On peace, tolerance and development
Thailand has a new interim government and they have changed their policy regarding the three southernmost provinces. How do you view these changes, with regard to the future of resolving the violence?
I think the policy of the current prime minister is more diplomatic. He likes to engage the people. He likes to talk to them, to listen to their problems. And, of course, he will offer his ideas of what he thinks - of what they should do and how they should behave as Thai citizens. I think that is good.
But it appears that although he has made this approach; that the government is more conciliatory and is prepared to discuss solutions, yet the violence and the killings continue.
I think that it will take a little bit more [time] for the people to understand him. It is not easy that after a fairly long period of time, and there was so much distrust and suspicion between these people and the Thai leaders, it is not easy to get them to suddenly embrace a new leader. I think they need to be assured of his feelings, [about] his attitude and his approach, to be more comfortable and acceptable. I am making these observations based on my conversation with him.
Recently there was a report by Al-Jazeera, quoting a rebel leader that the al-Qaeda's regional terror network, the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), has infiltrated southern Thailand and that there is now a younger generation of insurgents who are willing to compromise, who are really behind the violence. What is Malaysia's take on the situation. Is JI involved in the southern unrest?
Let me put it this way. There may be people who are influenced by JI, their philosophy and their agenda. There are people who are inclined to believe in that sort of thing. We have to act very fast because we know once that happens... as in our case. We must engage them, we must talk to these people: 'What is wrong with us that you must adopt somebody else's agenda, to pursue something you want to have in the future?' That's not right, so we have to talk.
From Malaysia's point of view, do you see a potential change of tactic (from what is happening now) to one of targetting Thai tourism destinations, suicide bombings or targetting western establishments?
We are concerned about what happens in southern Thailand. It is in our neighbourhood. My belief is, what I would like to see is, a neighbourhood that is peaceful. If our neighbour is doing well that would be very comfortable for us. A neighbourhood on fire is not good for us.
You are a proponent of Islam Hadari. I understand it is a philosophy of governance based on moderate Muslim tenets. Could you elaborate on this, and whether this could be used in the three southernmost provinces of Thailand?
Islam Hadari is a guideline, actually. A guideline to help Muslims to develop, to work for progress. It conveys the true teachings of Islam. An Islam that wants peace. Muslims must live in peace. Islam Hadari emphasises that Islam is not against modernity. It is not against progress. Islam teaches Muslims not just to be concerned with the life hereafter but they must be equally concerned about the life that they are leading today.
Islam opposes poverty. Islam emphasises or makes it compulsory for Muslims to seek knowledge. It is compulsory. So in a Muslim society there should not be illiteracy. There should not be poverty. We are enjoined by our religion to eradicate poverty. Islam wants us to pursue the strategy of comprehensive development. That's what Islam Hadari is.
It is happening here in Malaysia, although the Islamic opposition parties are not comfortable with this. In the past our party was only reacting to whatever the Pan-Islamic Party was doing, whatever statement they were giving. I cannot be reacting. I said I want to take a stand [in the 2004 elections].
This is what Islam is and this is the teaching of Islam that we will follow. It is consistent with modernity. It is not encouraging us to seek the road of confrontation with non-Muslims. We are citizens of Malaysia. We have a common destiny and all of us want peace. And we want progress. We want to see economic development. So that's what we want to emphasise. And non-Muslims support that kind of strategy. They are not opposed to that.
Islam also promotes good governance. Our number 2 and number 3 principles stress that our government, the leadership of the government, must be trustworthy. And must ensure that whatever it does, it must be fair to all. The Koran says that you must be fair to all, not just to Muslims but to all mankind. So this is the kind of teaching, the guidelines based on the teachings of Islam, that we want to promote.
Perhaps it is a guideline that could be used in the South of Thailand?
Just straightaway say you must be loyal to your King and Country, and to your God. You must be trustworthy, you must be honest, you must be fair, that you must plan for comprehensive development and that education is compulsory and the environment must be protected. The minority and non-Muslims must also be protected. We must support women's progress. You must also stress the importance of having a good quality of life.
In April 2004, you won a landslide election earning your government a mandate of reform for Malaysia. Two years have passed since then. What is your assessment of your achievements? Are you satisfied, and if not, in which areas?
Well, taking into consideration the time factor, also the problems that I have faced and the deficit that I had to reduce, what I have achieved today in the third year as prime minister, I have reason to be happy. It was not easy what I had to go through. I tabled the Ninth Economic Plan and the National Mission only on the 31st of March. And it was only in the end of May that the lower and upper houses endorsed the plan.
It took time to plan the Ninth Plan. It is not something I could think of off the top of my head. I had to think very, very hard. This plan must be able to take us to Vision 2020, especially the National Mission. I must aim for 2020. We must view the three five-year plans that provide continuity, one after another, for this period of 15 years is the National Mission.
Which areas do you think need more effort?
Human capital development. It is very difficult. There are different types of training you can do. You have to look at the curriculum from primary to tertiary education.
