KUALA LUMPUR April 4 — One year has gone by but to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak it was as though it was only yesterday that he had taken the helm as the sixth Malaysian prime minister on April 3, 2009.
Within the one year, he had tried to put into place the foundation and strategy to implement transformation programmes to enable the country to achieve greater progress so that the people would enjoy a better quality of life.
In the programme “One Year On Level 5: Interview With the Prime Minister” broadcast by BERNAMA TV tonight, Najib spoke about his aspiration to see the people supporting the transformation efforts that he was working on.
Explaining further the idea behind the 1Malaysia Concept, he said his plans, among others, were to raise the people’s per capita income, provide an investment climate that was conducive to investors and promote an economy based on innovations.
Following is the transcript of the interview with the Prime Minister by the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Bernama, Zulkefli Salleh and Economic Service Editor Mikhail Raj Abdullah: Q: Assalamualaikum Datuk Seri. Firstly, congratulation on your first anniversary as Prime Minister. What are your feelings (as Prime Minister) so far? A: Firstly, I’m most thankful that I could carry out the trust of the people in the last one year. The one-year duration went by very quickly. I feel it was only yesterday that I had taken over the task.
It’s probably because when we are too busy all the time, and many things and programmes have been introduced, implemented in terms of policy, new approaches and so on, the time passed by very quickly. But I’m thankful that during the past one year, we could introduce many new initiatives which appear to have produced satisfactory results and probably this had to a certain extent given the people more confidence in the government.
Q: There are only 365 days in a year, but it appears that Datuk Seri has had time to put into place the foundation and strategy to determine the direction to be taken to achieve your vision and objectives. But are the initiatives to put into place the necessary foundations completed at this stage or are there still others yet to come? A: I feel they are sufficient in terms of determining and drawing up the main agenda of the government. So, the four main thrusts that I have mentioned, the latest being the New Economic Model (NEM) that has been completed, that would complement the main agenda of the government.
Subsequently, we must focus on implementation so that everything that we have introduced could be implemented and absorbed, and accepted by the people and also the market.
Q: Several months after Datuk Seri took over the national leadership, Datuk Seri introduced the 1Malaysia Concept, which to me has begun to show positive signs in terms of racial solidarity, regain support for the government and build up hope for a better future for the people. Is 1Malaysia merely a political slogan to win the people’s support or something more than that? A: The 1Malaysia Concept is more than that because if we don’t have any principle to base it on, then we can probably say that it is a political rhetoric or political slogan. But 1Malaysia can be closely analysed. For example, I had said that basically the change is in terms of our mindset, where it begins with tolerance and later progresses to acceptance. It means that we accept things positively.
Thirdly, what is most important is that we can capitalize on this diversity to turn it into a national asset, as a strength for the country and it would be even better if we could translate the diversity into a strategic advantage whether in the domestic context or in terms of our relationship with other countries.
Q: But, Datuk Seri, is the 1Malaysia slogan sufficient to win back the support of the people which had slumped during the 2008 general election? A: I did not stop merely at 1Malaysia. I had analysed the meaning and basic principles behind the 1Malaysia concept. I also said 1Malaysia, People First. So, whatever we do, we always place the interest of the people above everything else. And, thirdly, to ensure performance. ‘Performance Now’ means that I don’t want to look at programmes or projects but effectiveness, results.
The outcome is more important than output.
Q: Datuk Seri, the response to 1Malaysia has been so good to the extent that I see as if the opposition themselves are afraid of its power of attraction. Some are even saying that Datuk Seri had the idea of the 1Malaysia Concept from an unfriendly country, namely Israel.
A: This is a total lie and, even in Parliament, no evidence was adduced to show that the idea had come from another country, Israel or any other country for that matter. They try to destroy or tarnish the concept because the concept is most acceptable to the people, the percentage is very high They dare not attack the 1Malaysia Concept, they could not dispute it, so they try to destroy, tarnish the concept by alleging that the idea purportedly came from another country. This is slander, completely unfounded.
Q: If that is the case, can Datuk Seri disclose where you obtained the idea for such a concept? A: I discussed with several of my friends because I had said that it was most important for us to come up with new initiatives towards national solidarity. So, I frequently invited various groups for discussion and exchange of ideas and when I outlined the idea, when we had brainstorming, the idea of the 1Malaysia Concept had come up.
