Najib Being Bold: “I never met the two policeman”

Najib turns his guns on Anwar Ibrahim. He said the trial is a private matter and said Anwar sexually harassed Saiful because sexual harassment has “more traction” in the west. Another Apco talking point no doubt. He failed to answer the other part of the question about the integrity of the Malaysian judicial system. 

He gets defensive and irritated on Altantuya question. Reverts to “reasonable doubt” as his defense. As long as there is some doubt you cannot make an accusation. He denies he knew Sirul and Azilah and said they worked on another security shift.

The question remains – how reasonable is the doubt that Sirual and Azilah acted on their own? Pretty reasonable.

Otherwise Economist is uncharacteristically soft on its line of questioning, without any mention of Najib’s failing reform effrots and kow-towing to the ultra-Malay right wing. No mention of Allah issue either, declining investor confidence and continued rampant corruption. Come on Economist. Don’t let APCO corner you into a softball interview.

Question about Anwar at 8:00, Altantuya at 9:50.

This is the full transcript of an interview conducted with Najib Razak in Kuala Lumpur, on March 12th 2010. You can listen to a selectively excerpted recording of the same interview here.

Najib Razak: In his own words
(The Economist)

What have been the key achievements of your first year and how successful have you been in laying out the groundwork for what you need to do?

I think we’ve gone beyond the pronouncements and beyond just laying out our agenda for change. I think there is this feeling of a mindset in a lot of Malaysians, both the public and private sector, that we have embarked on this journey now. It is a journey because we’re not quite there yet. But there is this mindset acceptance that we are well and truly on this path and the trajectory is there. It’s just for us to continue to be steadfast, to believe that we can do it, and to accept the realities that I believe that life is never a straight line, never linear. You’ve got the ups and the downs. But as long as in the long term the trajectory is the right direction. That’s how I see it.

There could be things that happen beyond your control along the way and your approval ratings could see a slight dip. But I believe you should stay the course and believe in what you set out to do. If you’re steadfast, eventually I believe you will get there. That’s how I see it.


So in terms of the key achievements, or where you think you’ve laid the groundwork solidly for [change]?

I think that basically it’s this mindset, and by articulating the eight pillars as I mentioned in my speech last Tuesday. The four main pillars plus the additional four. The first being like a national mantra if you like, which is “People First, 1Malaysia, People First, Performance Now”. I don’t see that as a mere slogan, I see that as a guiding philosophy for Malaysia. It’s very well received. I was having a session with students after Friday prayers today and the students at UKM [Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia], they’ve established a 1Malaysia club. On their own, I didn’t tell them. They said, “Look, we’ve set up this club and we want to propagate the concept, the meaning and values associated with 1Malaysia.”

Secondly is the government transformation programme. This is a huge work. This afternoon I spent two hours, going from one room to another to talk about the execution of the NKRAs [National Key Results Area], discussion about crime. You could see the crime rate falling. Slowly but surely it’s falling. There will be more policemen, better surveillance, all kinds of initiatives, public transport, education. These are the things that are actually taking place. It’s happening. We’ve got the numbers, we’ve got the reports.

What is missing in the past is that we didn’t have a proper implementation outfit. So I decided that if I was to introduce a government transformation programme, to make it work, to make it credible I need to have a very strong and effective implementation unit. So that’s when I brought in Idris Jala, who was running MAS [Malaysia Airlines] before. He’s a technocrat, not a politician, so he spends days and nights working to make sure that GTP [government transformation programme] really works. It’s a hybrid organisation, some from the private sector, some from the public sector. I’m pleased with the outcome of that.

And we’ve got the New Economic Model that I’m working on. I will announce the main elements of it but I’ve decided it will be a two-stage thing, so I’ll announce the basic framework and basic strategy, but the implementation and so forth, the buy-in, will come after that. So we’ll have another round of discussions with stakeholders. Because, as you know, Malaysia is a very complex society. The spectrum is very wide. You don’t have the normal left-right political division in this country. You have a quite complex division in terms of ethnic division and then you’ve got backgrounds of rural, urban. A rather disparate society. That’s the challenge facing us. Then you’ve got the 10th Malaysia plan, a five-year plan that will incorporate the elements of the New Economic Model.


On economic liberalization, you made some early steps last year in the financial services sector and other services, so you were clearly starting off with certain measures. Should we expect other sectors to open up in 2010?

We were quite extensive, what we’ve done. But MITI [the trade and industry ministry] is looking at other sectors that have not been liberalised yet. When they’re reading, they will submit to me. We’re also looking at some free-trade arrangements on multilateral and bilateral bases. I’m quite an advocate of free trade. Also the TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, we’re looking at it quite seriously, whether that’s good for Malaysia to be part of it.


You went to India last year to begin negotiations on a free-trade agreement. How do you see the two economies complementing each other and what do you think Malaysia might gain from this treaty?

