While the white house In the US is a symbol of democracy, Malaysia too can be proud of its own white house, situated in Langgak Golf which symbolises Malaysian democracy, where resides a true gentleman in politics committed to the principles of the rule of law and integrity of the constitution.
The person in question is none other than Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah touted as Malaysia’s finest finance minister and the best “Prime Minister Malaysia never had.”
Quintessential prince of royal blood with a populist touch, a charismatic risk-taker challenged his nemesis Tun Dr Mahathir, in what was deemed as “battle royal” in the 1987 Umno presidential election when he came close to a hairbreadth in dislodging his opponent.
The fight was close – Mahathir won by just 43 out of 1,479 votes cast – and split the party. Razaleigh formed a group called Semangat ’46 (Spirit of 1946, the year UMNO was founded), and joined hands with Pas. Together, they won every federal and state seat in Kelantan in the 1990 polls
Tengku Razaleigh is perhaps a sobering reminder to all Malaysians that there was a time not too long ago when politicians carried themselves and the office they held with great dignity.
He was certainly a mover and shaker of sorts and was the founder of many institutions notable among them Petronas, Bank Bumiputera, Fleet Holdings, the company which took control of the local media from foreign owners. He was also the chairman of Pernas, the government corporation that established Bumiputera participation in the economy.
He was also credited at paving for the historic visit by the then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak’s to China and improved Malaysia’s relations with China, having led our very first trade delegation to Beijing in 1971.
His contribution to the economy was recognised as early as 1975 when a Malaysian Chamber of Commerce resolution named Razaleigh the Father of Malaysian Economic Development.
In an exclusive interview with Business Today, Ku Li as he is affectionately known expressed his exasperation with the state of politics and economics in the country suggesting that a major reform was necessary for both the economic and political fronts.
The prince alluded to the fact that mending the economy starts with “fixing the foreign exchange” and this would bring in foreign capital and technology, both of which are crucial in Malaysia’s economic development.
Economists have chimed in to say that the Malaysian ringgit appears to be on a downtrend driven by political uncertainty that appears to have lingered longer than usual due to incisive infighting among politicians who are jostling for positions at the detriment of the interest of the people.
Tengku’s prescription for the economy is that without ensuring stability in the Malaysian currency investors are likely to stay away from Malaysia and this would hamper our efforts to infuse technology and capital, both of which are crucial in Malaysia’s economic well being.
“The moment they convert their currencies into ringgit, and it takes a tailspin, they start losing, and therefore they are going to be wary of investing in Malaysia, “he said.
The former finance minister then went on to stress the importance of foreign capital expertise in the country as “they have spent a lot of money on research” and it would help catapult Malaysia’s economic trajectory.
The Malaysian economy was still dependent on commodities and agriculture and expressed his disgust at the levels of research and development that were lagging far behind other countries that were far more successful.
“Even in commodities like rubber and palm oil, we depend on London to do research and we just do and spend on research enough to cope with the market and nothing more,” he said.
Tengku prognosis of the problem besieging the economy aside from lack of investment in R&D was the advent of cheap labour that was “an easy way” that Malaysia took, that not only deterred many industries from moving upscale but also resulted in a massive outflow of funds the tune of RM40 billion.
Resuscitating The Economy
The former finance then went on to give his prescription in resuscitating the Malaysian economy adding that the policymakers would have to identify the industries that it proposed to go into and train our workforce towards manpower needs of the future, citing that this is what the Germans, Russian and Japanese did.
Many economists had mooted the idea that for a country like Malaysia to move up the economic trajectory, it was crucial for Malaysia to attract top-tier investment, but it lacked skilled human capital and said that liberalising human capital can catapult the Malaysian economy.
To this, Tengku agreed but said that in “our case the sensitivities of the races would have to be taken care of. “Singapore can bring investors from other countries, but we would have to be careful as the race-based policy spawned by earlier leaders would hamper our efforts although this would be the right thing to do,” he said.
Going forward, the prince said that there were new industries and growth areas that Malaysia should look at citing that climate change was “something that caught on with the younger generation” and Malaysia could take this industry seriously.
“There is little tolerance of climate change, and I think they’re at it, and I think the whole world is reacting to it. You can see that even in China all the new art, architectural tourism, design, and drawing studies are geared towards this,” Tengku said.
Then there are ample opportunities for joint ventures, adding that the prince was talking with the Chinese about joint ventures with the view of extracting hydrogen in the South China Sea.
“We are prepared to give them a controlling stake in the joint-venture of more than 55% but it would bring numerous benefits to the economy, “he said.
Touching on the endemic economic problems besieging the agricultural sector and farmers remaining poor, Tengku had some solution to the problem suggesting that land reforms were the way to the future.
Aside from the land reforms and reforms caught in “Islamic law causes segmentation adding that the “system was bureaucratic and took a long time” added to this was the Australian Torrens system that “was unyielding and too bureaucratic land and unless the small plots can be consolidated to bigger plots of land, it would be difficult.”
“This is what happens in developed countries like the US where there are big plots of land that are consolidated and Mexican workers can be brought to work in,” he said.
“The same can be said of the fishing industry where the plight of the fisherman appears not to have changed on account of the price controlled by a few and rampant corruption exists,” he said.