Interview

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

Prime Minister of Malaysia

Malaysia has experience with foreign direct investment or growing in the country and managing the economy and even growing up becomes one of the Asian tigers. Wherefore, Malaysia is a very good destination for foreign direct investors.

Asean Business Leaders: For the first time since Malaysia's independence, the government will now be lead by the opposition coalition under your leadership. The newly inaugurated government has a large task ahead and answer to the calls for change in Malaysia as well as to address and restore the countries’ integrity and trust in the people and investors. A good corporate governance is fundamental for this historical change in Malaysia, and changes cannot come overnight. What have been the major achievements during the last 6 months of the new government?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: In the first place, the changes in government have not cause any violently action, that is something that you normally see in most development countries. Secondly, now that we are in the government we have found out that what we suspected is actually worse than the reality. The amount of money that left the country are much bigger than what we thought and the whole system of government and the machinery of government has been undermined and has been involved in corruption. So, the first thing we need to do is to re-create machinery of the government. This means, getting rid of some people and replacing them with new officers who are not as experience as the old officers, so it takes a bit of time for them to adjust to the new responsibilities.

It’s quite short period and we have been able to run the government as you can see without any hitches and there is no major problem to stop us from carrying out our policies. The machinery of government is working quite well and we are no longer play with corruption and bad governance. Certainly, we need to tackle the problem of debts. That is what we are doing at the moment by postponing or reducing the scope from any big contracts that have been given out and also, we have stopped some of them and that has reduced our burden in terms of debts and we are recovering some of the money that has been lost and also legal action has been taken against to those who are responsible.

So, for new government that is inexperience you must remember, the opposition has been opposition for the last 60 years, and never known as a being government but as an organisation it worked. The fact that they are being a party coalition running the government, they seem to work well together. And they are attending to their responsibilities. Even the new ministers who have been inexperience before, have able to manage their ministers' duties well.

Asean Business Leaders: Since you have become the new prime minister of Malaysia, you have been very active travelling to meet up with other key leaders in countries such as US, China, Japan, Singapore and Europe, just to name a few. Could you comment on Malaysia’s international relations; measures and focus areas to strengthen and deepening diplomatic bilateral relationships in the political and economic arena globally, please?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: As you know under the previous government, Malaysia is known worldwide as a kleptocracy, not to be trusted, ran by criminals and things like that. Inarguably, we have the need to change the image as quickly as possible and this has been done by contacting a lot of old friends, a lot of countries that we know well and we had to explain to them, what we are doing, what we stand for, what is our policy.

We remain being strong on being friendly with all countries irrespective with their ideologies. My travelling abroad is meant to assure the governments and also business people from other countries. I have many sessions with these business people and I explained what's happening with the government and what we are all about, how it is business friendly and welcoming foreign direct investment and we explained that once we clean up our government system, the performance expected to be good. But what was thought to be the performance before was not quite correct, there are a lot of lies being told about the achievements of the country. While we can't show figures that are better than the past and on the other hand, the figures on the past was not correct figures. We have done quite well, in sense that we are still able run the government properly and we are inviting foreign direct investor to come back.

Asean Business Leaders: ASEAN is a logical move for businesses around the globe. Why invest in Malaysia and choose Malaysia as a business hub into ASEAN and the role of SMEs in Malaysia to represent Malaysia products and services in the region?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: People know that Malaysia has experience with foreign direct investment or growing in the country and managing the economy and even growing up to become one of the Asian tigers. Malaysia has among one of the best infrastructure in South-East Asia. Everybody knows that all the roads, electricity supply, water supply, all airports, all of these are running well in Malaysia.

Our cost of labour is not as low as our neighbour's. On other hand, our labour force is better train and they are speak English, which is important factor because people come from different kind of background but mostly investors are appreciate us using English for running their business. Because of that reason, they are coming to Malaysia. In Malaysia, we can’t offer cheap labour anymore because we just don't have them.

Asean Business Leaders: What needs to be done for Malaysian SMEs to foster achievement in ASEAN region?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: We need to be more focus onto what we want to do. Basically, what we want to do is to grow the economy, to give a good ecosystem to our people and in order to do that, domestically we have the capacity to represent Malaysian products and services. Furthermore, we are welcoming foreign direct investment. We believe Malaysia provides better environment. We are still competitive with regards to other ASEAN countries. People have their own choices and we don’t campaign against our neighbours. But ASEAN itself has lost its old leaders, due to the democracy, and that is the reason why we keep changing leader. ASEAN is not cohesive as it should be. But we believe that we can provide experience in working together. Malaysia was one of the founders of ASEAN. We know ASEAN, we know all of our neighbours, we had worked we them and I think we have some ideas about how ASEAN can become a big market, poor yes but big. For example, we have seen China, it’s a poor country with big populations and manage to make use their domestic market. ASEAN market is our domestic market. We might and we can push for more trades and interchanges within the ASEAN countries.

Asean Business Leaders: In the eyes of developing economies, foreign direct investment (FDI) not only serves as an engine of growth but also provides a channel for international trade and technology transfer. What is the role of FDI in Malaysia to achieve a fully developed high-income nation status?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Malaysia is quite mature in that area. We have invited foreign investors in very early days. We have started in the 1960s, because of that we know how they function, how much the incentive we need to give and in same time we know what particular area they should be in. It’s no longer about mass production using cheap labour. Now, it’s all about making the best use of IT, of the new technologies. For that reason, we have been training our people and they will find out that people has ability to learn new kind of work very easily, about the use of new technologies, IT facilities, electronics and things like that. Wherefore, Malaysia is a very good destination for foreign direct investors.

Asean Business Leaders: What would you say the role of Malaysia’s universities to support the country becoming educational hub in higher education and what is the challenge to achieve that status for Malaysia?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Malaysia has already become an educational hub. From having no university at all during the British period, now we have government and private universities. Mainly Malaysia’s universities and colleges teaching method are using English as teaching medium. In regards of cost, education costs in Malaysia are very much lower than the cost many other countries which offer university education. The area that covered by these universities, includes with this all new technologies. In Malaysia, we have more than 100,000 international students already. The students are coming from Africa, Middle-East, Central Asia and even Eastern Europe.

Asean Business Leaders: The legacy you would like to leave behind in Malaysia.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: I don’t think much about my own legacy. All I want to do is do my job well. To rehabilitate the country from the bad period and of course to ensure this country remains stable and peaceful. Being a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and differences in economy wealth. Despite all of these differences, Malaysia is more stable than the most countries which are single ethnic. This is something that I would like to see, and in fact that was one of the thing that I left behind when I stepped down.