‘New Straits Times’ editors (from left) Sofea Chok Suat Ling, Lokman Mansor, David Christy and Fauziah Ismail interviewing Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at his office in Putrajaya recently. PIC BY EIZAIRI SHAMSUDIN

Yesterday, the NST ran Part One of its interview with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, his first with this newspaper since he reassumed the premiership last year. It was a wide-ranging interview that went well over the alloted 40 minutes, and as such we decided to publish it in full to allow readers to draw their own conclusions on the issues he covered. In the second part today, he delves into the performance of his ministers, the racial narrative being increasingly propagated by the opposition, income gap and wages.

He also outlines to NST executive editors LOKMAN MANSOR, SOFEA CHOK SUAT LING, FAUZIAH ISMAIL and DAVID CHRISTY what he resolves to do for education — bring back the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English in all schools, and review the way Islam is being taught to students

Question: Is the slow pace of reforms due to the inexperience of ministers?

Answer: No. It is not because of inexperience. We know what we want to do, but we realise that some of the reforms require amendments to the Federal Constitution. To amend the Constitution, we need a two-thirds majority. We don’t have a two-thirds majority. We need the support of the opposition to achieve a two-thirds majority and we cannot guarantee the opposition will support (us).

We have the intention to go to Parliament to amend the laws and remove some of the more draconian laws, but we need the support of the majority of the members of parliament, in some cases, a two-thirds majority. If we can’t get a two-thirds majority, it means we cannot push through our reforms.

But some things can be done on our own initiative, like saying that the prime minister will serve for only two terms. That needs a constitutional amendment, but we as a party can do that. We can remove the prime minister, as a party we can.

But to make the amendment, we have to look at the Constitution, what is there that needs to be amended? There are so many things, like the voting age, removal or modification of the death penalty, all these require amendments to the Constitution. That is holding us up, because we don’t have a two-thirds majority.

Q: So, you are happy with the ministers?

A: The ministers are new. You don’t expect a new person to know everything. If I change to another new minister, it’s not going to help at all.

But they are very concerned about their own performance, and I keep in very close contact with them. Every minister comes to see me if they have a problem, but sometimes they need to know what their functions are and all that. I will advise them. Of course, it takes a lot of time but in some cases I will help them to make decisions.

Q: You would have been the education minister if not for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) election manifesto. What would you have done if you were the education minister?

A: A lot of things. One of the things I believe is that the schools, from kindergarten onwards, should introduce some kind of moral education, to know values. In the past, our parents told us what was right, what was wrong. What is a sin, what is not. But today, parents — father and mother — are working. No quality time for the children, so the schools have to take over that task.

Secondly, with regard to religious education, we believe schools should provide religious education but it should not encroach on the teachings of other subjects. We find that in the curriculum, so much (time) is given to religious education at the expense of other subjects — Science and Mathematics.

Then, we have the English language. We need to teach Science and Maths in English. The idea that the Malays cannot learn in English is stupid. It’s not true at all. I am a Malay, I can speak reasonable English. Why can’t other people?

Today we have computers, we have the Internet. (If) we cannot get teachers, we can have teaching programmes through the computers, so that you can project the lesson on the screen and the screen will teach. And also teach the teacher. The teacher also will learn. It will make teaching much more easier because we can get experts to prepare the programmes. If that is done, I think the quality will remain the same throughout the whole system.

If we depend on the teachers, some teachers are good, some teachers are not so good. And their quality affects the students. But when you have a standard format, a standard programme, I think that will ensure the achievement of the students will be higher, at the level of the teacher who is chosen to prepare the programme. I must admit, at this moment, there are some programmes but we are not yet satisfied with the use of computers to teach.

Q: Why isn’t Science and Maths in English yet?

A: Today, it seems that whereas they say Maths and Science should be taught in Malay, they do allow some schools to teach in English.

That is unfair, because the graduates of these schools will be employable. Those who go through the Malay stream will not be employable. That is discrimination against them. Of course, they don’t like it. Even the teachers don’t like it.

It is a burden on the teachers to teach the way they are teaching now. But if we resort to using programmes to teach, I think they will learn how to master the English language. I find that there are courses available today for learning English, and there are very good courses for learning any language, and we can get people to prepare courses with regard to the teaching of languages in particular, so that everybody will have access to the same master or teacher.

Q: So, we will introduce Science and Maths in English again soon?

A: Yes, we will. We are actually doing so now, but without announcing (it). The previous government, because of the demand, they allowed certain schools, selected schools, to teach in English, but some schools actually refused to teach in English.

Q: Tun, have you shared your ideas on education with the education minister?

A: I have seen him many, many times, because this thing is evolving. We have to know the problem. For example, I asked for the curriculum, the school timetable and I looked through it and it is nonsense. It is not giving due time to important subjects.

Yes, I believe that you should learn all about your religion but what they are teaching as religion is not what they should be teaching. They are teaching only certain parts of the religion, like the performance of rituals. That is what they emphasise. ‘If you don’t perform this ritual, you go to hell’. But what is important about Islam, in particular, is the way of life. When you say way of life, that means certain values. These values are not taught. In fact, the teacher himself doesn’t know.

We read the Quran in Arabic, we don’t understand. I (have) read the Quran. I finished the Quran when I was in my teens, but I didn’t know the contents. I now read the Quran in English and Malay, and now I understand the teachings of Islam and they are all very, very good. But this is not conveyed to the students.

We need to go back and find out what are really the standards insisted by the Quran for Muslims so as to lead the way of life of a Muslim.

Q: After one year, how would you assess the new opposition?

A: They are not concentrating on the government. They are just trying to survive and to survive now they have resorted to playing up racial and religious issues. Umno has become Pas. They are totally dominated by Pas. They are listening to Pas. It is not the Umno that I knew. It is not the Umno that was founded in 1946.

