THIS is final part of the interview with former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin, who helped the Malaysian economy survive the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Without mincing words, Daim discussed the key events during the “Mahathir Years”, including the events which led to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s downfall.
Question: Media reports suggested at the time of your departure from the cabinet in 1991 that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had three names in mind as the new finance minister — Tan Sri Sanusi Junid, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Was this indeed the case?
Answer: Rafidah was then the minister for trade, having been appointed to the post after the Team A versus Team B split in 1987. Sanusi was minister for agriculture.
Dr Mahathir wasn’t too sure about Anwar. He said, “I don’t think Anwar can handle the ministry of finance” given his academic background. He was a graduate in Malay studies.
My counter argument went along this line — “I think if you want him to be your successor you have to groom him.
“I can help him and guide him, give advice.”
In the end, I managed to convince Dr Mahathir.
Anwar used to come to my house very often to seek my advice on matters related to the ministry of finance.
He would also bring me to to his house for lunch very often. His aunt cooked my favourite dishes.
Question: Given that Anwar had later named you as the “chief conspirator” leading to his sacking from the cabinet in 1998, when did things actually turn sour?
Answer: There was no fallout between us until he started accusing me of being a chief conspirator. This is an old story. No one is interested in the whys and wherefores. It is the now and the future that people are interested in.
Really, we should not waste time with Anwar. He is past his use-by date. His time had come and gone.
I also think that you should not give so much news space to him. That’s what he likes. He does not like to be ignored, so ignore him I say. He should be left to be the entertainer that he is, dancing and singing at ceramahs. As I said his time is gone, like a burung punggok merindukan bulan, (a dog barking at the caravans, and the caravans have moved on).
But as you keep insisting, I will answer. The best person to speak about Anwar is Sanusi. They were in school together.
They were in Abim (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia) and in the cabinet, and Sanusi was secretary-general of Umno. Anyway, I promised to answer so I will answer.
Okay, my answer to Anwar — I’m no Cassius. I maybe thin but I don’t have the hungry look. And definitely, I’m no Brutus.
When Anwar claim- ed that I was the conspirator, he knows the truth that I played no part, no role whatsoever. I knew nothing about the case until I was told about it. I might be a busybody, but I do not interfere with people’s private life. I don’t want people to know about mine either. I don’t want to know what people do behind closed doors. I’m not interested. People whispered to me, but I said, “Look, we are all human, we all have weaknesses.”
But I understand he was under pressure, it was his political survival and he was a drowning man, clutching at whatever to keep himself afloat, plus he knew that I would never answer any allegations thrown at me. I thought I was his friend and he was in trouble, and I let it be.
I also thought that it was so farfetched that it was laughable. Anwar, for example said I took out RM2 billion cash by plane. I must be an idiot, and any way how much is RM2 billion cash? Probably a few lorries to transport!
At the end of the day, truth will always prevail. You can’t hide it. If not today, one day, the truth would be told. In the case of his supporters, even if he were to do all that he is alleged to have done, right on the carpet in front of their eyes, they will not believe. To them, everything is a conspiracy.
Anwar’s problem was that his image was whiter than white. When stories got around because he got this image, it’s difficult for people to believe. In life, some things are too strange to be true but they are true.
As Sherlock Holmes said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.
There was a myth about Kennedy, too, but people did not talk about it during his lifetime. After his death, you read about him and what he did behind closed doors.
Question: There was talk back then that your motivation in ousting Anwar was that you were anxious about protecting your business interests?
Answer: That was his line, that he was this super hero fighting crime and corruption and, therefore, had to be brought down. If you know the things about him that I know, that line of his is hilarious, and the cheek of it all, to claim righteousness.
I had then retired and what business interests did I have? I had to sell all my assets before joining the government in 1984.
But later on, after I had left, when I was made chairman of the northern triangle, there was a clause in the agreement that I would be able to venture into business. I was not a member of the cabinet anyway.
I ventured overseas after my retirement. I didn’t want to do my business in Malaysia. But after my banks overseas became successful I needed to have a bank locally, I bought a bank. You can check, it was very expensive, I paid higher than anybody else. At that time, the highest anybody ever paid for a bank. This was a one-branch bank. Later, I sold this bank, too, when I rejoined the government at the last financial crisis. I really should stop buying banks in Malaysia. Every time I buy one, I’m made minister of finance and have to sell them.
Immediately after my retirement, I went away to Harvard University, in particular to the Kennedy School of Government as a visiting scholar.
Anwar kept calling me in Boston. (He asked) why I stayed there and asked me to come back. He needed me to help him, but I said I was enjoying my stay. I met a lot of people.
It was at Harvard that I met Francis Seow (who once served as Singapore’s solicitor-general). He was writing books. Interesting books. You should read his books. We became good friends and often exchanged views over lunch.
