Mahathir vents frustration on DVD, Pt 2
Fauwaz Abdul Aziz May 12, 06 11:02am
exclusive: The following is the final part of Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Q&A
session with a group of Malay professionals in a close-door talk organised
by think-tank Institute of Economic and Political Studies.
- Given the circumstances surrounding Proton now, what are your feelings?
MAS CEO (chief executive officer) has gone, he has retired. But Proton’s
case is unique. They sack people who are successful. Now I’m beginning to
question whether what (former Proton CEO) Tengku Mahaleel (Tengku Ariff) has
been telling me is the truth or not. He told me that it (Proton) makes so
much money that it has billions of dollars and that when he built a plant in
Tanjung Malim, he didn’t have to borrow money either from the government or
from the bank. He used internal resources. But now I’m beginning to ask
myself whether he has been telling me the truth or not, because now it has
been losing money.
Now, how do you lose money? It must be because you’re selling the car at
below cost or something like that, or because of one reason or another your
operation cost has gone up, or something like that. I’m not able to say, but
certainly a little bit surprised that a company which had so much cash,
which apparently had been doing well, suddenly reports that it has not been
doing well and one of the reasons is that it has bought Augusta, an Italian
motorcycle-maker and it seems that by buying Augusta it lost money.
Now I tried to figure out how you lose money when you buy something. You
lose money if you buy it at a very high price and it doesn’t deliver. But
when you are buying a company which has debts, you have to shoulder the
debts and that, of course, goes into your account. But because you have to
shoulder the debts, the price of the company becomes very low. Who wants to
buy a failed company if the price is high? A successful company can ask for
premium, but a failed company cannot ask for premium.
So I’m still trying to figure out how is it that after the new management
takes over, not the new CEO, but after the new management takes over
suddenly Proton loses money. Is it because the new management is not capable
that it loses money? I cannot think that they are incapable because they are
highly qualified, so there is some mystery. We have to get to the bottom of
this mystery to find out why a company that was successful until the removal
of the CEO, it has now become a failure. And as a failure, of course, it can
be sold to other people at a cheaper price. The cash notwithstanding.
I feel that, yes, I am the advisor, but I am the advisor post the decision,
not pre-decision. So I’m told what has been decided, and that is about all.
I’m not like the British advisor, as I said, I’m the Malay advisor, whose
advice is asked for after decisions have been made. It is a pity, because
Proton is not just about making money, it is about acquiring engineering
knowledge, and believe me, the amount of engineering knowledge we acquire
through Proton is tremendous.
In 15 years, from a country that has no engineering capability, no
understanding of the automotive industry beyond screwing up parts that are
provided by others, we are now able to design and test and produce cars,
which this not very reliable British magazine called Car, says is very good.
So, we have been able to do something.
Now (with) the new management, there will be more bad news, as I said the
other day, when the first bad news came, there will be more bad news because
there is a need to prove that the previous people were wrong so that you
will appear right. If the previous people you say were right, then you will
be wrong. So this is a necessary process that you are seeing.
- How do we measure our progress towards Vision 2020?
I’ve always believed in two things. Number one, you must know from where you
come. In order to go forward, you must know where you are coming from,
otherwise, you may going backwards thinking that you are going forward
because you don’t know where you came from. You have to learn the lessons of
history. That means, the young people must know the history of this country.
Must know where we came from.
Four hundred and fifty years, practically, under colonial rule. Not
independent. We became independent only in 1957, now 48, 49 years. So, we
have seen the progress of the country since independence and before
independence and if you decide that you do not want to be dependent, you do
not want to be colonised, you have to strengthen yourself. Keep on
strengthening yourself from the time we became independent, we have reached
this level of development, but we must develop further.
For the young people, I notice, many of them are better educated. They are
engineers, lawyers, doctors, professionals, and we have great hopes for
them. However, knowledge alone is not sufficient for you to succeed or
contribute towards your country’s progress. What is equally important, or
more important, is the value system that you believe in. If you don’t have a
good value system, then your knowledge is not going to help you. You may
even abuse your knowledge, abuse it for the wrong things. For the Malays in
particular, this is worrisome.
