Thursday, August 21, 2003

Knowledge frees us, says PM

DAMASCUS, Aug 18: Excerpts from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s dialogue with Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers, scholars and think-tank representatives at the Al-Assad Library in Damascus on Monday.

Q: We must be able to plant fear in the hearts of our enemies in order to defend ourselves. We must build airplanes and tanks in order to avoid subservience to the West.

A: It is obvious that we must learn to be independent, and able to do the things that the developed countries do. Only then we can compete with them, not necessarily on the battlefield but in the field of economic development and knowledge.

Malaysia does not believe that it is strong enough to challenge the developed coun-tries, but we feel that over time, we can st-rengthen ourselves, our economy, our we-alth so that we can do things for ourselves.

It is not difficult producing a car, it's a thing that you can learn over a short period of time, and from the car to the tank is not very far, and from then on, you can build aircraft. We built a small aircraft, it's not a fighter plane. We built a trainer aircraft and it is the process of learning.

And over time, we can learn little by little and we will be able to catch up with the developed countries. Our target is to become developed by the year 2020. Technology can be learnt by everyone if you make the effort. But of course, if you don't, you will never be able to master it.

Our intention is to learn everything, acquire all the skills, all the technology so that we can be independent. And of course, we will work with other Muslim countries, we can have division of labour.

Some of the things we do, some of the things other people do. Together, we can become as strong as any of the developed countries, not because we want to go to war with them but we want to make sure that they do not threaten us because they think we are very weak.

Q: Do you consider Islam as an important culture in the progress that your country has achieved in the last 30 years? After 9-11, Islam has been linked to terrorism and violence. I would like to ask you, what do you think could address this challenge? A: We are very angry and because we are angry, we do things without planning, without strategy. We just lash out because they did these things to us, and therefore we must retaliate, seek revenge. But the better thing to do is to build up our strength, to be able to achieve our targets and goals.

Presently, we are not achieving anything, yet we have killed so many people.

And they kill you, and you kill them, and they kill you, and you kill them. In the end, what do we get? What do we get from so many of our brave people? Nothing. So, we have to plan and we have to explain what Islam is all about. In Malaysia, we are tolerant because Islam teaches us to be tolerant. Islam says that to you your religion, to us our religion. So why not we live together with them and get something from them? But if we keep on quarrelling and fighting each other, especially among Muslims, we achieve nothing. Maybe we are satisfied because it assuages our anger but nothing more than that.

Q: You succeeded in changing Malaysia from the rule of imperialism. How were you able to do that? A: If you want to change people, you have to involve them, explain to them that they need to change. We must not try to change everything overnight. If you suddenly change, you cause a lot of disruption.

But if you go to the people, explain to them: "Look, this country cannot go on as an agricultural country, we don't have enough land, we cannot give you jobs. We have to become industrialised to create more jobs. If you are prepared to study and change your skills, things that you have never done before, to be disciplined, then you will earn more money than you would if you were to stay in agriculture when land is no longer available." It is always important to win the hearts and minds of the people. The people must be with you before you can change them. So we go to them and tell them exactly what we want to do, in their interest, not our interest. Not because we want power.

You need power only to give to the people what is required by them. Beyond that, there is no need for power. I don't think we should glorify in our power, and that is why, although I have been accused by the foreign Press of being a dictator, I think I am the first dictator to resign. (Applause) Q: We are interested to know how to combine opening of economy with the protection of emerging industries. What is your advice? A: The state has a role to play, to point the direction. But before you point the di-rection, you must also consult the people. We have dialogues with the people all the time. That is the role of the state, before you do something, you don't just go ahead and do it because you think it is good, then you find that it is not accepted by the rest.

The process of consultation must go hand in hand with the use of state power in order to give direction.We have to protect our people. We want to be open to the world but, at the same time, we cannot allow the whole world to come into our country and compete with our small infant industries. We are not strong enough to compete with them.

And because of that, we followed the policy of selective protectionism. We only protect those industries which can become big industries, but we don't protect all. And we give them sufficient time to be able to compete. That is why I mentioned that the tax on motor vehicles can go up to 300 per cent. The Government of Malaysia makes more money from Mercedes Benz than Mercedes Benz itself (laughter).