Then it was about the so-called “Daim Boys”.
They were also very close with Anwar after I left.
Most were Malay College old boys. They were in school with Anwar.
Yahya (the late Tan Sri Yahya Ahmad) was his head boy and Halim (Tan Sri Halim Saad) was at the Malay College.
Anwar, through his accusations, repeated the lie that I wanted this contract and that contract, and that because he was in the way, I got rid of him. A lie repeated many times, unfortunately, becomes a truth.
What contract? I want to ask, which contract did I or my family secure? Show me.
Show me one single contract I got from the government.
So I have always maintained, the danger with Anwar is that Anwar is more Sukarno than anything else. All fiery speeches, completely economical with the truth and an instigator at his best.
Question: Was there a turning point, one that had caused a fall- out?
Answer: There was no particular fallout. I was his scapegoat, among many other scapegoats. I was his friend, Dr Mahathir defended him. I told him not to open the Pandora’s box by making a police report but he thought he was clever.
I’ve told you earlier that you should not waste news space on Anwar. But you insist and I’m answering only to make the point that if you have Pakatan and him leading Pakatan, then we are heading down the road to disaster. He was tested during the Asian financial crisis and he failed. I also think that he failed not just because of his policies, but also of his motivation. Dr Mahathir, for example, was totally offended by the crisis. He could not bear to see what he had taken time to build destroyed because of the greed of speculators and financial vultures, and he wanted to make sure the country was safe again.
Question: Some commentators had pointed out that Anwar at the time of the crisis did not help by raising interest rates to such a high level?
Answer: In the case of Anwar, at that time, he was really badly advised.
Because all along we know, Anwar on his own did not know what to do.
He has to get people to advise him and that was OK so long as you get good advice.
And of course at that time he really liked (Michel) Camdessus of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and James Wolfensohn of the World Bank.
And he was also close to Robert Rubin (secretary of treasury of the United States).
All these people later came to endorse him.
But you see, different countries have different environments, different stages of development, different conditions.
It’s not the same.
You look at what happened during that crisis to South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and us.
There’s Singapore, China and Japan.
During that time, Anwar’s stance was “follow what was advised by the IMF and World Bank”.
That would be a normal reaction — in a crisis like this, you need some big fellows to come and advise.
Because if there’s any trouble, the IMF and World Bank will come and assist.
And if America backs you, you are also okay. And America has big influence over the IMF and World Bank.
In the case of South Korea, it wanted to borrow from Japan so that it would not go down.
But America refused to help. America told the Japanese not to help, so it went down and mind you, South Korea was close to the US. Don’t expect the US to support us.
At that time, Robert Zoellick, who was deputy secretary of state, made it known that the doors were open for the American companies to go in to pick up companies at fire-sale prices.
This was the case with Indonesia when they came in and took almost everything they wanted.
They killed Thailand, too.
We saw what was happening. Dr Mahathir understood.
He said: “What we built… will be destroyed”.
Years of growth and stability will be wiped out.
And if we are not careful, there might be riots like in Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand.
So, he had to think how to stop it.
Question: Based on your articulation on the political scenario, you are troubled not by Anwar’s so- called misconduct but more of his character?
Answer: I’m worried that he has not got the depth on economics.
If he again becomes the finance minister or prime minister, his inclination is to take the American line.
America is in crisis, Europe is in crisis.
He likes to identify with Europe, America and Australia.
He tried to get Australia to support him, to condemn and say our election will not be fair, etc.
He talks of Arab Spring, but he said the Arab Spring here is not a revolution but through the ballot box.
He had been telling the world that he will win this election.
If PR were to lose, it would be because of unfair practices and mobs could then go to the streets to protest. He promised to form the government in September 2008. Everybody got jittery and many believed him. That is his style. He is all talk and promises. Now, he tells the world he will win.
But the government isn’t even responding. There has never been riggings in elections here. Last election, they formed five state governments.
Otherwise, how did the opposition win so many seats if the government rigged elections?
No election is perfect in this world.
But he has started this, and the government must respond.
Anwar is conditioning the minds of the people here and telling the world PR will win but he knows he cannot win.
As I said earlier, I question his (and also Pakatan’s) motivation. His personal ambition is so overriding and an obsession that he does not care that it will be at the expense of peace and stability in his country.
Can you imagine the scenario if Pakatan does not get to Putrajaya? He will go on to claim that it is rigged and then bring on the Arab Spring here. Instigate the people that under Barisan Nasional, their votes were stolen and they have to go out to the streets to reclaim their votes.
This will cause havoc and he won’t care because his ambition overrides all other considerations. And Pakatan doesn’t care, too, because they are on the same ride.
Tun Daim Zainuddin says Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was tested during the Asian financial crisis and he failed.