Q: As of now, what is the impact? Has it been effective or does Datuk Seri need more time? A: In terms of knowing what is 1Malaysia, the percentage can be said to be high. It’s just that they need to have a deeper understanding of the concept. This is our task. Anything that is new will certainly take time to explain so that it could be accepted and appreciated by the rakyat (people).
But I notice that the 1Malaysia symbol, for example, has been well received, just like I wear it. The 1Malaysia pin is so popular. Subsequently, many corporate bodies have used 1Malaysia as their symbol. They use the 1Malaysia font in their corporate logo. The 1Malaysia greeting, for example, is becoming very common now, and there is even the ‘1Malaysia wedding’. So, I see that it has become a mass movement. The success of any concept should not be a statement only to the government and leaders but it should truly go down to the grassroots as a mass movement. I think this is an indication that it has been accepted.
Q: What are the obstacles to the full realisation of the 1Malaysia Concept? A: Probably the lack of understanding by the people or maybe there are still people who remain in their own cocoon. People who are of the opinion that only their own group or community is important and there is no effort at uniting the people of Malaysia. And as an individual, we may have prejudices, racial sentiments and so on, like the church-burning incidents or the throwing of a pig’s head into a mosque compound, and so on.
This means that there are still extremists in our society. It is because of this extremism that we must have the 1Malaysia Concept.
Q: If we were to have a contest between 1Malaysia and Middle Malaysia, which one would win? A: I believe not many people probably talk about Middle Malaysia, it’s probably almost forgotten. Even the opposition don’t really talk about Middle Malaysia. So, don’t ask me about it, probably because I mooted the 1Malaysia Concept. But if we ask the rakyat, we can get the actual answer.
Q: Under the 1Malaysia Concept, there are the NKRA (National Key Result Areas), GTP (Government Transformation Programme), New Economic Model (NEM). But in terms of their implementation, we see that the GTP is probably progressing smoothly but appreciation from the public is rather lacking. So, I feel that Datuk Seri’s desire to become a transformist is not understood by the rakyat. So, what measures are you taking to ensure that the people accept this idea? A: This will probably be a long journey. I believe that if we can show positive impact that can be measured by the people, and the people could feel the changes, for example when we want to fight crime and we look at the statistics, the crime rate has come down and in the first month of this year the street crime rate had dropped to 13.7 per cent compared to the corresponding period in the previous year, and we could deploy more policemen. My target actually was to deploy an addition of more than 7,000 policemen for patrol duty.
Mobile police stations can now be seen in many places and the number of CCTVs will also be increased. We also have more than 300,000 Rakan Cop members, Rela (People’s Voluntary Corps) members, JPAM (Civil Defence Department) volunteers and so on. So if we put all these initiatives together and within this one year if our success or failure is evaluated at the end of 2010, I believe the rakyat will have confidence in the GTP if we show positive results.
Q: Datuk Seri, that’s from the aspect of crime. In terms of the government delivery system, how has if affected non-urbanites’ dealings with government departments? Has there been an improvement in the delivery system of the departments concerned? A: I have stressed rural development in one of our NKRAs, which is to improve aspects of rural infrastructure in terms of roads, electricity and water supply and housing.
If we can show that since the NKRAs were launched, how many roads were built by 2010, how many kampungs (villages) received electricity and water supply and how many houses were built and other development and we make available the data to the people so that they can see that if before they had to wait for such things for a long time but now it’s is different, I believe the people’s trust in us will increase.
Q: But what I am afraid, Datuk Seri, even now we have built many roads in kampungs. But in these kampungs the Barisan Nasional lost. Their people hold the view that the provision of infrastructure facilities is the government’s responsibility. Their concern is making a living … bread and butter issues. Has there been an improvement in this? A: That is why I said from the aspect of infrastructure, and this is also linked to improving the quality of life besides giving us market accessibility.
For example, if before our kampung did not have roads but now it has. This means all the produce from our kampung can be more easily marketed and outsiders will have easier access to our kampung. We will not feel that we have been left out of mainstream development.
