PETALING JAYA, Feb 20 (Sin Chew Daily) — Former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin described the ministers of the Pakatan Harapan government as the “L license” drivers, and they took over a “dried tree” with only roots left, estimating that the tree grow again after two years, and the national economy and administration can gradually get better.
Last year, Malaysia celebrated 60 years of independence and changed government. After 9 months of the administration under Pakatan Harapan government, Daim evaluated the performance of the new government when he accepted an exclusive interview with the Sin Chew Daily.
He joked that he used to work in the government for a long time and did things very quickly. Like Mahathir, he was an “F1 racer”, and the new government minister was still “L license holders”. People should not hope that they could compete with F1 racers.
”In the 100 days after Pakatan Harapan took office, I (then the chairman of the elite advisory group) was responsible for collecting and analyzing the information. My staff worked until 4 am, and as the F1 driver I had to work until midnight.”
He said that the operation of a government is not easy. Pakatan took over a “dried tree” in a mess. The people are now eager to make various demands from the government. They have forgotten that the new gardeners are looking after the dying tree for it to continue growing.
”This tree will continue to grow and the people should have more patience.”
He said that as long as the “L-license ministers” become qualified drivers, everything will improve and they will need two years for the country to be in good shape.
Asked when the national economy will improve, Daim expects it to get better in two years. “The pre-condition is that there is no external intervention. We don’t know what will happen. Just like the Sino-US trade war and the US involvement in Venezuela, politics is complicated and inter-related, so we must always be vigilant.”
His advice to the L-license ministers are to remain united. Although the ministers can have their own agendas on behalf of their respective political parties, the issues can be brought to the cabinet for discussion. However, the cabinet must adhere to the principle of collective responsibility and no criticism outside the cabinet.
”For example, if the Ministry of Housing wants to build low cost houses, it must be approved by the EPU, the Ministry of Finance, the municipal government, etc. This is a complicated issue. If it is too long, the people are impatient and think that the minister says too much and cannot deliver.”
Pakatan Harapan must honour the election manifesto
Daim said that he reminded the Pakatan government that it must fulfill the promise of the election manifesto, otherwise it will not be able to gain the trust of the people in the future.
”If there is something that cannot be done now, it must be explained to the people, such as the abolition of toll promised.”
He pointed out that after research and analysis, if the toll is to be abolished immediately, the Government must pay RM110 billion compensation.
He said, but now Malaysia’s debt level exceeds RM1 trillion, and it still need to borrow some money. If the money is borrowed for the acquisition of the company, the debt level will increase, the credit rating will be lowered, the ringgit value will decline, and the price will continue to increase. People will criticized, so the Government must strike a balance.
”So the government need more time to study, this can be done, it takes more time, and the government must explain to the people at this time.”
Ministers should go to rural areas too
Asked about his assessment of the ministers’ performance, Daim disclosed that someone told him that he had waited for six months to meet with a minister but still to no avail.
”They were full of frustration and anger when they complained to me. In fact, the people just want the minister to listen to their grievances and they are very happy. Even if some of the matters can’t be solved, people won’t mind.”
He said that the elected representative must blend with the crowd, get the support of the people, and not to repeat the mistakes of Umno.
He also said that ministers cannot just believe in their own teams, but they must also cooperate with civil servants in order to allow government matters to be handled smoothly without delay.
The cabinet is not an opposition party
Daim reminded the cabinet ministers that they are the ruling government and should no longer have the opposition party’s mindset where they only know how to attack, but they do not know how to defend government’s policies.
He pointed out that many people in the cabinet still stay in the “opposition mindset” and are good at attacking, but they cannot defend their own policies.
”Everyone likes to attack each other but now the leaders of the Pakatan Harapan are no longer opposition parties, they can’t just attack, and they must not attack each other.”
He said that what the Pakatan Harapan government needs to do now is to defend the government’s policies and explain the government’s policies to the world.
As some ministers have expressed different opinions on some topics such as the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), Daim believes that there should be a unified voice in the government.
