Mahathir interview: The Straits Times
Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was interviewed by Malaysia’s fortnightly political tabloid Siasah on Aug 9. This is an extract from the interview published in the current issue of the tabloid.
THE SHAME OF IT: Today, it looks like Malaysia Tidak Boleh because we try to
seek the advice of outsiders. We ought to be ashamed at having to seek the advice of outsiders after 50 years of independence.
YES MEN: It’s the right of Umno members to topple anyone…(but) today, actually there is no Umno but Umyes. Everyone says ‘yes’. You can’t say ‘no’. At Umno meetings, no one dares speak. – TUN DR MAHATHIR
SIASAH: The Iskandar Development Region (IDR) is a massive and expensive project that is said to be very beneficial especially to Johor in the long run. But various quarters – including you, Tengku Razaleigh, PAS members and international financial analysts based in Singapore – are sceptical about whether the project will run as smoothly as planned.
Tun Dr Mahathir: We can develop our territory anywhere we like. But the problem is Singapore ‘s involvement in this project. Why must there be a special joint ministerial committee to decide on the development in Malaysia?
Why must we depend so much on Singapore’s participation to develop the IDR?
As we know, Singapore is not a good neighbour, and even if it agrees to be involved in the IDR, Singaporeans will eventually buy houses or factories and reside here.
Singapore reportedly has plans to increase its population to eight million to 10 million (sic), a large part of which will be imported from mainland China. As Singapore can only accommodate up to five million to six million, the rest of its population will probably be placed in the IDR.
So if we’re not careful, the IDR will eventually be filled with Singaporeans. Past experience has taught us that we lost Singapore because the Chinese population exceeded that of the Malays.
And tomorrow, if the government allows Singapore Chinese to occupy the IDR
(through business, employment and property purchase) to a larger extent than
the Malays, the IDR would be dominated by Singapore Chinese because the
Malays cannot afford to buy homes there.
Malacca and Penang remain in Malaysia because the Chinese population can
be offset by the large Malay population. But in Singapore, the Chinese make up
more than 75 per cent of the population while the Malays make up a mere 15 per cent. The Chinese there are rich and control the economy. For this reason, we had to release Singapore because the Chinese were too numerous and controlled the island.
And at that time, Lee Kuan Yew, who had initially agreed not to interfere in the political affairs of the peninsula, broke his promise by contesting in the 1964 general election in Bangsar, which led to the late Tunku (Abdul Rahman) becoming incensed and expelling Singapore ..
Today, we are trying to invite Singapore to enter Malaysia by participating actively in the IDR through various incentives and investment promotions. Eventually, the Johor Malays – who would initially refuse to sell their land – would be blinded by the highly lucrative offers for their properties and sell them to the Singapore Chinese for instant wealth.
After that, where will the Malays reside? They will be driven away from the rapidly developing IDR. They won’t be able to afford the costly property there and will be forced to live outside the IDR.
The IDR will then be filled with Singapore Chinese and Malaysian Chinese who can afford it. What if their numbers exceed the Malay population? We will once again lose Malay territory to the Chinese, as had happened with Singapore previously.
What about the Singapore Government’s active involvement leading to the formation of the joint ministerial committee? Is this necessary?
All this while, we had never sought anyone’s assistance or advice to develop our country. We had developed Kuala Lumpur ourselves without anyone’s aid. We never called on any foreign minister to advise us on how we should develop KL. We have the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) to plan and advise us on our development.
The development of Putrajaya, Labuan , Langkawi and the whole country was the
result of our hands and the expertise of our people. Why must we develop the IDR by seeking advice from Singapore ministers? They are just like us.
We developed this whole country without the help of foreigners and without the
advice of any foreign minister, including Singapore ‘s.
In fact, those Singapore ministers sitting on the ministerial committee can’t even make decisions without the direction and consent of the island’s most powerful man, Lee Kuan Yew.
Does this mean Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi did not receive correct advice on the IDR?
I’m not sure whether or not he received correct advice. But for sure his decision (on the IDR) is wrong.
