Interview with Tun Musa Hitam

  • Business
  • Saturday, 16 May 2009

Do you think Datuk Seri Najib Razak is moving too fast, too soon to conceptualise his 1Malaysia slogan (what do you think of the concept anyway) and what do you think about political sloganeering? – Koo, Kapar, Selangor

Sloganeering is a good political tool but it will remain empty when not followed up with deeds. As far as I’m concerned, our founding fathers had wished for 1Malaysia even before independence. But we appear to have lost some of this oneness along the way. Democracy allowed race issues to creep in and as a nation we had to go through May 13. It was a wake-up call and was used to re-engineer our social structure, very successfully, I might add, shortcomings notwithstanding.

With education, a new crop of Malaysians who are more sophisticated and exposed have emerged. In the last few years under the Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration, people found openness after years of repressed emotions. This surge of openness was for some a new experience, though a minority may have despaired over it. Others who have lived through such openness before, see it as a return to how things should have been in the first place.

What our Prime Minister is trying to do is a recognition of this, and he is taking the necessary steps to ensure that we return to those ideals which were envisaged by our founding fathers. He does need to tread very cautiously here though since if wrongly articulated, it could misfire.

Sime Darby has laudable, diverse board representation but its management is predominantly home-grown professionals who have served the group over the years. Do you agree that it’s a tad inclusive and there’s not enough diversity and that some “outsiders” could jazz things up for the group? – Ahmad, Pahang

Two of Sime Darby’s five divisions are already headed by foreigners. The Industrial Division is headed by Scott Cameron, who is an Australian, and the Motors Division is headed by Datuk Lawrence Lee, who is a Singaporean. Also, many of our overseas operations are led by foreigners and of course we hire thousands of people of various nationalities all over the world.

Having said that, we could perhaps allow for more inter-divisional and international transfers in order to maximise the potential of our talent pool. Sime Darby has about 100,000 employees in 20 countries and so we already have the reach and ability to attract all these people.

Of course, the idea of outsiders is always attractive, but I believe every decision has to be made with performance in mind. If a Malaysian is capable, we should acknowledge and support that as well.

You have experienced so many changes in your career, both positive and negative. Do you think you have handled these changes well and how did you do that? – Tee, Ipoh

As far as my own personal experiences went, there was no such a thing as negative change. I like to think of change I went through as positive, even if it is not immediately apparent. And how did I handle change well? By being positive and never trying to turn back the clock to pine for what was.

What do you do for relaxation? – JJ, Selangor

I exercise in moderation and always have. I play golf. I am not passionate about it but keep up a regular regime with my friends. This is of course also a social exercise. I also carry light weights to remain toned and habitually watch my diet.

In addition, I’ve been given a second chance in life. I have four delightful young children – my 15-year-old son, three grandkids who are 16, 13 and 11. Imagine that.

I read voraciously but still not enough for my liking. And I socialise with friends of all age groups. That is the one way of making sure that you are keeping up with the times.

If you could turn back the clock, professionally speaking, what would it be? – Nesa, Malacca

I would not turn back the clock and I would change nothing in the past. Even my resignation as Deputy Prime Minister was based on my principles, and that has not changed. I still contribute to national development now, but in different ways.

Do you think past leaders should respect the decisions made by the current leadership or should they be able to voice their discontent? – Rashid, KL

Yes, they should respect the decisions of the leaders and yes, they should be allowed to voice their discontent as any citizen should be able to. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and as long as they do not breach the bounds of propriety. Personally though, as a former Deputy Prime Minister, I would rather criticise current leaders very frankly on a one-to-one basis than give them a public flogging.

How would you describe the maturity of the electorate in recent years and how has it changed since, say your time? – Jaffar, KL

Times have changed, and life today is a lot more complex. I don’t think you can compare maturity today to what existed when I was in active politics. The entire field of communications today is something that sci-fi movies were about in those days.

Today, the issues are how the leadership handles the new openness that has been brought about by what I call digital democracy. I have always been a strong advocate of transparency and openness. I think digital democracy is the best thing that could have happened to us and I think even though this whole age is in its infancy, we are dealing with it rather well as a nation.

What do you think Umno needs to do to remain relevant and to regain voter support? – Julie, Perlis

Umno’s credibility today is at its lowest ebb in its history, which makes it such a big challenge to the new leadership. Umno needs to undergo a drastic sea change. There was a lot of damage inflicted on the party over the years and the values it was founded upon have all but disappeared. It is imperative that Umno is continuously in sync with the electorate in all aspects.

In order to change perception, that change has to be seen to be convincing. Otherwise, it will be regarded as more whitewashing. These days people are just not gullible enough to buy into a lot of the rhetoric. Umno has to show results, which means it needs to clean up not just its image, but clean up inside and out.

The reality on the ground simply put is that Umno and Barisan Nasional have been perceived to be blatantly corrupt, and practice cronyism and nepotism with impunity. The perception also is that they are divorced from reality even though Malaysia has moved on ever so fast (thanks to Umno’s own contribution by our founders) and yet the party itself is out of touch.

It does not help when a member of Umno’s Disciplinary Committee, while admitting that money politics was rampant within Umno, maintained that, that was not corruption! Wow! What a new interpretation for corruption that is!

What is the major change that you would like to see or work towards at Sime Darby? – Roderick, Sabah

I would like to see a change in the perception that GLC (government-linked company) is a dirty word. It is the common perception that GLCs get what they want and are allowed to get away with poor performance, at best, and utter incompetence if not blatant corruption, at worst.

I would like to see Sime Darby be regarded as a bastion of leadership in ability, innovation and execution. I would like Sime Darby be regarded as a multinational corporation that has actually competed internationally without any support from anyone and has won contracts and projects.

Just this week, we announced that it has become the first company in the world to successful sequence, assemble and annotate the oil palm genome. That is a remarkable feat and every Malaysian should be proud. I want this recognition to be tied in with the very core of Sime Darby.

Something else that Sime Darby is looking into is the setting up of a whistleblower policy so that we can facilitate the free flow of opinions, be they negative or positive. We appreciate the scrutiny of the media and the blogs. We see this as constructive and use the opportunity to examine ourselves.

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