The New Nation (Dhaka) | December 19 2004
Saifur favours FTA with Malaysia
Doing the right thing is often unpopular: Mahathir
Former Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad yesterday said economic growth and development in a country can only take place in a stable and peaceful political environment with corruption reduced to a minimum level from top-notch of the administration.
Making his keynote address on “Malaysia 2020- from vision to reality” at the inaugural session of the Bangladesh-Malaysia Business Forum (BMBF)-2004 at Sonargaon Hotel in the city Dr Mahathir said Malaysia took all communities within its political institutions to ensure sustaining peace and stability in the country for socio-economic development.
Mahathir told the gathering attended cabinet members, lawmakers, diplomats, judges, foreign and local entrepreneurs, investors, academics, officials, civil society and dignitaries said big majorities are necessary if the government is to be strong enough to carry out its policies, strategies and plans.
“Governments (without big majority) cannot always do popular things if they want to govern well. Doing the right things is often unpopular. Only strong governments with big majority are capable of doing unpopular right things and still survive,” he said.
Mahathir suggested considering the huge population of Bangladesh as assets rather than liability, creating jobs for them, and creating environment so that they can create jobs.
Dr Mahathir, the architect of a modern Malaysia in his 35-minute speech described how Malaysia has achieved faster economic progress in past two decades.
Emphasising the need of multi-party coalition government for progress in any country, Dr Mahathir, a legendary figure of Asia who ruled Malaysia for 23 years with a strong hand steering his ASEAN country to an envious height of economic development said, it allows parties to get workable majority to take decisions for the benefit of common people.
Coalitions of race-based parties are better than single multi-racial parties. In a coalition the small parties and ethnic minorities can be heard and represented, he said.
“The races in Malaysia subscribe to the principle that getting a slice of a growing economic cake is better than having the whole of a shrinking cake,” he said.
Dr Mahathir, who came to Dhaka on Friday on a three-day visit, said the coalition concept is the key to Malaysia’s progress and it has ensured peace and stability and therefore growth in his country.
In his keynote paper, Mahathir presented 49 points narrating the success story of how an agrarian economy was transformed into an emerging industrial giant.
Minister for Finance and Planning M Saifur Rahman addressing the meeting, as the chief guest, said the political leadership in Bangladesh is operating in difficult environment to achieve an accelerated economic development for the common people.
He emphasised the need for all-out initiatives to set up a free trade agreement between Bangladesh and Malaysia for mutual benefits of both the countries.
Finance Minister said Malaysia has been able to achieve the economic success because of Mahathir Mohamad was a leader of conviction, not of convenience.
“We may have not been able to attain the desired level of growth but have not failed,” Saifur Rahman said,
He said poverty still remains in the country because it did not get investment due to inequitable world politics.
“We also have our political instability,” he said, adding that the institutions were not supportive to political stability and the parliamentary process has in-built weaknesses.
Saifur proposed to initiate Bangladesh-Malaysia free trade agreement if sub-regional economic bloc among the OIC member-states is not possible.
Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan, Minister for Commerce Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, President of FBCCI Abdul Awal Mintoo, President of BMCCI Salahuddin Kasem Khan, and Malaysian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Dato Ashaary Bin Sani also addressed the meeting.
Referring to his government policies in early days, Dr Mahathir said as the workforce started to grow in number and land became scarce, the government decided to go for industrialization to create jobs for the masses.
He said manufactured goods like motorcars, engineering goods, refineries and other manufacturing plants contribute 82 percent to Malaysia’s total of more than 100 billion US dollars of exports income.
Pointing to corruption he said no country of the world is free from corruption. There is corruption in the civil service in Malaysia also, but it is at a minimum level and it does not affect government activities.
An anti-corruption agency investigates allegations of corruption. “no one is spared, not even the Ministers and Prime Ministers”, he categorically said.
Responding to a question from the audience, he said corruption takes place in two stages-one is the dealing under the table and another over the table. People feel shy when corruption is done under the table, but it is all the more dangerous when corruption takes place over the table involving everybody-“right from the top”.
“When high-ups of the government are involved in corruption there is no way to stop it,” he observed.
Focusing on the secrets of industrialization in Malaysia, Mahathir said industrialization was a need to create jobs in his country and only way to industrialize was to invite foreign industrial investors to invest in labour-intensive industries.
“Regular dialogues with them are held, their complaints attended to and their ideas and suggestions are seriously considered,” Mahathir said.
He said Malaysian government adopted a supply-based strategy in development of infrastructures, including roads, railways and ports, receiving responses from the rural people and the foreign investors.
Mahathir mentioned that the construction of 800-km expressway linking the southern tip of the Peninsular to the border with Thailand created jobs and stimulated production.
On Malaysian experience in privatisation, he said right from the beginning the government was concerned about the effect privatisation on the workers and their jobs.
On the other hand, the private sector must earn a decent return on their investments. The public too would not like to be burdened with high fees and tolls. “All these three conflicting demands have to be taken into account if step to privatisation is to succeed," he said.
Replying to a question, he said one cannot offer floor-price to privatise SOEs, but it all depends on what industry needs to be done to avert government spending every year. The prices should be offered on case-to-case considerations.
Asked how they managed the currency crisis during the financial flu that swept Asia in the recent past, he said they resolved the problem on their own, brushing aside the IMF’s prescription for declaring some of the companies bankrupt.
“What they were telling was to declare the whole country bankrupt,” said Mahathir reiterating his criticism of the policies prescribed by western donors.
As the audience sought his suggestion for giving a fillip to the ICT sector of Bangladesh, he pointed to a monopoly: If you use Internet, the messages first go to USA.
“That’s why Malaysia was working to develop different operating systems,” he said.
At the end of the meeting three memorandum of understanding (MoU) were signed between Bangladesh and Malaysian. A MoU was signed between the BMCCI and the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) and two other agreements were also signed between entrepreneurs from the two countries for cooperation in ICT and healthcare services.
Later, during the second and third sessions of two-day Forum meeting, two keynote papers were presented on “Cross border investment: Can Bangladesh be an ideal location to attract Malaysian investors?” by Executive Chairman of BoI Mahmudur Raman and ‘Trade regime in post-Cancun perspective: Free trade arrangement’ by Abdul Awal Mintoo, president of FBCCI.