I have been with Umno from 1946. I know what Umno is all about, but this is not Umno. It is just a group of politicians who want to perpetuate their positions.

Q: How is PH going to deal with the racial narrative brought up by Umno and Pas?

A: The fact of race is there. We cannot deny that. The fact of the differences between the races is there. While we do not want to play the racial issue, we must ensure that no race is left behind. And we know at this moment, the Malays in particular, are very far behind. We need to make corrections and that is why we say it’s not just about equality, it is also about fairness. We have to be fair.

If we work on the basis of equality and people are asked to make bids for tender. Some people are capable, some are not capable. Unfortunately, I believe that if you don’t look into the interests of the Bumiputeras, they will lose out. The disparity between the Bumiputeras and non-Bumiputeras will grow much bigger and when that happens, there’s bound to be tension and the opposition party will play it up.

So while we want to have equal treatment of all races, that equal treatment must be accompanied by fair treatment. For example, before we invented this direct negotiation and limited tender, that actually is discrimination in favour of the Bumiputeras. But if you remove that, there is a likelihood that the Bumiputeras will get nothing. Because they are not people who are commercially oriented. They don’t even understand the use of money. So we have to give consideration to that.

Q: Talking about disparity, Khazanah Research Institute mentioned in its 2018 report that the gap between the rich and poor has been increasing since 2008. With all that the government has been doing, we are still caught in this situation.

A: The government is doing a lot under affirmative action, the New Economic Policy. But we are dealing with people who do not have the culture of doing business. For them, money is to be spent to exchange for goods. It is not meant for investment. We have to teach them how to invest, how to manage the money.

For example, they borrow RM1 million for a business. They use only RM500,000. The other RM500,000 is used to buy cars and all that. Now, on a RM500,000 investment, they have to pay interest on RM1 million. That is a burden.

That means that if you take interest at 3.0 per cent or 4.0 per cent, the interest they have to pay is 8.0 per cent. You shouldn’t make use of your business borrowings for other things. But they don’t understand this. We have to teach (them).

First is to teach ‘Why’. But then, there is a cultural part. They did not grow up absorbing a culture that is commensurate with the task of going into business. The Chinese are different. For thousands of years they have been doing business. They understand business very well, so they can manage better. That is why the competition is not between equals. We need to overcome the inequality. We need to change the Malay culture. But that is very difficult.

Q: But not all the poor can go into business.

A: I’m not talking just about business. About working. You know that they don’t want to work. When I say that they are lazy, I was scolded. But why are the Bangladeshis here? Because we don’t want to work.

A Lat cartoon depicting the then education minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad, soon after the cabinet approved the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English in 2002.

People come here because we don’t fill the jobs that are created. In Japan, even a man wearing a tie is sweeping the road outside his shop. Because the culture is different. But here… ‘Oh, that is too dangerous’. ‘That is too humiliating’. They don’t want to work actually. You see them, just lying about doing nothing.

I met a Malay who has a pineapple plantation. He was a lorry driver, but because of his spirit, his willingness to work, he is now a millionaire, just by planting pineapples. And when I talked to him, he said, ‘In Malaysia, there shouldn’t be anybody who is unemployed’. Because there are jobs everywhere. But we don’t want to do the job. And when we don’t want to do the job, then, of course, we cannot become rich.

There are Malays who are so poorly qualified that the only thing they can do is to become a labourer. He must accept, but he says ‘No. No. I am Malay. I don’t do these kinds of jobs’. So we have that cultural problem to overcome.

Q: Is it also possible that low wages are a factor?

A: Salaries are a very sensitive matter. People want to earn more money. If they live in some other country, they will be paid $1 million for becoming a clerk. $1 million of their currency. But the purchasing power of that salary is equivalent maybe to about RM1,000 or RM500.

What is important is the purchasing power, not the amount. Many countries with major inflation, they pay huge salaries, but the purchasing power is low. When the purchasing power is low, what do you do? You don’t raise the salary. You improve the performance.

I think that we are not productive. We have so many holidays. For the number of people working in the government, we should be a roaring success. But our productivity is not adequate for the money we are paying. A country that pays a high salary but is very productive, it grows the economy.

We need people who are well trained, capable, skilled and all that, they can have a high salary. But when you think about high salary just by moving up the minimum wage, the only effect you get is a high cost of living, because everything now costs more because of the high salary and when everything costs more, that high salary that you get does not purchase that amount, but purchases the same amount as when your salary is low.

Q: Donald Trump thinks he is putting the squeeze on the Chinese in their trade war. Is our government concerned that he may turn his sights on other countries that have surpluses with America, like Malaysia?

A: He will have to go against the whole world if he wants to do that. Already, he is causing a lot of damage, not only with China but also with Iran.

When they apply sanctions, they actually do it against weak countries. Strong countries do not care. You can apply sanctions against Iran, and China and Russia will continue to deal with Iran.

But small countries like us, we are threatened. If you go and do business with Iran, your banks will be closed. You will not be able to transact. All kinds of threats are being hurled at us. We have to accept being sanctioned by the US, not because we have done anything wrong, but because of not obeying them with regard to trade with North Korea or trade with Iran.

Q: But are we concerned that the US may also increase tariffs?

A: So far, they have not done so. But I think they have a handful dealing with China and I think to single out countries like Malay-sia... you know we have been very critical. I have voiced my opinion on Trump. I have been asked umpteen times about Trump. I gave my fair opinion — he is not somebody you can deal with, because he changes his mind, sometimes three times in one day. He wants to meet Kim. He doesn’t want to meet Kim. I’m in love with Kim. How do you deal with a person like that?

Editors’ observations:

Doing it Dr Mahathir’s way for education click here

Dr M hasn’t cracked the whip yet click here

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