”Other countries such as China, the United States, and the United Kingdom leave it to a spokesperson to speak, to avoid confusion.”
He believes that the government should set up a team to communicate with the people. The existing team focuses on attacking the former government, rather than promoting the government’s policies.
Former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib has recently shot to fame in social media. He believes that the reason is that Najib has a team coming up with questions and Pakatan Harapan rarely responds.
He said that Najib’s team is good at publicity. In fact, the new government has made many reforms but lack of coordination and like to publicise through the media.
In response to the people still facing the problem of excessive living expenses, Daim said that the Pakatan government has stopped collecting (GST) from July to September last year, where its income was reduced by RM10 billion. The people should save money when GST was abolished instead, they were spending unwisely.
”Under the principle of supply and demand, since everyone is willing to spend money, how can prices of goods be reduced? Since everyone spends money, why should businesses lower prices? When the sales and service tax (SST) is implemented in September, prices will certainly be higher.”
He said that the government must explain to the people that the government has “sacrificed” RM10 billion in taxes. It was savings for the Rakyat but the Rakyat wants to spend.
Daim said that this year’s economy is expected to slow down due to the fluctuation of international oil prices. Other issues included Brexit, Sino-US trade war, Venezuela, the Middle East issue, Syria and Afghanistan, oil palm price decline, etc. The entire world is affected.
He said that in the economic recession that first experienced in the 1980s, it also faced a decline in price for commodities such as palm oil and rubber prices. Before that, when the price of palm oil fell, the price of rubber rose, and vice versa. However, when prices fell simultaneously, the economic recession occurred.
”At that time, we sat down to discuss how to stabilize the price. I asked the then Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tun Lim Keng Yaik to talk with Indonesia and Thailand to set the ceiling price and floor price. At least the small estate holders know the top price and the reserve price.
At that time, the cooperation of the three countries could stabilize the price of the raw materials. The current situation is unclear, but I believe we can talk to our neighboring countries.”
Asked whether the establishment of Economic Action Council can revive our economy, Daim pointed out that the council can allow cabinet ministers to make quick decisions on economic issues.
He said prior to this the Council of Elders could collect information and data, such as how to deal with the national debt problem, but could not implement various debt relief measures. But the council chaired by the prime minister can implement measures to deal with the problem more quickly.
As for why he is not a member of the Economic Action Council, he said that it would be nice to let the newcomers to join with new ideas. He laughed that his “F1 racer” was running too fast and that accidents might occur.
”I hope that this council can solve economic problems more quickly, and the decision made by the council can be implemented after approval by the cabinet.”
On ringgit’s performance in future, he said that too many external factors are involved and he is unable to predict.
”I manage the economy in a style that is like managing a family, spend in a prudent manner and not to have too much borrowings. Adhere to financial discipline in a strict manner. “
Elite Advisory Group report contains 15 topics
Daim said that the report submitted by the Council of Elders to the government should be made public to let the people debate and discuss, and then the government will know which recommendations should be implemented.
He said that the report has 15 topics, including institutional reforms, parliamentary reforms, living expenses, affordable homes, toll rates, e-hailing car services, debt, and unemployment.
”We collect the information and analyze the problem and hand it over to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister decides what to do. The people are asking about the content of this report. I think it should be made public so that the people can debate but I also appreciate the sensitivities and there are laws to follow”.
Tun Daim was given key responsibilities by Prime Minister Tun Mahathir in the past. He was invited to the cabinet twice in the 1980s and 1990s. He was in charge of the Finance Ministry and the Special Functions minister of the Prime Minister’s Department where he retired in 2001.
After Mahathir returned to power, he also set up a council of elders before he first announced the cabinet line-up. Daim was appointed the chairman and assisted the government and provided advice 100 days after the new government won the election.
The other members of the Council of Elders are Malaysian richest man Robert Kuok, former National Bank President Tan Sri Zeti, former President and CEO of Petronas Tan Sri Hasan Malik and economist Jomo.