You can re-train those who are already working and in need of value-adding themselves by acquiring additional knowledge, especially in areas which are most relevant.
And the next step is providing immediately for some of those students who have finished their schooling, to be ready for the workplace. Human capital to me, in terms of people, they must be mentally, physically and spiritually morally strong. I believe in that.
There are very many people who are clever people but who are cheats. Who are rogues. Who abuse power. Who are corrupt. I don't want that. If you are clever, you must be a good man. If you are clever but your are a weakling you are not good enough. If you are strong mentally, physically and spiritually, then you can make a difference.
Another thing that I am trying to do is to reduce the gaps. There are certain areas in Malaysia which are not doing as well. For example the Klang Valley, it's the most progressive. It is as good as Singapore. But what about the areas in the North, or in the East in Kelantan and Trengganu?
There is a certain lopsidedness in development in both human and physical infrastructure. This includes the opportunities. I always believe in quality opportunity. If you are giving any kind of opportunity, you are only giving lip-service. If you say you are giving them a school, you say where is the school? But when you say where are the books and you get the answer there's not enough books...
And if this is what you say by giving people an opportunity to go to school, then what the hell are you talking about? I don't believe in that. If you give people education, then give them quality education. The quality of education you give to children in the rural areas must be the same as that you give to those in the urban areas. The school, physically speaking, may not be as big, but there have to be trained teachers there. They must have books.
If you are talking about internet penetration, you must include them. I cannot achieve our 2020 vision if we have this lopsided development. We have ethnic gaps, regional gaps, occupational gaps. People in industrial areas are getting better income, and those in agriculture are not. There are so many gaps.
You mentioned earlier about how people should be mentally, physically and spiritually morally strong. What about corruption, what are you doing there?
I have not forgotten about this. We have already increased by 300 new officers for a special investigative unit. They do not wait for police to provide a report before they act. If they themselves receive reports or if they believe something is not right somewhere, they will go in.
How many cases have come to light? How many ongoing investigations? How many cases have been concluded?
I am not going into specific cases but there are more than 100 now. I have told them to be very careful. To an executive, to an owner of a company, they know that if these officials walk into their room, their rating goes down. Immediately people will suspect that something is wrong. But we must make sure that before you take that person to court and charge him, that you can get a conviction. If you don't get the conviction, don't [step in]. You must be 80% sure that you can get a conviction.
Otherwise that man will be finished for the rest of his life. No one will want to make a deal with him, especially when people suspect that he gets away free, then people will say there's interference from our side. If he get done in, then it's considered as a frame up (by the government). The Opposition talks like that. You are never right in their eyes. So I don't want people to be caught in this situation.
But it is very difficult to get evidence, they are very clever. They have money all over the place. If you go to a Swiss bank it is very difficult to get information. But we are working in the preventive area. The inculcation of good values, of integrity. I have set up this Institute of Integrity Malaysia. They have done a lot of courses and workshops. Preventively, you can spread the message.
There have been allegations, accusations of nepotism against you. Is this because in your leadership style you have allowed others to comment and criticise?
I know, I know. I have given more space for democratic debate and discussion, in the media.
But, with respect, there are still accusations about your son [Kamaluddin Abdullah] and your son-in-law [Khairy Jamaluddin] regarding nepotism. How do you feel about this?
l think the accusations of nepotism against a leader is one way of bringing him down, of eroding his credibility. They will do anything. My son [Kamaluddin] is a lawyer, he knows everything, that his father is the prime minister. He was in oil and gas. He worked overseas. He's got 35 locations overseas. He got some contracts with Petronas through open, international tender. And he offers the best terms. That's what he does. And he bought some companies which he wanted because of their engineering capabilities, machine-tooling capabilities. He does not build the company organically, he goes for mergers and acquisitions. That's his style of business. Although many people have come and asked him to go into joint ventures with government-linked companies, he says 'No, I have enough money, I am rich'.
But your style of leadership, of allowing more debate, opens you to a lot of criticism, doesn't this get you down?
Of course, of course. I do get very sad. I did mention that the old man practically smashed Khairy's pot of rice. That's something about which I am very sad. He has sold his interest in ECM Libra (a merchant bank). Sold it at a loss. Now he has some debts to settle.
Khairy studied economic philosophy at Oxford. He was going to work in Hong Kong but it was too far away. Then he decided to go to Singapore. By that time he was already in UMNO Youth.
I posed him a question: 'Are you going into politics or are you going into business?' You cannot do both together, especially if you are going to operate in Singapore. That was the time when he was offered to join ECM Libra. That was the time they made all sorts of news about him. I thought, what the hell are you talking about? They made all sorts of noise so as to disqualify him. To make him scared. As a merchant banker his company was doing well. People were asking him to do all sorts of things. It is very unkind.
I mean, you have freedom to speak. But not freedom to rubbish them, attack them. Not to tell lies. Not to slander people. That's not freedom of speech. You want to speak the truth, by all means, I have no problem. You want to tell me something's wrong somewhere, tell me. Tell the leadership the truth. I am happy for people to help me see things that are not doing well.