Secondly, we are also expanding the social safety net under the e-kasihmu programme whereby 43,000 have been registered under it and will be getting aid from the Welfare Department. We also have a training programme to produce 2,000 more women entrepreneurs. This comes under our NKRA initiative. Under the economic transformation programme, we already have initiatives and programmes to raise the income of people in rural areas.
Q: Just now Datuk Seri mentioned this is a journey. But the GTP roadshow was only held in three places. How to convince all Malaysians if held in PJ (Petaling Jaya), Sabah and Sarawak only? How about Kelantan, Johor? A: We are doing it in stages because the officers involved are really tied down now. Not only we have to do roadshows but laboratories, the laboratory on subsidies for example. It takes a long time. There are times the officers brainstorm late into the night and even till the next morning.
We have to give them time. Our roadshows will reach all states.
Q: On corruption, the people feel it is difficult to eradicate it. How is the government going to solve this problem? A: Our commitment is to meet the standards set by the International Transparency Index, which encompasses various aspects. For example, yesterday when I launched the “MyProcurement” portal at the Finance Ministry, it is a step towards high transparency because almost all government projects will be done by open tender.
This I believe will help us improve our rating. We are also in the process of introducing the Whistleblower (Act). This is also something good. It means whoever provides information to the government will be protected and even rewarded if the information given leads to the conviction of those in the wrong.
Q: Datuk Seri, your late father Tun Abdul Razak, our second prime minister, made many walkabouts but mainly in rural areas and the deep interiors.
Datuk Seri has also inherited this trait but if we are not mistaken yours has been more in urban areas than rural ones. Perhaps in future Datuk Seri has plans to visit my kampung? A: (Laughs) Actually it is about the same, it’s just that the demographic situation in the country has changed. Then the 60s and 2010 now, after more than 40 years many changes have taken place whereby the percentage of people living in urban areas is higher than rural areas. That is one, and the other thing is that I prefer my visits to be spontaneous. This is easier in urban areas.
However, I have also visited many rural areas. For example, when I went to Sarawak, I visited longhouses, a little hamlet in Semunjan, even areas in Rascom (Rajang Area Security Command). These are real rural areas and besides these areas, I have also been to Felda settlements and when I was on holiday in Langkawi for the Chinese New Year, I went to a fishing village and managed to solve problems they were facing. Maybe initially I started off with Brickfields, Petaling Street and Pantai Dalam (in Kuala Lumpur). That was the beginning stage. I plan to visit more rural areas and also places that need my attention.
Q: Datuk Seri, after Datuk Seri made the walkabouts, ministers and MPs did not appear to follow suit.
A: No. They embarked on their own programmes and now we have the Juara Rakyat and others and more in the pipeline. If they do walkabouts, they do not get press coverage, because they are ordinary MPs. But when the Prime Minister goes down (to the ground), the media will follow and give extensive coverage. In terms of yardstick of measurement, it is not very fair. Don’t measure from the aspect of media coverage, see it from the point of actual activities carried out.
Q: The people sometimes claim that they only do many walkabouts just before an election.
A: (Laughs) No, not true. They know their responsibilities. If you want to succeed, want to win an election, do not wait until election comes to become busy. People today are very smart, they are very knowledgeable, they know how to evaluate us.
Q: Speaking about ministers and MPs, are their report cards in? A: We monitor what they are doing. I promised to assess the performance of ministers. That was done after six months. For elected representatives, our headquarters does the monitoring and they know who are those who are working hard, meeting constituents and solving the people’s problems.
Q: Were there any who failed, Datuk Seri? A: Usually when there is an election, some are not re-nominated while others are. Those not re-nominated, it means they failed.
Q: Thus overall their performance is good? A: Overall I see the performance getting better. Maybe after the 2008 general election, they were shocked a little bit because of the extraordinary outcome, and in this situation, there was slightly less activity, but now I have seen a drastic improvement.
Q: A few days ago Datuk Seri made a pledge that the per capita income of the people would rise to US$15,000 ... everyone seemed happy. But there were also detractors who asked whether this was too good to be true when in Sabah and Sarawak, even basic facilities are lacking.
A: This is average income. When I say average income, there will be people who earn more and others less. That is what average income means. Obviously not everyone will be earning US$15,000. This we have to understand. It is the same in any country. There will be rich people and there will be poor people. But what we want is that the poor should not be overly poor to the point of being destitute.