ECRL is still under negotiation
Tun Daim said that the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) contract is still in the negotiation stage and there is no final decision. Prime Minister Tun Mahathir will visit China in April this year. When attending the 2nd Belt and Road International Cooperation Summit, both Malaysia and China would be hoping to be able to achieve a win-win situation for this matter.
He said that Malaysia and China have set a deadline to negotiate and hope to conclude the negotiation this year. But of course, the sooner the better.
In an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily, Tun Daim said that the Malaysian government had considered cancelling the ECRL project because the cost is too high where Malaysia has to bear both construction and running costs. The government also faces terms which we feel not fair.
The cost of ECRL soar from the original RM55 billion to RM66 billion. If interest is added, the cost may be as high as RM90 billion.
”We believe that these costs are unfair, the government is not against the plan, and more dissatisfied with the pricing, operation and running cost, plus the payment terms. These are the conditions agreed by the former BN government.”
”However, basically this is an infrastructure project. We believe that if there is better planning and a blueprint for development, plus more reasonable development costs, in the long run, this project can and should benefit the people.”
”We also need to explore how to share some of our operations and running costs with China, not just in terms of cost, but also technology transfer and other matters.”
”We have initiated multiple rounds of negotiations to explore how to reduce the cost of this project. We also explore the joint operating costs after the project is completed.”
He believes that the existing railways are sufficient. The money is generated by freight rather than passengers. The passenger fare is subsidised by the government.
”This plan was mainly for former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib… because 1MDB is in trouble.”
In addition, Tun Daim said that the Malaysian government needs to be very cautious in dealing with the East Rail project because it involves government agencies and government-owned companies.
”I think the issues involving bilateral countries should not be made public. I have been conducting negotiations on behalf of the Malaysian government since 1981. The ECRL project is still under negotiation and there is no final decision.”
”This involves bilateral relations, and the situation is complicated, because it involves not only the ECRL but also other areas such as trade, oil palm, tourism, etc.”
Tun Daim said that China is Malaysia’s main trading partner and China is also an important trading partner in the region. “I believe that this issue can be resolved through proper diplomatic channel. At the same time, Malaysia and China can also achieve a win-win situation.”
”I can say that both parties have reached a comfortable level in terms of relationship.”
”There must be mutual trust in negotiations. Therefore, we cannot have too many people involved, as this may cause confusion and can be muddled.”
He believes that important things, especially for the corporate sector, they want certainty and decisiveness, which is what we hope to achieve in the current round of negotiations.
Tun Daim stressed that the ECRL project is not just a contract, which includes Malaysia-China relations and friendship dating back centuries.
”We must maintain close political, trade and cultural ties.”
Tun Daim said that according to the contract, if Malaysia and China want to terminate the project, he can bring the case for arbitration first, but both sides agree not to do so. At present he tries to negotiate with the China on price.
”The current stage is negotiating the price and the price has not yet been recognized. I am doing commercial settlement so that both parties gain,’’ he said.
”As reported earlier, significant progress has been made in reducing development costs, and we believe that if a good price can be negotiated, along with some other issues currently under discussion, the project is likely to be implemented.”
Asked if he knew the Cabinet’s decision on the ECRL, Daim said that he did not know the decision of the Cabinet.
With regards to the amount of compensation that the Malaysian government needs pay to cancel ECRL, Tun Daim did not give positive response. He merely said the parties can bring the case for arbitration if both parties so decide. We prefer to sit, talk and settle.
Tun Daim believes that Malaysia’s recent cancellation or suspension of development projects between Malaysia and China will not affect the friendship between the two countries. China is more concerned about the issue of “face”.
”So, we want to help maintain China’s ‘face.’ We are old friends.”
”Our relationship with China is not only 45 years, but dated back to the Malacca dynasty. We are very close to China in terms of culture and economy. They are happy with Malaysia and we are happy with them.”
Anwar is the choice for the future prime minister
Whether PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar, can take over the baton of Prime Minister from Tun Dr Mahathir in 2020 has various versions. Daim is of the view that according to Pakatan Harapan’s agreement, Anwar is the successor to Dr Mahathir as future prime minister.