I think there’s a lot we can gain. From a macro point of view India’s economy would be one of the main engines of growth for this part of the world. It’s going to grow like 7, 8% a year. And then we can benefit from the huge investment in infrastructure which India is going to undertake and Malaysian companies are basically good at building highways, they’re good at building public housing, commercial buildings, you name it, they’re good at construction. I can see the scope for Malaysia. And providing power in India, that’s also a huge possibility for us. The oil and gas industry. And for us to combine with some of the world-class Indian companies and penetrate third markets, that’s also another possibility that I could see, quite a distinct possibility.


You’ve spoken about the need to make Malaysia competitive and you’ve raised the issue of affirmative action. If you go back to 1971: when your father, the second prime minister of Malaysia, introduced the New Economic Policy. One part of that policy was social restructuring, to redress the balance. What do you think your father would make, two generations on, of this policy? Has the outcome been what he set out to achieve?

I think he would be reasonably pleased with the outcome, particularly on poverty eradication. I think our record has been a sterling one. I think we can pat ourselves on the back that we are one of the few countries in the world that has achieved such an outstanding record in terms of massive reduction of poverty level in this country. So that’s been hugely successful.

In terms of restructuring of society, it has been reasonably successful. I wouldn’t say it’s been an absolutely stunning success. There were things we did not anticipate, for example we faced two financial crises. One was 1997 and the recent one. These are things that happened that we did not anticipate. Some of the lessons learned, we could have done it better in a different way. So while the New Economic Model will have affirmative action as part of it, it will be on a different basis. It will not be on the old basis, the old paradigm. Something more attuned with the market.

Your father made a forward-looking attempt to restructure Malaysia. Do you think you can be as bold as he was in your goal of reforming and revamping Malaysia?

I think what we have started is nothing short of bold and courageous. I don’t believe in incremental change. I think really to get the buy-in from the people and to get the market excited you have to be bold and quite courageous to make the changes that will be really excite the people and create a buzz in the market. Anything else will not work.

What do you make of the talk about Malay rights? Driven by NGOs, certain political people are speaking out and making a big splash by saying they’ve got to defend the constitutional rights of Malays and putting pressure on you.

I’m not too alarmed about it. I expected it. We had this rise of Hindu rights through Hindraf and so forth. It was only a question of time before you could see a reaction from Malays. And true enough, it came in the form of Perkasa and the NGOs. But these people realise that the only political vehicle that can achieve the aims of their struggle will still be UMNO. They’re not against UMNO. But they want to remind UMNO, “Don’t forget the Malay rights, the Malay interests.” What I’m telling them is “No, I’m not forgetting the Malay rights, the Malay interests, but I want the Malays to work with the other races too.” I don’t see it as a zero-sum game and I want everyone to be together on the same page and work towards 1Malaysia.


1Malaysia is something that you’ve put your stamp on. What do you think you can do to make this more than just a slogan, to embed it into a multiracial country where a lot of people live separate lives?

As I said, it’s a very complex society because we tend to live in our different physical silos, if you like. There are neighbourhoods which are predominantly Chinese or Malays or Indians, and we also have schools that are [taught in the] vernacular. The only country in fact outside China with [public] Chinese schools is Malaysia. Even [Lee] Kwan Yew during his time abolished Chinese schools in Singapore. But we’ve stuck to it. It’s because this is part of our social contract, the promise between the various communities when we achieved independence and we don’t want to go back on our promise. So we’ve maintained that.

It requires a kind of shift in mindset really. We cannot uproot people to live in mixed communities. That’s not practical. What I’m trying to do is get a change in the mindset so people move from a level of mere tolerance to total acceptance and eventually to celebrate diversity. If you feel comfortable with one another, it doesn’t matter whether we live in which neighbourhood but we can interact with one another freely. It’s a mindset. I’m trying to change people’s mindset.


You mentioned schools. Education is a topic that keeps coming again and again when people talk about Malaysia’s economy and changes needed to move up the value chain. Where are your priorities with education, which is obviously a long-term goal?

I think we’re spending the right kind of money on education in terms of our GDP. More than 20% of our budget goes towards education, which is one of the highest in the world. But I don’t think we’re getting the kind of outcome commensurate with the investment in education. We need to focus much more on the outcome, the qualitative aspect. The right kind of focus and emphasis that will produce the right kind of outcome commensurate with our investment in education.

Which level of education will you focus on?

All levels. We’ve also talked about preschool education. We are great believers, and my wife and I are in this together, because we believe that early-childhood education is so important and we’ve somewhat under-invested in preschool education. We’ve looked at more glamorous part, which is high school and tertiary education, every state wants a university, that kind of thing. We’ve succumbed to that kind of political demand. Now we have to look in terms of the whole spectrum, from preschool up to university education.

For example, I just announced a couple of days ago, we have to look at the scheme for academicians. In the past, the highest position that any academician could aspire for was vice-chancellor. Even a brilliant professor, your grade cannot be higher than a vice-chancellor. So I’m questioning that, why should that be? You should allow professors to become really outstanding academicians, recognised worldwide, and you should reward them. They should be higher than the grade commanded by a vice-chancellor. Because after all, a vice-chancellor is a good manager, but may not be the most brilliant brain in the university. I’m going to change that. We’ve announced it and I’m going to work on that.