Q: Datuk Seri, there are criticisms that the federal government is taking the resources of Sabah and Sarawak and not reciprocating with development. What are your comments, Datuk Seri? A: That is not true. A lot of allocations we approve are for Sabah and Sarawak.
In terms of the Constitution, for example, they have no right to their offshore oilfields but we reciprocate in our contributions to the state governments, and on top of that, we make provisions for additional allocations for rural infrastructure with most of the money going to Sabah and Sarawak.
We have pledged, for example, that electricity and water supply will reach 90 per cent of households (in Sabah and Sarawak) from the 60-65 per cent now. The target is to achieve the 90 per cent by 2102 and it is a very big one really. We have to realise this objective through additional allocations.
Q: About the economy. This issue is close to you, so can you give some tangible examples on how well the delivery system is working as far as making Malaysia an easy place to do business in?
A: Well, first of all, the fact that we were able to turn the economy around in such a short period of time, especially the fourth quarter, where we managed to achieve 4.5 per cent growth within a timeframe of three months. This is due primarily to the fact that the stimulus packages have not only worked but had been delivered to the ground. Hundreds and thousands of projects, big and small have been implemented. That, I think is a very clear indication and manifestation of the success of the government administration including the civil servants who have been working hard to deliver the stimulus packages. And as we move forward, I am confident that with the emphasis that we have given, the civil service will produce the results.
Q: With capital market reforms, market liberalisation and all that, only three companies from China are listed here. Is there a lukewarm response from investors? Some people say that the FIC guidelines pertaining to bumiputera shareholding is coming a little bit too late in the day?
A: But you cannot judge on last year, on the basis last year was a bad year. I mean the whole world was suffering last year and the fact that we didn”t suffer as much is I think indicative of the level of confidence towards Malaysia. I am confident that this year, things will get better. As we move forward, we have to get the market excited about our reforms.
Q: But the day when you launched the NEM, the market was mixed, you know?
A: The market has always discounted whatever announcements you want to make but they want to see specific details, milestones, timelines and allocations, incentives. These things, I have said, will come subsequently because it is a multi-stage announcement and implementation. We had the NEM announced on 30th March and then we got the 10th of June, which is the 10th Malaysia Plan. We got more details coming out in August. EPU is going to present more details relating to the economic transformation programme and the 10th Malaysia Plan and then in October, when I table the budget, there will be a specific allocation set aside for the key economic activities that we want to promote.
Q: There seems to be a rethink of some of your policies, on the GST, on the dual petrol price, on the 15-year old cars and all that. Did the government cave in to political pressure?
A: Actually no, because the GST I think would require a bit more time for the public support and buy in. It is partly because the opposition has been twisting the facts around. So we need time to clarify to the rakyat because it is something that is good for the people in the long term. And we want to make sure that things will be implemented smoothly so we said look, it is not a decision not just to decide but a decision just to defer for a while so that there will be more buy in for the project. For the GST and certain things we are receptive to feedback from the public as well. If we think that something we want to do, does not have the all-round support for it, we are prepared to review it. I mean people may label us as making a u-turn but in effect we are quite sensitive to the views and needs of the people. Because I have always said people first, remember? So people first. If the people are not ready to accept something, we defer it or we cancel it once and for all but it does not mean it is because we are buckling down to pressure. It is just that it is all about the people. It is the people”s government. I am stressing a lot that this is the people”s government.
Q: Datuk Seri, you have also referred to the restructuring of the subsidies, with the holding back on the dual petrol price. Does it mean that we are going to enjoy the subsidy for quite some time?
A: Yes, you know we have decided that there”s a better way of doing it because the dual price structure is a very complex system and it was not worth the trouble. When we started analysing the data, we found that it is not worth the bother, as they say, in terms of the effort you put in and the benefit that you want to get so we still are going to reduce the subsidies but we will do it gradually. We don”t want to place too much of the burden on the people so it is going to be a very carefully calibrated implementation.
Q: But some cynics said it might be after the general election?
A: (Laughs) Well, there are always going to be cynics and sceptics but we know, you just have to take it as a challenge and prove them wrong.