He said: “Pakatan Harapan has reached an agreement. I don’t understand why there are unnecessary arguments which create instability. Why do we have to speculate, create problems and instability? They have agreed, let them and we should not intervene.”
Tun Daim is also a former finance minister. He accepted an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily and responded to questions whether Anwar, the former deputy prime minister, could take over as the future prime minister.
”I said: This is an agreement, let’s go through with the agreement.”
He said that Anwar’s decision to take over as prime minister is not an issue. He does not understand why someone deliberately create unnecessary problems.
”Because they want to win the party election, they have created all kinds of issues.”
Asked if Dr Mahathir has given assurance of stepping down in 2020 for Anwar to take over, Daim replied: “I often meet Anwar and he praised Dr Mahathir of believe him.’’
”I tell you that in the current economic situation, no one wants to be the prime minister. Let Dr Mahathir completes the task in order. When the food is ready, you can eat it. Why do you want empty dishes? Let Dr Mahathir do everything, and he will retire.”
The consequences of cooperation between Umno and PAS
Tun Daim believes if Umno and PAS collaborate to play with religious issues, it is a very dangerous matter for Malaysia, and may take Malaysia to a more extreme direction.
He stressed that religion must not be allowed to infiltrate politics.
He said that one can’t argue with religion because it is seen as a fate and it involves emotions.
”PAS has its own interpretations on things. To manage the country, religion must be left aside. Religion should be an individual matter.”
”They accused Pakatan Harapan of not protecting Islam and organised demonstrations against the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). I have explained that if we violate the positions of the Malays, we need to amend the Constitution… and ICERD is a Convention, not a legal issue.”
If you turn matters into emotional issues, you can’t argue anymore..”
Tun Daim also said that if Malaysia were to vote based on race and religion, rather than universal/common values, this will be the saddest day for Malaysia.
”PAS continues to use religion and persuade the Malays to vote for Muslim candidates as an obligation, even though these candidates are corrupt, lazy or inefficient.”
”PAS continues to play on emotions and causes the Malay community to panic, including the fate of their after life depends on which party they support. We cant stop PAS with its politics” but he believes that the best way to solve this kind of issue is to educate and improve people’s standard of living.
50% chance in Semenyih by-election
According to Tun Daim’s analysis, both Pakatan Harapan and BN share equal chance in winning the Semenyih by-election. Pakatan Harapan government must be in control and offer explanation to voters.
A minister’s capability as well as his willingness to go on the ground to physically and diligently conduct field visits, will add that chances of winning the by-election.
He said that the Pakatan Harapan candidate did not manage to win the Cameron Highlands by-election and the problem is not about high cost of living or that the election manifesto has not been fulfilled. Instead, Pakatan Harapan has not been able to offer good explanations to the people and feel for the people.
He believes that ministers should walk on the ground and know how to explain to the people why the government has not been able to fulfil the promises in the election manifesto, rather than attacking the opposition.
According to Umno analysis, they can win the by-election with a majority of about 300 votes, so they may arrange for a Chinese candidate to become an independent person in order to split the votes.
”If it is a 50 to 50 situation, more than 300 of majority votes are a large number of votes.”
”The result of the Cameron by-election is negative for Pakatan Harapan. When BN arranged for Orang Asli to contest, Pakatan Harapan should not field a Malaysian Indian candidate. Because 50% of the votes are the Orang Aslis or the Malays.”
”In terms of strategy, PH should look for an Orang Asli…but PH candidate has lost three times, you can’t always field a loser to contest …”
Former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib shot to fame online during Cameron Highlands by-election. He was referred as “bossku.”
In response to this, Tun Daim asked: “Why is Najib becoming popular? Because Pakatan Harapan does not have a communication team.”
”When Najib said, ‘I am a thief who steals people’s heart,’ why no one immediately jumped out to refute him:, ‘If you are a thief who steals heart, you would not have lost GE14.’’’