He often boasts that the idea of the IDR project is his. A leader should be responsible for every decision made, be it on the advice of others or on his own. He has the prerogative to reject incorrect advice if he thinks it is not good for the country. And if he agrees to the advice of others, it means he can’t later wash his hands of the matter and say that the project was made on the advice of others because, ultimately, a premier must be responsible for all the decisions made.
If the government is not careful about securing the participation of bumiputeras, particularly Johor bumiputera businessmen, in the IDR project, they will be driven out of this rapidly developing zone because of unaffordability. What is the government’s role and responsibility to ensure that they are not sidelined but are protected and, if possible, actively involved in the project?
Simple. Don’t involve the Singapore government. We do it ourselves.
If they wish to invest in the IDR, we can study and consider their participation, but there’s no need to seek their advice. We have our own capabilities. We have certain bodies to play their roles. Look at all the development around us (in KL) and throughout the country – it is our own effort, without foreign assistance and advice.
All the development from the time of Tunku and Tun Razak right down to me was never carried out based on the advice of outsiders. We have the EPU to advise us.
When we decided to make Malaysia an industrialised nation, we consulted the EPU and not outsiders. We can do it if we want to because that’s our slogan: Malaysia Boleh. But today, it looks like Malaysia Tidak Boleh because we try to seek the advice of outsiders. What others can do, we can do. We ought to be ashamed at having to seek the advice of outsiders after 50 years of independence.
Take for instance the Petronas Twin Towers – we built them with our own capability and confidence. I visited many countries – Japan , America, Europe and other developed countries. I saw that we could build skyscrapers like them if we wanted to.
At first, many Malaysians doubted our ability to build the tallest building in the world. I said we try. Previously, our roads were built by foreign workers from India, but today Malaysian companies are invited to build roads and highways in India.
Indonesia too is developing a special economic zone encompassing Bintan, Karimun and Batam. Foreign investors particularly from Singapore are said to be actively involved. Won’t this affect the development of the IDR?
That’s not a problem to us. The problem is Singapore’s active participation in the IDR. I was told Indonesia gave exclusive rights to Singapore to develop Batam. Former Indonesian president B.J. Habibie aspired to make Batam like Singapore , but apparently it did not work out. An international airport was not even built, and its port is small. Singapore places its interest above that of other countries.
It does not really intend to develop the special zone.
Recently, Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew commented that investors from Singapore could not expect privileged treatment from the Malaysian government in the IDR project. He said Johor Umno members were not pleased with Singapore ‘s active participation in the project, similar to your views and criticisms. And even more strangely, he accused Johor Umno of no longer having confidence in PM Abdullah’s leadership and of wanting to topple (menjatuhkan) him. What’s your comment?
It’s the right of Umno members to topple anyone. Umno members, led by Tengku
Razaleigh, Musa Hitam, Radzi, Shahrir Samad and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, had
tried to topple me too. It’s their right in a country that practises democracy. If they disapprove of a leader, we may replace him with a more qualified leader. Datuk Onn Jaafar was replaced by Tunku Abdul Rahman. And Tunku was terminated because of opposition from the people. This is common in Umno.
And the allegation about some Umno members trying to topple Abdullah may be
true. Kuan Yew may have gleaned this information from those Umno members
themselves who have vested interest. Many Umno members are now involved
in corruption and always holidaying in Singapore. These people are smart talkers purporting to serve the religion, race and country, but doing otherwise.
You are seen as being critical and have made many criticisms against the attitude of the government and Umno members, who would rather follow the leaders without trying to censure their erroneous acts.
Today, actually there is no Umno but Umyes. Everyone says ‘yes’. You can’t say ‘no’. At Umno meetings, no one dares speak. I tried to become a delegate to speak up but I was restricted through various means. No Umno member dares to speak up and take my side. All have become ‘yes men’.
This mustn’t be allowed to continue, or the Malays will become ‘yes men’ who dare not criticise leaders who commit mistakes. If we don’t criticise leaders, they will continue to make mistakes. And if we let them be, without criticising them, it means we approve of their erroneous acts. If this happens, it spells great misfortune for Umno members and Umno itself.