Q: You are talking about the people first. Is the BN government willing to work with the opposition governments in bringing about development to the people? Can you cite any instance where the federal and states have cooperated for the economic development of the people?
A: We have implemented projects in the states that we have lost. For example, federal projects like schools, clinics, even this 1Malaysia clinics we have implemented in states that are controlled by the opposition. So one, this common sort of meeting of the minds, then we don’t have problems in implementing for the people and basically we will be fair. In other words, substantial allocations are given to the states that are not controlled by Barisan Nasional.
Q: Give us your take on foreign direct investment (FDI). Gone down very badly last year. What are the options for Malaysia?
A: Last year was a pretty bad year. So you cannot really compare last year as the basis to say that we are no longer competitive to attract FDI but we do realise that the economic environment has changed. There are many more new emerging economies offering very, very attractive rates, considerably much lower labour cost than we can and some of them are quite substantially large markets.
So the world today is different than it was in the 80s. In the 80s, we still had the Cold War, you know and a lot of countries had not been converted to market economy and now, we find that Malaysia needs to compete with many more countries and they are going to find perhaps old China a big market and is better for them to invest in China. But I am confident that we are able to attract our share in FDI this year and next year. The challenge is for us to make ourselves more competitive, more responsive to the needs of foreign investors but at the same time not forgetting domestic investors because the model will be forward. It is going to be model that is going to be a balance between foreign direct investors and domestic investors so you must also create what you call global domestic champion who can become regional and global champion because they will provide the strength to the economy. I mean compared with one investment that is done by foreign company, say a multinational, and one that is being done by a local company, the same amount of value investment, surely the investment done by the local company is going to be a better value for us than the foreign investor.
Q: The financial services liberalization. The number of banks coming in, I say, that it is not too encouraging - the number. Do you agree?
A: No. I think it is just the beginning. We just announced the second half of last year and we’ve already given approval to the largest bank in the world, the Chinese Bank. They are going to start operation soon. There’ll be one bank from India, and there will be also banks from the Middle East and other parts of the world. So I think the numbers are beginning to add up and this is just the beginning. This year we’ll see the establishment of these banks and I am sure they will start stimulating the economy by participating in the availability of credit and giving information to potential investors and encouraging trade financing.
Q: Do we have what it takes to become a hub in Islamic banking?
A: We are the leader in the world; we are the number one nation. Sixty per cent of global sukuks are issued out of Malaysia. And we have one of the finest Islamic banking and finance training centres conducted by the central bank, Bank Negara. And we are in the midst of processing two mega Islamic banks, and they going with a capital of US$1 billion each, and Bank Negara will unveil its plans for having a physical centre for Islamic banking. There are very, very exciting times waiting to be unveiled.
Q: What about the halal industry. Ironically the people who are contributing to the halal (industry) are Argentina, Australia and Brazil. We are not. But we are aiming to become a hub?
A: Well, anyone can take advantage of the halal market. First of all, we have the halal brand, which is done by Jakim, and that brand has got a very strong integrity and reputation. Secondly, we are trying to organize ourselves to promote Malaysia’s halal hub. But we do have to link up with other countries.
For example, if we want to export food, we are net importer, so we still have to rely on sources from other countries.
But I believe things will pick up in terms of Malaysia as a halal centre.
Q: This is related, when we talk about our competitiveness, it is about education. The SPM results have been just announced and many people with good results are complaining they may not get the places they like to pursue their studies in. When do you think the government can provide better, wider, free tertiary education?
A: No country in the world can provide free tertiary education. Our tertiary education is highly subsidised, in terms of operational cost. Only 10 per cent are fees. The rest is cost borne by the government as operating expenditure and this doesn’t include capital expenditure. When you talk about scholarship, you must not think of sending all your students abroad. If you send your best students abroad, who are going to fill your universities here. A university cannot be top of the world or top in the world ranking if their students are mediocre and your best students are abroad. You can only afford to send some students abroad to the Ivy League universities, but the rest should remain here and be sent to our public universities and private universities here. You know we have the likes of Monash and Nottingham and all that universities here and they can study to become a doctor here, and the qualification is recognized worldwide.
Q: But can you somehow create more places for medicine?