Umno MPs’ crossover
Crossover of some Umno MPs to Bersatu has caused protest among some people and even high-ranking leaders in Pakatan Harapan. Tun Daim believes for Pakatan Harapan to do reforms and it needs to have two-thirds majority.
”I think the people are really confused. If we want to carry out reforms, we need to have two-third majority, otherwise we are unable to deliver.”
”Some people are impatient. Even some non-governmental organizations have lost patience. They accuse the government of not doing anything. But they know that PH needs two-thirds majority in order to deliver. Now there are Umno members who want to crossover to Pakatan Harapan. They choose Bersatu. You should support PH, if you want to reform. If Umno members have changed, why not them?”
”You complain that PH fails to deliver… The party wants to accept frog, but you don’t want the party to do this. What do you want? Which one is your priority? Reform?”
”If you want them to stay in the original party, don’t complain that the government has not fulfilled election pledges,” he said.
In addition, Tun Daim said that there is no law in Malaysia prohibiting MPs from crossing over. MPs have the freedom to choose the political parties they want to join.
”Tun Dr Mahathir himself comes from Umno, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin too, PAS was also the former Umno and PKR too. As long as they change, you should not oppose.”
”It is up to them to either join Pribumi, PKR, DAP or Amanah. They have the freedom and there is no law to stop them.”
”Some people have accused Pakatan Harapan a weak government, and the Malays refer to this government as led by the DAP. This is not true.”
”Prior to this Umno was strong, no one could oppose it. It was very powerful. Now, the four parties of Pakatan Harapan are all equal, and the number of ministers of each party is almost the same, no matter how many seats you have. The new government pays attention to equality.”
Tun Daim believes that although Pribumi receives a large number of Umno members, Pribumi will not be Umno 2.0.
He said that Umno has deteriorated, so members will leave to join Pribumi.
He stressed that the Pribumi did not use money to lure Umno MPs from crossing over but they sincerely want to join Pribumi, such as the former Minister of Trade and Industry, Datuk Seri Mustapa.
”MPs need to take care of their constituencies. The current government is fair, and the opposition party can also receive constituency grants, but the sum is not enough. They need more funds to serve the area.”
On whether the government intend to draft an anti-hopping law to stop MPs from crossing over, Tun Daim believes that the Constitution allows people to freely join political parties unless the government amends the constitution.
”Earlier someone in Sabah took the cross-over case of an elected representative to the court, but the court stated that people enjoy this freedom in the constitution, so they can’t do anything and the case was dismissed.”
Recognition of UEC
On recognition of UEC, Tun Daim said, the Malays must first be assured and discard their defensive mode for the Malays to know that they have nothing to lose.
He believes that the Malays will oppose the government’s recognition of UEC because they believe the move violates constitution and the rights of the Malays, so the government need to explain.
”The only way is to educate. If they are educated, you can argue that you can find good jobs, good income, and you don’t have to worry about anything. But unfortunately, this subject has been politicized.”
Tun Daim explained that first of all, the government need pacify the Malays that they have nothing to lose. After all, education is the key to our future.
”We need to sit down and discuss. Even DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang said PH needs Malay support. We need to deal with this subject with caution.”
”We must make sure we inform everyone that we are all Malaysians, this is our country, let us fight together. We can discuss details, but deal with the principle matters first.”
He also mentioned that there are currently many Malays who send their children to Chinese schools because the schools are more disciplined.
”People seek good education, and you will find that only the rich Chinese and the wealthy Malays send their children to English (private) schools.”
”If the national schools offer the best like those English (private) schools, everyone will want to go to the national schools. Therefore, the Ministry of Education must sit down and discuss this issue and ensure national schools offer the best on education.”
”Parents want the best education for their children and they sent their children to best schools. It is a duty of the Government to provide the best schools and education to the people. Children are our future. Education must unite all of us.”
You ask about economy, I know and I can answer. If you ask about education or health, I find it difficult to answer. I don’t know these subjects.
First published in mysinchew.com.