You are actually angrier about PM Abdullah’s scrapping of the crooked bridge
project than about other issues. What do you think are the real reasons (other than those already given by the government) that caused PM Abdullah to scrap the project, which held such great potential?
The bridge is vital to Johor’s development, especially in relationship to the development of the IDR. The Johor Causeway is too congested and Johor needs a new bridge (be it straight or crooked) that is modern and sophisticated to overcome the congestion which is worsening daily.
It is purported that the crooked bridge can’t be built because Singapore is asking for the use of airspace and the sale of sand. But the crooked bridge has had the approval of then-Singapore PM Goh Chok Tong and it can be built if the government is truly determined to do it.
Why didn’t the government go through with it? I received information that, actually, the Malaysian government – through a certain person – had agreed to sell sand to Singapore, but this was strongly opposed by Johor people (Umno). The straight bridge would have been built if Johor Malays had not opposed the plan.
The issue is, if the straight bridge could not be built, we could have proceeded to build the crooked bridge on our side. But even this, the government didn’t want to do. This is what I don’t understand.
There’s talk that Khairy Jamaluddin’s interference was the key factor influencing the PM’s decision?
This I don’t know, even though there are allegations that this is so. What I know is that when people ask about Khairy, the PM merely says: ‘He’s my son-in-law.’
There’s talk among Johoreans that the crooked bridge won’t be built now, but it may be considered and built if (Deputy Prime Minister) Najib becomes PM. What do you think?
That’ll depend on the considerations of the prime minister (Najib) and Umno then. If he thinks it’s necessary and good for the country, particularly the development and progress of Johor, he may build it. It greatly depends on the will and courage of the PM then.
Lee Kuan Yew said Singapore-Malaysia ties went through a difficult time during your rule. By ‘difficult’, is he referring to your actions, for instance, in the building of the Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP), which was said to have seriously affected the earnings of Singapore ‘s key port?
Besides your request to raise the selling price of raw water, which was unthinkable to Singapore , Kuala Lumpur International Airport ‘s opening too had to some extent impacted the speed of Singapore Changi Airport ‘s progress.
I had initially tried to resolve the issue amicably with Singapore, but Lee Kuan Yew refused to yield. He was very resistant and totally refused to compromise.
Sabahans and Sarawakians can withdraw their CPF money, but West Malaysians
can only do so after the age of 55. Sabah and Sarawak are part of Malaysia. How can foreigners (Singapore ) try to differentiate between them and divide our people as they like? We are one people.
The price of water we sell is indeed not fair – 3 sen (1.3 Singapore cents) per 1,000 gallons. Today, what can be done with 3 sen? We tried to raise the price slightly but they refused, saying that the first agreement had lapsed.
In fact the agreement has not lapsed. How many thousand times the selling price they earn from selling water to their people? So I decided to give a financial allocation to Johor to build its own water filtration plant. This means we don’t depend on buying water from Singapore .
And Johor too can sell water to Malacca at 30 sen (1,000 per cent higher than the price of water sold to Singapore). Johor too can make a reasonable profit from selling water to Malacca.
Besides this, our development of PTP has angered Lee Kuan Yew because it badly affects the income of Singapore ‘s key ports. Singapore carries out all sorts of schemes to beat PTP. They reduce their ship-handling charges to woo the foreign businessmen using our ports. And they give financial loans to companies intending to use their port services. But PTP continues to progress and expand, which is what Singapore does not want to see. We are more progressive than Singapore because we try to beat its expertise.
The Indonesian government faces difficulty ratifying the Defence Cooperation
Agreement and extradition treaty with Singapore. Singapore resolutely refuses to amend the contents of the agreements with Indonesia. What’s your take?
Singapore places importance only on its own interests and not mutual interests. It does things that are more beneficial to itself than to its neighbours’ interests and needs. Singapore once considered itself a Chinese island in the middle of the Malay ocean.
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