Daim: We need to cleanse the system

(The Star) – IN an hour-long interview, Tun Daim Zainuddin shared his views on politics, besides giving an insight into his relationship with some Malaysian leaders. Excerpts of the interview:

The Star: What are the biggest challenges for the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP)? Are you confident Malaysia can overcome the challenges, particularly corruption?

Daim: Malaysia has no choice. Corruption has permeated all levels in the government. We are now at a crossroad. Our only way forward is to cleanse the system and get rid of this malady that is afflicting this nation. In order to do that, political willpower will be the main criterion for success. And I am confident that this new Pakatan Harapan Government has the gumption to do just that.

People are watching. The biggest challenge for the council is the time frame. We are working hard to develop the best recommendations for the Government to chew upon, based on the 100-day promises laid out in the Pakatan manifesto during the election campaign. Can we overcome major challenges? We have faced two major economic crises before (in 1987 and 1998), and we overcame them.

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We know that there are monies frozen in a few locations around the world. We are talking in terms of billions. For a start, Singapore has agreed to repatriate whatever amount that is stuck there. I believe efforts are being made by the authorities to get back our money, which was originally stolen.

With the appointment of Lim Guan Eng as the Finance Minister, what can we conclude? Was it a political decision?

The fact that Pakatan won the popular vote and proceeded to appoint Lim of the DAP as Finance Minister says a lot about this new government. Obviously, the decision was also political, but it has a positive impact on the psyche of the nation. Now the people know that we mean business. There is no more room for tomfoolery or abuse.

That appointment has de-politicised the post, which is a good thing given that the Finance Ministry had often been used to reward Umno loyalists in the past. Now the gravy train has stopped.

Lim is not the first Chinese to hold the post of Finance Minister. The appointment was made based on consultation with the various parties. Malaysians in general should accept his appointment based on his vast experience and knowledge, and not his race.

How can we ensure there is no more prized land sold by the Government to selected developers privately at very low prices?

The role of the mainstream media will become more important. For far too long the mainstream media in Malaysia had been timid and irrelevant. By exposing such scandals, it will certainly provide a check and balance in the administration.

During Najib’s time, mainstream media had failed miserably to protect the interest of the nation and the rakyat. The fourth estate is important. We must always keep an eye on any wrongdoing.

Will Barisan play an effective role as Opposition? Do you think Umno has the capability to retake the Government?

For an Opposition to become effective, they need to have credibility. Right now what kind of credibility has Barisan got? If you don’t have it, people will find it hard to trust you. Up till today, there is no apology from any of the leaders in Umno. They are still unrepentant. The stealers of 1MDB money are still in denial, claiming they had done nothing wrong.

Can Umno rely on its youth wing to speed up the reformation process? It will be difficult, due to the fact that all of its youth wing, including its chief, defended 1MDB back then.

If they had read the US Department of Justice report, the Public Accounts Committee report and the Auditor-General’s report and yet still have the audacity to support the crimes committed, then they should not be the role models for the youths in Malaysia. They have shown no remorse. I doubt they can retake the Government with the current crop of leaders.

In order to have a vibrant and lively democracy, we need a strong Opposition. If Umno realises this and makes the necessary changes, that will be their role.

Do you think Dr Mahathir will stay beyond two years?

In his interview with Financial Times last Monday, he stated it would be difficult for him to stay on as Prime Minister beyond the age of 95. But for now, I think everyone knows that he is committed to fulfilling the promises in Pakatan’s manifesto.

After all, he is the chairman of Pakatan. Above all, his greatest achievement is that the rakyat put their trust in him and have given him their support to get rid of (Datuk Seri) Najib (Tun Razak) and his kleptocracy government.

We have the Finance Minister and Economic Affairs Minister. Will their roles overlap?

The Economic Affairs Minister takes the place of the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). The Economic Minister does the planning and makes sure the project is implemented properly. He will monitor and supervise. The Finance Minister will look for money lah.

How is your relationship with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim? Both of you were critical of each other in the past. Do you think he can be a good prime minister?

We have always been friends but politics is different. Anwar and I have known each other for a long time. I just want to mention I met him in prison numerous times. We discussed how to topple the previous government and with the support of the rakyat, we succeeded. We must stay united and deliver our promises to them.

Anwar had served in various ministries and his last post was deputy prime minister. Nobody can run a government alone. A PM needs a Cabinet that supports him and honest civil servants with integrity. He also needs good, honest advisers and must never forget the rakyat. Anwar is aware of all these.

The reunion photos of you and billionaire Robert Kuok holding hands and hugging each other melted the hearts of many Malaysians. What can Mr Kuok contribute to the new Malaysia?