We get 300 per cent by way of taxes but in the process, in order to attract their market, they have to assemble the Mercedes Benz in Malaysia. Even then, it is still expensive. We started building our car, of course we don't tax our car because it is not coming from outside.

And we give some support to our auto-motive industry so that if we can produce the car at lower cost, we sell it in the market at a lower price. But we have to ensure that the quality of our car is world class. So that applies to other industries as well.

That is why we have been able to grow along with the foreign industries.

Q: You achieved development in a very short time. Do you supervise and control the development that was so quick? A: We supervise most of the things that we do. We have many government agencies which supervise the economic development; we have an Economic Planning Unit which plans a five-year development plan. We also have the Implementation Co-ordination Unit. It reports to the Government, to me at times, complete with illustrations and pictures on what is happening on the ground.

Sometimes, we have a contract. We think that it is going to be carried out, but at the official level there may be some problem which stops it from being carried out. We monitor every step and require that they report back to a central data-gathering centre which we call the Operations Room, actually copying the Operations Room during war.

We run development as if we are executing a war. We know every plan, what is happening, who is spending what money, whether they are spending the money or not, what is their problem, and we try to correct them. All the plans that are made are executed.

Of course, there are failures, but largely the plans are fully carried out.

Q: Why is your situation better than our situation? You spent more than 20 per cent on education, while some spend more than 20 per cent on armaments.

A: It is true that education is very important. Yes, spending money on armed forces when there is an enemy next door is also very important. We have to spend money on defence, but you cannot neglect education.

Without education, you cannot really defend your country. In the long term, defence is for the day, but for the future, you have to have the necessary education.

I would like to stress that education means not just learning about the religion, but also about the sciences, technology, medicine and all the other skills which can help contribute towards your defence capability.

You must have basic knowledge of religion, but we cannot have all our people becoming ulamas. There must be a balance, sometimes there isn't a proper balance. That's why we get into trouble.

Q: Corruption is the main challenge of many developing countries. Will you tell us about how you fight corruption? A: I will not say that there is no corruption in Malaysia. We do have, but we say that it is at the initial stages. We divide corruption into two stages: one is below the table because you are ashamed. But in some countries, corruption is above the table which means that you openly pay an official for the services that he should render. And he receives it openly.

We are still at the "below the table" level (laughter). And because of that, we can control because people are afraid they are doing wrong. We have an agency that can investigate even ministers if there is an accusation that he is corrupt. The officer from ACA can go see a minister to ask him to explain why his bank account is so big, why his house is so big.

Most important, of course, is leadership. If the leadership is corrupt, all the way down is going to be corrupt. The leader must set the example.

After all, what is there for taking so much money? How many plates of rice can you take? How many dresses can you wear? In the end, you are going off to the next world, you are going to leave all these things behind.

So why try to take illegal gratification? We are very strict about our ministers. If at Cabinet meetings, anything at all that may concern the minister and relatives comes up, he has to get out of the Cabinet meeting (applause).

Q: In two months, you will be chairman of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Will you share with us your ideas, what aspirations do you have for OIC, for Asian values and dialogue for civilisations? A: The chairmanship of the OIC is with the country, not with me. So after I step down, my successor will take over from me. The most important thing, of course, is to have unity. We don't decide together, we always quarrel, that is not going to help us.

There is strength in unity. If you are united, even if you are poor and weak, you can be very strong. Fifty-four Muslim countries (for example) speaking with one voice can do a lot more than one strong Muslim country shouting in any place.

If we cannot be together on all issues, pick at least one issue where we can agree. I think we can agree at least on the Palestinian question.

Or we can have one united view on the Iraq issue. Just one issue. Don't talk about kinds of administration or monarchy. This one is republican, this one is socialist, this one is capitalist, those are the divisive issues. Let's focus on just the item that we can agree. InsyaAllah, we can achieve something.

Q: You encourage to buy local, and you began to make cars. This is beginning to get rid of the hegemony of industrialised nations. Can you give opportunities to Arab countries? A: I think everyone can do what we have done in the automotive industry, for example. I see a lot of motor vehicles on the streets in Islamic countries.

They must buy at least one or two million cars a year. It's a big market. But we don't work together. If we work together, we produce our car together, not a national car and I wouldn't call it an Islamic car (laughter), but let's work together.