I admitted, when I stepped down, that I had failed to change the mindset of
the Malays. I think that is still important, changing the mindset of the
Malays. I feel Pahang is a state with a Malay majority, but there are a lot
of Chinese and Indians there. Today’s paper, if you read the New Straits
Times, among the HIV/Aids sufferers in Pahang, 86% were Malays, 5% were
Chinese, 7% Indians, or the other way around.
You have to ask yourself these questions. Why Malays? Why are they involved,
suffering from HIV/Aids? Somebody tells me, well, they take drugs. That begs
the question: Why do they take drugs? Why don’t the Chinese take drugs? Why
don’t the Indians take drugs? And the answer came back that, well, they have
a lot of time on their hands, nothing to do. Is that a good enough excuse?
To me, it is not good.
You have to build not only a knowledgeable person, but a person who is
resistant to the bad influence around him and that requires a great deal of
discipline. The education system in Malaysia today does not emphasise
character building. Yes, we have religious teachers who teach us what is
good and what is bad, but you know what they teach you: the colour green is
better than the colour blue. I wonder why. For the arts class, they draw a
circle around the plate, colour the outside green and the centre part white.
Here, we are in a place where people use other colours, but these people are
not teaching the right values in order to build the right character, the
right character for struggling, for fighting, for winning in whatever you
do. So if you don’t have the right character, even if you are an electrical
engineer or whatever, you are not going to succeed. To succeed, you have to
have that drive, that passion for your work.
You know, if you go to Japan, it is 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock at night, you see
the light still burning because they are working. Here, of course, at 4
o’clock, we’ve got to go home, play golf, things like that, very important
One of the reasons why I introduced clocking when going out, was because
when I was minister for trade and industry, I looked out of the window, at 3
o’clock, I saw people streaming out of the office. I asked where are they
going? Where are they going? They are going to avoid the traffic. So you pay
them also to avoid the traffic. So my answer to that was to make them clock.
So after that there was some reduction.
But character building, I want to emphasise this to young people,
especially. Character building is very, very important. Apart from your
education, you must have good character. The kind of character that is able
to stand up and face challenges and overcome them. If you have that, insha
Allah (God willing), Malaysia will succeed and you will achieve Vision 2020.
- How do you see the direction this country is going in?
You’re asking me to say I was right and other people were wrong. Very
difficult for me.
But I think there is direction. I mean, we have Islam Hadhari, we want to
become an agricultural country, we want to emphasise agriculture now. That
is direction, also, but I thought we are not so good at agriculture apart
from planting palm oil. The rest, we don’t go for agriculture. I think
Thailand is much better, further ahead of us in terms of better fruits,
better durian and all that. But we have D24 (durian) and that’s it. No more.
So I feel we should do something that is based on high technological
knowledge and skill, but the present government says we should focus on
agriculture, so I understand Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (agriculture and
agro-based industries minister) is going around and trying to find sites to
grow things and maybe now we can export to Japan after we sign this
agreement in exchange for motor cars.
I think we will have to export several tonnes of vegetables to compensate
the free entry of one Japanese car. Maybe that is the direction we want to
go. I can’t say I disagree because I have made a decision not to comment or
say anything about the present government. However, I am still trying to
find out the direction we are going, and when I do, I will tell you.
- What do you think of Puteri Umno now? Where do you see Malaysia 50 years
You know I got a lot of objections to setting up Puteri Umno. I expected
Puteri Umno to do a lot of good. By and large, they have done so. They have
been active, they have done good, not too focused on getting a job or
Puteri Umno has, of course, frightened the opposition because the opposition
realised that these young women can have a lot of influence. I don’t know if
I should say this or not, but I noticed that Wanita Umno was ageing and it
has become what the doctors call ‘ossified’. You can’t shape it in any way.
As a result, the young people were not going to join these ossified people,
so you had to have another door for them, which is why we decided to have
Puteri. As you know, there were a lot of objections from the ossified
leadership, but I think our decision was correct. Puteri Umno has brought in
new life into the party.