This brings us onto knowledge-based economy, creative industries and moving up the value chain. Can you speak about sectors where you think Malaysia might have an advantage or an edge over the next few years, because you’re no longer a cheap low-cost manufacturing country?

There are certain areas where we have a distinct competitive advantage. For example, making Malaysia as a centre of Islamic finance. That’s a clear advantage for us. Halal food. Resource-based industries, that’s an advantage for us. Then certain strategic industries like aerospace, you’d be surprised that some of those component-making companies in the United States and Britain, like Spirit Aerospace, they’ve transferred their operations to Malaysia, and they’re very pleased to be in Malaysia. We won that investment on the basis that we were competing with two other locations worldwide and we came out on top.

The services sector as well. We can offer high-quality education. Tourism, which is traditional but still big for us. Then we can look at some of ICT [information and communication technology], biotech for example. These will be high-growing areas for us.

How do you respond to foreign criticism of the trial of the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, and more generally how do you see the integrity of Malaysia’s judicial system?

It’s a delicate matter for us. The premise is that it’s not a political trial to begin with. It’s essentially a private matter for Anwar. He just happens to be the leader of the opposition. The person who actually made the police report was his personal assistant, chosen by him. If the personal assistant had not made a police report, he wouldn’t have been charged. There was a full investigation and obviously the prosecution thought the evidence was compelling enough. The nature of the evidence…we’ll have to wait until the trial proceeds.

In the West, assuming that you’re the head of an opposition, and you’re 62 years old and a married man, with a family, and you are alleged to have an affair with, in this case, a homosexual affair. Would that be tenable in a political context? Bearing in mind that Clinton was almost impeached, and that was a fling with an intern. And Gary Hart had to give up his presidential ambition because of the alleged affair with Donna Rice. So in a Western context, people can appreciate that point of view. They may not be prosecuted as such because it is between consenting adults. But certainly in terms of political context, in the West it would be politically untenable.

Secondly, and this is another point to be born in mind, Anwar was his employer. Saiful was his employee, a 23-year-old boy, really just a boy, starry-eyed, idealising him. Isn’t it incumbent on Anwar to take care of his employee? Isn’t there an element of responsibility for the employer-employee relationship, in terms of a strong element of sexual harassment? Why did he make the police report because where he was coming from, according to the trial so far, is that obviously he was rebelling against what he was asked to do, it was against his nature.

In fact, sexual harassment has more traction with the West than homosexuality, because the West defines human rights as you can do anything you like as long as it’s between consenting adults. Homosexuality is acceptable in the West. But I’m sure they can appreciate sexual harassment. But you must remember this is a predominantly Muslim society, and there are certain laws relating to sexual behaviour. As much as we respect the West, the West must also respect us.

Do you feel that it’s a test for the judiciary, as it’s a highly politicised case?

Yes. Anwar will try to politicise it. But we also realise that it’s the court of the people that really matters. If we are seen to be manipulating the trial, and he doesn’t get a fair trial, I’m sure the people will react against us. It would be foolish for us to be in that sort of situation, to allow that sort of situation to happen.


Another judicial case is the murder of Altantuya, the translator. She was murdered in 2006 and two policemen were found guilty of this, two policemen who belonged to your security detail, and your personal advisor was tangled up in this affair. Do you feel that justice has been done in this case?

I want to clarify they are not my personal security detail. They work on shift. I have my own personal detail that is attached to me. I have one that guards me for a few days, then guards someone else. They would guard me and they would guard the [former] prime minister, Abdullah Badawi. They also guard foreigners who come. It’s got nothing to do with me. Throughout the trial there has been no single evidence produced, and I have sworn in the mosque, I’ve sworn publicly, as a Muslim, that I do not know her, I’ve not met her and there’s been no evidence produced, no photograph, nothing, to say that I even knew her.

Logically, if you think about it, if I am involved or was involved with her, why should she not blackmail me, why should she blackmail Razak [Baginda]? But as it was she blackmailed Razak, she never went for me, or went to my house or anything of that sort. In the court of law, you have to produce evidence. Guilt-by-association cannot be the basis of justice, anywhere in the world. You have [a] friend, don’t you? If your friend is involved, does it mean you’re involved? Exactly. You’re not involved, unless there’s evidence to indicate otherwise. Why should I be different?


But do you think justice was done in the sense that we have two [convicted] policemen—unless you believe that they just decided to do this act themselves—they were acting on some orders, and we don’t know if there were orders given?

It has to be on the basis of beyond reasonable doubt. As long as you can introduce reasonable doubt, then you cannot say someone else is responsible. I never met the two policemen to discuss this at all, and the meeting did not involve me. So it cannot come from me. Whether Razak gave the order or not, Razak is a civilian. How can a civilian give an order to a policeman? That is also the counter-argument. Whatever it is, if you want to sentence anyone, it has to be on the basis of beyond reasonable doubt. As long as you can introduce reasonable doubt nobody can be found guilty in our system, also in the British system or anywhere else in the world.