A: We are trying to. We cannot forsake quality. You can train doctors but you need time to build up your competency in providing for a good medical school, and medical schools don’t come cheap because you have to build a training hospital or a teaching hospital or at least get a hospital where you can send your doctors, trainees to. And these things do take time. But in terms of the number of doctors, the figures are quite high for Malaysia and the challenge is also to bring back people who have qualified. We are training them but they choose to work abroad.
Q: Datuk Seri, you said about people first. There is third party motor insurance. There is a lot of criticism against the central bank. They are not engaging the people, they are only courting these industries. It’s a cash cow, they say. Can the rakyat get a commitment from you that you would tell Bank Negara to engage the stakeholders, the people and the consumer groups?
A: First of all, the motor industry insurance needs a complete overhaul because it is a loss-making business in terms of premiums collected and payment. There is a serious deficit. What is happening is that people are using their profits from other kinds of insurance, particularly life insurance, to subsidise motor insurance. But having said that, if there are changes, then all stakeholders should be consulted and not only the insurance companies but also consumer groups. Yes, certainly I will tell Bank Negara that they would need to engage and consult the consumer groups and associations.
Q: One of the attributes of the NEM is that you want to become a high-value economy. How do you reconcile wanting to be a high-value economy and the government’s desire to keep cost of living low as evidenced by the wide range of subsidies on essential items?
A: This is why there is a shift now. There is a paradigm shift in our thinking.
That was what was considered appropriate at that particular time. We wanted to be competitive; we need to be a low-cost producing country. So we kept the cost of a lot of commodities a lot of services as low as possible. But in the NEM, we want to stress Malaysia to become an innovative economy. And to become an innovative economy you need brains. You need talents. And brains and talents will not want to work in Malaysia, and mind you, that includes Malaysians as well.
Yes, we do not pay them wage and wages that are commensurate with their expectations, and wages which they can earn elsewhere. For example, if they work in the Middle East, they can get paid three times or four times more. Why should they work in Malaysia? So you can train them here. You pay thousands of ringgit to train a person, a professional, say an engineer or accountant. Immediately (when) the person is qualified, off he goes abroad. Isn’t that a waste for Malaysia? Now we realise that keeping the wages and cost down is not the way forward. The way forward is now to bring up our wage rates to a much higher level, then we will give our people better income, better quality of life, and be able to attract and retain people who want to work in Malaysia. And we can also source global talent, because to become an innovative economy, you have to get global talents to choose to work in Malaysia.
Q: On bringing the wages up. What about the 1.2 million government employees’ wages?
A: Their wages will be adjusted as we go along, provided productivity goes up.
What is important is the economy gets stronger, government revenue gets stronger.
That’s why GST is important. People want higher wages, but they not willing to support GST. So I need the support of 1.2 million government employees. If you want to be paid better in the future, I have to strengthen the government revenue base, because otherwise, where do I get the money to pay government employees, servants? The answer is to support government initiatives because we want to give a better deal for all our citizens.
Q: Datuk Seri, one of the problems during times of crisis was our employers.
Sometimes, some of them are so unscrupulous. Suddenly, for example, 100 textile workers are laid off. Things like that shouldn’t happen because they work for 25 years and suddenly they lose everything. Under your administration is there any definitive ruling to employers not to mess around with employees. And If they are going to get laid off, they should get appropriate severance pay and given appropriate time and not close the gate the day they come to work.
A: This is taken care of under our labour laws and if our labour laws are seen to be unjust to the workers then we will review them. You know, where our own people are not being paid at rates where we crack them to work and if the employers for example want to engage foreign workers because they can pay work for foreign workers lower wage rates, then we have to do something about it.
Because, I believe that employers here in this country, should try their level best to employ more Malaysians. So that the workforce is stable and we do not overly depend on foreign workers.
Q: Touching on unemployment, the joblessness in our country, how is the rate now?
A: It is about 3.6 per cent. It is considered full employment. It’s not a full employment when you consider we have 2.2 million foreign guest workers and another million or so illegal ones. That figure is an intelligence estimate but most people said that would be an accurate reflection of the actual situation.
What does it mean? It means jobs are available but why don’t Malaysians want to work in such places? Whether it is a factory or Nasi Kandar restaurants, Malaysians do not want to be doing jobs that are dangerous, dirty or demeaning.