I remember once Egypt wanted to build a fighter plane and there was co-operation between two or three Arab countries. But halfway through, I think they had some disagreement and Egypt was left alone to build the fighter plane with no market.

So that is what is hurting us. We can get the technology. They will sell us anything if we pay them money. We have the money to pay. We can buy the technology and then develop it.

We started producing cars in 1985. Today we can design, produce a prototype, test, design the production line and build the car all by ourselves. But the question is how many ...whether we have sufficient volume or not. All these things can be learnt, there is no magic in this.

The Europeans and the Americans do not have better brains than us. In fact, many of our people are now working with them because we provide our people with no opportunities.

We in Malaysia want to master skills. Petroleum, for example. We produce only 650,000 barrels per day. There are countries which produce millions of barrels a day. They are happy to collect only the royalty and not learn the business.

Although we were small, we insisted on the transfer of technology so that today, we operate in 32 countries in the world. We do exploration for many countries, we produce oil in many countries, we built pipelines in Argentina and Australia. We are in Central Asia. This is a small petroleum company, but because we learnt the business we can do it.

We can learn from the mistakes of other people. Some people asked me, you say look East, look at Japan now, it's not doing well. I said I'm still looking East. I see how Japan makes mistakes and I don't want to make those mistakes (laughter).

It is whether you want to learn and be free. Because of our lack of the need to depend upon people, there will be no hegemony, nobody can press us. Even though Malaysia is not very far on its way, still as you know we say a lot of nasty things to the West but we are still independent.

Q: What is the lesson that we can learn from Sept 11? A: To me, the main lesson is that we do not plan things, we do not strategise, we do not calculate. We just feel angry, and we go and kill ourselves, crash ourselves against the building, the building collapses, and what happens after that? Afghanistan is invaded, Iraq is invaded, the whole Muslim world now lives in fear because anytime at all we can be picked up and thrown into jail. So when we want to do something, we must plan. We must strategise, we must calculate the result. We cannot depend upon our anger, our feeling, our emotions, we must be very disciplined in our thinking.

People like Machiavelli, for example, they understand that when you do this, this is the result. Machiavelli will say if we use mercenary soldiers, use them in danger of being dominated by them if they win, or you may lose the war because they won't fight.

There are so many lessons to be learnt from history. We must learn from the history of Islam, from the time when we bloomed to become a great civilisation and then came the decline.

Why did it bloom? If you study Islamic history, it was the period when the Muslims learned all the knowledge in the world. But when Muslims say all this knowledge is nonsense, we don't have to acquire this knowledge, and now we cannot build even our own pumpgun.

So we can't fight and defend ourselves, whereas the Quran says that you must prepare your war horses in order to put fear in the heart of the enemy. War horses at the time of the Prophet. Today you can't use war horses when you fight against the American. You need tanks, you need rockets, you need aeroplanes. That to me is a lesson that we learned from Sept 11. Don't do something without thinking of the consequences.

(Question on International Monetary Fund) A: If you borrow money, you are under obligation to pay them and that makes you a very poor man. It's far better to minimise expenditure so that you minimise your borrowings. We borrow, but only up to the amount we can pay.

Malaysia's management of finance is very conservative. The Central Bank is our watchdog. If you are careful about spending, you know you are obliged to no one.

But the World Bank advises that the way to quick development is to borrow their money. That makes you subservient to them.

I was talking to the Algerian president, he was telling me about borrowing 10 dollars from the World Bank. He said he has already paid 26 dollars for the 10 he borrowed, but he is left with nine dollars. He has managed to reduce debt only by 10 per cent. They have control over you.

(Question on Malaysia's economic strategies) A: When we were trying to recover from the financial crisis, we set up the National Economic Action Council chaired by me. It meets every morning to study all the statistics. We take measures to make corrections.

Even if we have a problem like Sept 11, we can recover fairly quickly by under-standing what is the effect. We are a very big political party which has a very big majority in Parliament, and we have very strong party support. We are constantly talking to party members. I speak to thousands of people to explain what is happening to get them to support and usually, they understand. We also talk to the trade unions.

We talk with as many groups as possible, even members of the different religions. I meet the bishops and explain why we cannot give certain things to them.

NST 20/8/03

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