Robert Kuok is a dear family friend. I have known him since the early 1970s. My second son is working for him. Malaysians should be proud to have this distinguished man who answered the call of the nation to serve. He has many ideas and insight as to how Malaysia can move forward. I value his opinions given to the CEP.

You have said you will leave the council after 100 days of work. What have you set out to do and will you stay longer?

It is very tough to complete within the time given but we will try our best to achieve it. We are volunteers. We are not given a cent. There is no office given. We requested for some staff from EPU, Bank Negara, Attorney General’s Chambers, PNB, Sime Darby and Khazanah. We thank them for their support.

We know the rakyat’s expectations are very high. We are trying to meet the timeline so we work on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays too. It is very important that all give their support to this Government. Don’t put obstacles in the way.

I plead to all to give their sincere support. But by all means, criticise if you feel the Government is not on the right track.

My role is just to help. I am not interested in anything else. After we deliver our report, I will play no more of a role. I want to write on the last general election but to do that I have to go away somewhere quiet.

When Pakatan won, it was the rakyats victory. We proved Malaysia boleh. If Malaysia can, the world too can get rid of corrupt, repressive and kleptocracy governments. We have shown the world how to do it.

The stock market seems to be volatile after Pakatan won. What is your advice to the investors in the stock market?

They did not expect Pakatan to win; the foreigners and the rating agencies.

Basically, in a capitalist society, they don’t mind corruption, as long as they make money. Of course, now they say they want a clean government, but before that they didn’t mind corruption because that’s the way to make money – easier and faster. The more money you have, the easier for you, because you have the money to bribe. As far as the capitalist society is concerned, that kind of government is good. They underestimated the will of the rakyat. The rakyat cannot accept this. They don’t want a corrupt government.

During your time in the Government, corruption was also quite rampant. You all didn’t take any action?

It happened, but not rampant. There was corruption, but now it is blatant.

Why are you close to the Prime Minister?

He is 12 years older than me. We went to the same school in the same village in Kedah. Our parents know each other. I always like to joke: from Kedah we have the same Yang di-Pertuan Agong serving twice, Prime Minister serving twice, Finance Minister serving twice. It must be the water we drink.

Will the report by the council be disclosed to the public?

Up to the Government. I have no right. I am only playing an advisory role. I will pass the report to the Government, the Prime Minister. The PM will brief the Cabinet. If the Cabinet decides to publish, then publish it.

I would prefer it to be published so that the rakyat know the actual situation when the Pakatan Harapan Government took over, the state of the country, in particular the economy and the financial position.

How much has been the nation’s total loss due to scandals and corruption?

I won’t mention figures. I don’t want to shock everybody, but it is depressing. Every (government) agency that we called, we will go through the account. We find shocking news. We are doing what we can to stop the bleeding immediately.

Do they listen to you?

You think they won’t listen to me? (laughs)

You are not the boss. How do you know that they will take your advice?

It doesn’t matter. As far as I am concerned, I will inform the minister in charge. I stop the bleeding first, if not they will bleed till death. You lose a lot of blood, you will die.

Are the economic fundamentals of the country still intact?

The Central Bank said fundamentals are still intact, everything is intact. If fundamentals are intact, what has gone wrong?

People don’t trust the Government. So there is trust deficit. The new Government has tried to restore confidence. You can do it very quickly but the depressing news is coming out.

Why is the Government not instituting charges against Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak?

I don’t want to disclose all these things. We are going to complete our investigation very soon. When the investigation is not completed yet, you cannot charge people. The people’s expectations on us are high, but cannot disclose. Let the authorities complete the investigation.

Western investors used to shun Malaysia because of the 1MDB scandal. Is there any indication they are coming back?

The US-Asean Business Council came to see me. They want us to go to America. I have not told Tun Mahathir.

They are very excited with the news that we are going to have a clean government and there will be reforms in the institutions. They said they are coming back. It is better for us to go and see them and explain to them.

Tun Mahathir is going to Japan. Japan is very excited too.

In China, in spite of everything, the ambassador said since the new Government took over, their businessmen have invested RM1.2bil.

What we want is genuine investment bringing in new technologies, creating employment. It will help the country and the investors can make money.

Singapore has shown interest. That will instil confidence. Singapore companies have been talking about joint ventures with EPF. They came and met me. I said go ahead. I am busy. They should go and ask the Government. They came to see me because I know them.

PM of India dropped in. There is tremendous interest. But we are busy for the time being. When the Cabinet is fully formed, the trade minister can handle it.

You didn’t tell them you are retired?

I told them I am retired. But I can open doors, facilitate meetings between them and Miti (Ministry of International Trade and Industry).