But I think it can do more. Puteri Umno should never allow itself to become
ossified. You must always be renewed from the bottom and the older people
should retire, even if they are good. No permanent leaders. Quite a number
of leaders promised me that when I step down they will step down. Only
Khalil Yaakob (former information minister) did that, the rest did not do
that. But he (Khalil) became the governor of Malacca, maybe that’s why he
I think one has to remember, the time comes when you should fade away and
let other people take over. I want to fade away but people come and bother
me and ask me too many questions. I think Puteri should remember that. Never
allow yourself to become ossified, become so hardened that you cannot
reshape into anything.
With regards to (Malaysia) 50 years from now, well, we have to be ambivalent
about it. If you have good leaders, I think this country can maintain its
premier position among other developing nations in the world. Today,
Malaysia is regarded as the model of a developing country, an agricultural
country which successfully transformed itself into an industrial country.
I get asked this question every time I go abroad. In fact, the reason why
people invite me is to ask me, ‘How did Malaysia convert itself, an
agricultural country into an industrial country?’ How did Malaysia, a
multiracial country? All these things have been pioneered by Malaysia. Of
course, they always ask how we managed the financial crisis of 1997.
Malaysia has shown the way for the rest of the world. If it is going to
continue in that way, we must find leaders who are willing to be not so
popular with certain people.
If you want to be popular with some people, then you do the wrong things. I
don’t believe in being popular, including with the Malays. You don’t know
how many times I criticised the Malays. Melayu mudah lupah (Malays forget
easily). I do it because I think it is necessary. We mustn’t do it to be
popular. If you do things to be popular, you are going to do the wrong
things. So, in 50 years, given good leadership, and we have a good
leadership now, I’m quite sure we will still be among the most successful
among the developing countries in the world.
- What is your view on the suggestion that we assimilate opposition members
into the government to provide for check and balance and additional insight?
Already we have so little opposition. If we absorb them, we will not have
any opposition at all. I’m against one-party government, although I never
saw the opposition very useful during my time, of course, but I think they
should be there. There should be an opposition because they are there to
remind us that we are making mistakes or that we need to study things much
more deeply. But if there is no opposition, you’ll think that whatever you
do is right and it may be very, very wrong.
That is why, after 1969, Tun (Abdul) Razak was bringing in all the political
parties into Barisan Nasional, I was quite happy that DAP didn’t join.
I believed that we need to have an opposition. That is the essence of
democracy. Not too powerful, because if they are too powerful, they become a
nuisance, but sufficient to give the other viewpoint. Then you have to
discuss, you have to even modify your own thinking. I wouldn’t like to see
the opposition join the government, whether in politics or whatever. They
should stay where they are.
I congratulate them. But this I say after I’ve stepped down from being prime
minister. Of course, as prime minister, I would not say anything nice about
them, but I think they serve a useful purpose, so let’s put up with the
The opposition parties see Anwar Ibrahim as their de facto leader. In one
article I read, Anwar said he would never join Umno. But being a political
animal that he is, I’m sure he’s keeping his options open. I’ve heard of
moves, maybe from certain books that I’ve read, that even Umno might even
open its doors. So where does that leave parties like PAS and Keadilan
(PKR)? Where will they find themselves if, one day, Anwar joins the party
(Umno)? Your son (Mukhriz) in an article by The Edge, reported that he will
be the leader of a group that will deny Anwar ever joining (Umno).
- Finally, Anwar has cropped up.
You know Anwar is quite capable of doing things which you don’t expect of
him. For example when he joined Umno during my time, actually, I and
everybody else expected him to join PAS, but he joined Umno. Surprise.
He managed to convince Abim (The Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia) that it
was a good thing to join Umno. So it won’t be surprising that he wants to
join Umno again. He may work his way in through people who are still
sympathetic and believe the case against him was a conspiracy by the
then-prime minister. But, we are not very good to attending to details. We
don’t go into the depth of things.
I think Anwar, like myself, must accept that our days are over. I think Umno
would reject him if he tries to make a comeback, up to this point in time.
Later on, I wouldn’t be able to say, a new generation might think
differently, because as you know, the most liberal societies as the most
advanced societies, accept homosexuality as a right. So, we may even follow
them and say, what is there? Everybody does it anyway. You see, even if you
don’t do it, they can still say that.
So, there may be an opportunity for him to come back in the future, but by
that time, he would be quite old, so the younger generation may not want
him. So his chances are, really, very slim. So PAS is welcome to (have) him,
I think it would be good for PAS.