The interview carried by the BusinessWeek is as follows:
Q: Who asks you for advice these days?
A: Almost everybody.
Q: And the Prime Minister as well?
A: If he needs advice, then he asks me.
Q: Has he asked for it recently?
A: Well, we work as a team. Recently, yes.
Q: How did you feel about his antiforeign rhetoric?
A: I don't think it's antiforeign. People say he's antiforeign. He is against manipulators. I mean, we have done extremely well because of foreign investment. For us to go against that, it doesn't make sense. People say, ''Ah, he has gone to war with foreign investors,'' which is not true. He's not stupid.
Q: I'm sure he's not. But when foreigners hear this, they
don't necessarily try to break it down and say which foreigners he is talking
A: I know, they become emotional. But Mahathir is trying to say, ''Look: I am against the unscrupulous manipulators. Everybody should be, because with that even foreigners lose money.''
Q: I'm sure you're aware that there are rumors going around
that [around Sept. 4] you sat down with the Prime Minister and told him
he had gone too far, that he should moderate a bit.
A: I didn't say that. I sat down with the Prime Minister. He was looking for me in the morning. He asked me to see him here. [Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim was also present.]
So we sat down. I said: ''Let's look at the whole picture clearly. What is it that people really find fault with us? Then how do we remedy a situation that seemed to get out of hand?'' He listens to a well-reasoned argument. We reasoned it out, really. And it's O.K.
Q: But how did he arrive at the conclusion that the right
way to restore confidence was to delay some megaprojects and to lift restrictions
A: I said: ''You have to get back the confidence of investors. I think what they say on CNN and CNBC--I was watching television--is very negative. The only way is to show that we are people who listen to our investors. We are working as a team--private sector, public sector, foreign investors--in this country. We only take action against those unscrupulous manipulators. Otherwise, everyone is welcome here.''
I also said: ''The other thing we should do [something about] is the current-account deficit. There's a problem there. Let's address it directly. People want to see whether we know what problems the country faces and whether we are in control over the situation.''
At its worst point, the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange fell by some 45 per cent while the ringgit depreciated by over 20 per cent.
It is now officially recognised by the government that the major cause of such plunge in the ringgit and the KLSE is the loss of investor confidence as a result of the ferocious attacks by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed on "rogue speculators", saboteurs and traitors out to subvert the Malaysian economy and the refusal of the government to respond to the signals that the market is concerned about the mega projects and the huge current accounts deficit.
Although the government has changed course, and is hard at work in restoring investor confidence, the question is whether the country could not have averted the worst of the twin currency and stock market crisis in July and August if better advice had been offered to the Prime Minister, whether in the Cabinet, or as a result of more press freedom in allowing for diversity for views and opinions.
Unfortunately, during the months of July and August, those Cabinet members who made the headlines were those who want to prove their total loyalty to the Prime Minister, and show that they were even more "Mahathir than Mahathir".
One such Cabinet Minister was the MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, who even demanded action to be taken against journalists and analysts who differ from the then official line that everything was fine with the Malaysian economy and that it was only those who wanted to subvert the Malaysian economy who could write otherwise.
He even had a highly-publicised meeting with Chinese community and business leaders to get them to pledge "solid support" for the fight against economic sabotage.
However, such pledges did not prevent the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange from plunging to an all-time low until the Prime Minister announced an abrupt change of course to restore investor confidence.
It is very significant that when the Prime Minister announced on Thursday night the previous week about the change of government course, the decision was made at the UMNO Supreme Council meeting and the Cabinet was never consulted at all. This raises the question as to what significant role the Cabinet and the Cabinet members play in important decision-making in government.
In retrospect, the Chinese business and community leaders who were corralled by the MCA President would have done the nation a greater service if they had added their advice of caution instead and contributed to the Prime Minister’s decision to change course.
At the Bagan by-election second anniversary dinner last Tuesday, I stressed that DAP leaders, members and supporters must realise that the world has changed radically since the party’s establishment 31 years ago, that DAP must not be seen to be a party to restore the past but one to chart out the future, that DAP of yesteryear cannot meet the aspirations of the new young generations and that the DAP must make itself relevant to the needs and dreams of Malaysians in the new millennium by remaking ourselves into a New DAP.
This is the new challenge of the party leadership and membership – whether we can collectively create a New DAP, comprised of veterans and new blood – to meet the challenges of the new era, to make the DAP the automatic hope of the new generation of Malaysians for a better tomorrow as the DAP had been such a beacon to the young generation in the first three decades of the DAP.
A New DAP must be based on the closed co-operation between party veterans and new blood, combined by a common vision for a better tomorrow where all Malaysians can enjoy freedom, justice and ever-increasing quality of life.
A New DAP must understand that we should not be fighting old battles but should be meeting the new challenges of the advent of the next millennium and the Information Society.
This is why DAP leaders, whether veteran or young blood, should be in the forefront in understanding the revolutionary changes that would be wrought by Information Technology to the lives of the people, the nation and the world.
It is for this reason that the DAP has given such a great emphasis on popularising IT-awareness, IT-literacy and IT-usage among all sections of the Malaysian population, and we propose to launch an "IT For All" campaign inside and outside the party to ensure that there would not be a new gap between the "Information-rich" and the "Information-poor" in our country, which would become a more serious disparity than other traditional divisions in our society.