.
A notable analyst familiar with the working of the think tank said it was clear the ISIS’s fingerprints were absent in policy agenda’s over the recent years. Little was done to shore up the capabilities of its researchers and many writing it off as “has been institution”, he said.
Its glory days ended with the demise of its founder, Dr Noodin Sopiee, a prolific writer, scholar and a thinker whose views and advice was keenly sought at home and broad.
For a while, the institute could ride on the back of his shadows, but after more than 10 years of his demise, there appears to be a difficulty in finding someone to fill his shoes.
His successors had all been but pale comparisons to his abilities though the present leadership could have turned the clock back for ISIS by helping Malaysia frame its foreign policy in an objective way.
It must be said that during Najib Razak’s time, the ISIS and other ‘think tanks’ were simply reduced to the ‘yes men’ roles, accompanying the Prime Minister abroad, working hard on shoring his sagging popularity.
Over the years, its lacklustre leadership contributed to the rot, turning it into a mere rubber stamp organisation that supported all government policies, more like a propaganda bureau of its political masters.
The rot at the institution is synonymous and reminiscent of the culture of mediocrity that has crept into nearly all our institutions, exacerbated by poor leadership displayed at ISIS for example.
Questions must be asked as to what was the leadership and the board running the institution doing during their tenure at ISIS?
Nevertheless, it is hoped the new leadership at ISIS would be able to set the agenda for the think-tank and provide valuable feedback to the government in its efforts to stir the country out of turbulent waters.