How would you describe economic progress and development in Malaysia today?
MOHAMAD: I think it is still going and it is still not negative as in many other countries and in Europe. The performance is quite good really. After I stepped down I did not expect my policies or strategies would be continued. There were some changes and some of these changes tend to have a slowing impact on the growth of the economy.
For example, before, we stressed development of domestic capabilities in industry. Today, that is no longer the priority. The priority is to be popular with consumers, which of course involves importing products that are cheaper and maybe of higher quality. This, of course, prevents the growth of local industries. I think that will mean that a lot of money flows out of the country and no technology is transferred into the country.
What would you propose as a solution?
MOHAMAD: We are extremely open. We allow imports of any product from any country. But those very countries that export to Malaysia are closed. For example, we cannot sell our cars in Japan, Korea, China, Germany, and other countries because of certain conditions imposed. So whereas the markets we would like to go into are closed, we are very open. If we want to make progress in terms of production and export, we need to provide some kind of protection because all of the other countries are protecting their products. We cannot go there, they can come in. That is not fair, there is no quid pro quo.
Where do you see the best direct investment opportunities in Malaysia?
MOHAMAD: Well, Malaysia wants to expand high-tech industries because we want to give our people better income. In the past, we promoted labor-intensive industries, mainly to create jobs for our people. But of course, the income from labor-intensive industries is very low and we need to increase their income. To do so, we have trained our people to a greater capability and we need high-tech industries, IT, and all of that, because then there would be more value added and then the pay, salaries, and wages for our workers will increase. That is our aim.
How would you describe Malaysia’s education system?
MOHAMAD: We have always stressed education. At one time, we were spending 25% of our national budget on education and today Malaysia has become an education center for many other countries. There are people coming from Africa and other countries to Malaysia for education. This is because the private universities are teaching in English. The government universities are teaching in Malay, which is not useful for foreigners to come and study.
I think Malaysia still has great potential, far more than most other former colonies that became independent.
What we need is to improve the grasp, understanding, and knowledge of science, technology, and also mathematics. This can only be done if we use the English language. Science and mathematics are not like other subjects. Other subjects like geography, history, they do not change very much, but science continues to find new material, new usage, new products, etc. and they are all for today. If we study science from 10 years ago, it is no longer useful for today’s applications. So we need to study science and math in the English language.
What is your future outlook for Malaysia? Where do you see the country heading today?
MOHAMAD: I think Malaysia still has great potential, far more than most other former colonies that became independent. But it needs strong leadership and today’s leaders need to have a lot of knowledge. It is not enough to understand politics. It is also necessary to understand finance, to understand some aspects of commerce, and industry, in order to provide all around leadership for the whole country.