So, for us to get Malaysians to work you have to change the working conditions and you have to pay them a slightly higher rate. I believe employers should do this and we should not make it too easy for them to have foreign workers. And if we can increase the levy on foreign workers to be commensurate with the numbers that they want to hire, then there comes a point which makes more business and economic sense for them to engage Malaysians and not foreigners.
Q: Do you like to make the Hulu Selangor (parliamentary by-election) result a barometer of support for your government?
A: In our system, every time there is a by-election of course we would like to win. As you know, a by-election is a by-election. The real barometer will be the general election. Anything that we do can contribute towards the expectation or the psychology of winning I suppose but the ultimate, the litmus test will be the 13th General Election.
Q: Perkasa, on their side, they say Malays should own 67 per cent of the nation’s economic wealth? And now you are talking about reviewing and renewing affirmative policies. So these are divergent states, so how do you reconcile these two objectives?
A: I didn’t say we”ll review, do away with the affirmative action, I said affirmative action remains. What I said we would review is its implementation, the way it’s being implemented so it becomes a fairer way, it becomes more market friendly, more transparent and more merit based and also more on needs based. For example, I said that if you want to eradicate property, if you want to address the lower 40 per cent of the population with income below RM1, 500 a month, you must also take care of the non-Malay or non-bumiputeras. When you talk about bumiputeras it is not synonymous with Malays. What about Kadazans, Ibans, Bidayuhs and the like, they are also bumiputeras and they have the same rights. So what I’m trying to say is – Look, let us not be too caught up with certain ways of looking at things, but let us look in a way that really creates the sense of belonging, that we are together as one nation and one people, but affirmative action remains. Because the position of bumiputeras is still not to the level where they should be means we still have to continue but at the same time rectify the weaknesses. Weaknesses that are obvious in the way that we have been implementing them in the past.
Q: Implementation weaknesses. But there is still scepticism over open tender.
Always, there is always discussion, you are calling for open tenders but not really open. And when talking about transparency, how are you going to change this under your administration?
A: Well, let me tell you that open tender is really open. Anyone can come in, and it’s going to be posted in the Ministry of Finance portal. So people can check for themselves, for example if you put in a bid and you are not successful, you will know who is successful and you know the price of the company that has been awarded the tender.
So, people can criticise the government if they think that the process has not been a fair process.
Q: Going abroad, this Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with the United States to other countries. We have had eight rounds of negotiations with the United States on the Free Trade Agreements (FTA), now they are talking about TPP. So would Malaysia come on board? Is it really very demeaning to have abandoned after eight rounds of FTA?
A: Well, FTA is complex thing even countries that have agreed on the FTA, certain segments of the population like in Korea, they had serious demonstrations against the Korea-US FTA, so FTAs are never that straight forward, they are complex agreements to work out and they do take time to finalise. There has been a change in administration in Washington as you know.
If it is the Republican Administration they would probably continue to talk with us on the bilateral FTA but since the new administration they prefer to work within a multilateral framework, and so be it. And Malaysia will consider to be on board the TPP but on terms that are acceptable to us. So this is where we have to negotiate.
Q: But going back to the drawing Board as far as multilateral … A: Well it is not our choice.
Q: Are you joining up the TPP then?
A: We have agreed in principle provided the terms are satisfactory. So, now our people have got to enter into serious negotiations. It might take longer. Some of the issues are tough issues to resolve. But I don’t think they are insurmountable.
Q: Do you feel very frustrated that people, the media, the political parties and just about everybody within and outside the government blame you for everything?
For every mistake going on in the country and any problems, even if there is landslide they blame you?
A: I don’t think people are so unfair. I think people realise that certain things are beyond your control, certain things are under your purview. It is just the hazards of the job; you have to accept that, I think that applies to any head of the government anywhere in the world as long as the people are not so ridiculous. If they are putting the ball (and) it doesn’t go into the hole they can’t blame me as the Prime Minister. I mean people can be so ridiculous at times but they must realise that there are limitations. You can only do your best. I don’t lose sleep over it. I work very hard, I work long hours, I’m serious about transforming this nation and the time will come when the people will judge me and I’m sure the Malaysian public will judge me fairly.