1. You have clearly chosen politics over business as a career path. What led you to make that decision? Selvarani, Klang
Since my schooldays, my interest had always been the academia. When I did well as an engineering undergraduate at the University of Manchester's Institute of Science and Technology, an opportunity opened up for me to pursue a Masters and PhD, which provided the chance for me to deepen my knowledge and passion in the field. At the time, I felt that an academic career was something challenging and would provide me with an exciting future.
After a few years in the academic world, I wanted to try something different. Life in the corporate world somehow intrigued me, and the Government was encouraging and promoting entrepreneurship at the time. I initially began with my own consulting firm, J & A Associates. I then embarked on a larger scale business of engineering manufacturing, design and installation through EPE Power Corp Bhd, which was eventually listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.
I was planning to remain in the corporate sector but when former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad appointed me as Second Finance Minister in 2002, I realised that my life was going to take a highly different turn. That was when I took the full plunge into politics, where I have remained since.
2. Do you agree that politics is so much more volatile than business? Ahmad, Selangor
Indeed, that is true. In my opinion, business challenges tend to be more predictable, quantifiable and easier to manage. As a corporate man, you know what your strengths are and you establish activities based on your own competencies to maximise benefits and return.
I believe the challenges in politics are radically different. They are much more difficult to manage and plan. Things are obviously harder to predict. They can also happen in a very peculiar manner and beyond one's normal expectations at times.
3. How do you juggle between these two jobs MP for Rompin and Malaysian Ambassador to the US? How can you effectively attend to your constituents when you are most of the time away in US? Sonia, Hartamas
I am grateful to the Prime Minister and the Government's trust in me to serve as our nation's ambassador to what has been considered as the most important capital in the world. It has been a significant and meaningful career milestone for me, having started as an academic, then corporate, politics and now diplomacy and it is indeed, truly an honour for me.
However, this comes with the challenge of having to juggle both jobs of being an ambassador and a parliamentarian. Nonetheless, my task has been made less taxing thanks to the advances in modern technology and communication. I am an active user of social networking mediums and Skype to communicate with my constituents and staff when I am in the United States. While being geographically distant, technology has facilitated greatly with my work to discharge my duty to my constituents.
4. What is your view on the suggestion that ex-politicians should be barred from holding board positions in companies?
As a politician who was appointed chairman of Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) in 2000, do you agree that it does not send the right signal in terms of good governance? Kok Leong, Miri
I strongly believe in merits. If an individual is qualified by training and qualifications, coupled with the right skills, knowledge, expertise and experience, then there is no reason to deny him or her from holding those positions and contribute to the GLCs. In my case, I believe I was appointed by the Government as TNB chairman based on my expertise and experience. I hold a PhD in electrical engineering and had worked in the private sector in the electrical engineering industry. I believe those were the criteria the Government considered when they decided on my appointment as chairman.
5. Where is your political compass pointing at next a return to the Cabinet? Hanif, KL
For the time being, I am happy with my dual role as Ambassador to the United States and member of parliament for Rompin. I will continue to discharge my duties to the best that I can.
6. US is very advanced in many areas including education, management schools, research, technological advancements, among others. How are you leveraging on these to benefit Malaysians? Choong, Malacca
As Malaysians, we should be proud of how far we have come as a nation. Our founding fathers have laid the groundwork and successfully built on them. Thanks to their efforts, we have inherited a truly remarkable country. We have been left with excellent infrastructures, a sound economic base and a fairly affluent society a success story in many ways.
Nevertheless, more work needs to be done in order to achieve our vision to be a fully-developed nation and truly united and prosperous society. We need to further enhance our economy, look at creating high income jobs and move beyond the middle income trap and strengthen the social fabric of our society.
This is where the United States comes in. I believe our New Economic Model is an excellent strategy and the US can be an important partner. There are multiple sectors in the US that we could potentially benefit from. The Silicon Valley in California is home to some of the best high-technology companies in the world, such as Google, Facebook and Sun Microsystems. The best academic institutions in the world are also based in the US such as Harvard and the MIT. We should look into working with these institutions via academic partnerships and also sending our best and brightest minds there. There is also an issue of market opportunities as our Malaysian products be it traditional agricultural products or new industrialised products. These are just some of the potential sectors that Malaysia should actively pursue and benefit from the US.
7. How often do you get asked about “Anwar issue” in the US as he has a great number of sympathisers in the West and how do you tackle such questions which have given the country a bad rep? Harban Singh, JB
I believe there is a need to move on and not get distracted by such issues. Prime Minister Najib and President Obama have agreed to open a new chapter on the Malaysia-US bilateral relations. The visit by both Robert Gates, Secretary of Defence and Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State to Malaysia last year were testimonies to that, given that we have not had official visits from both Secretary of Defence and Secretary of State for more than a good 15 years. This certainly augurs well for the future relations of both countries.
8. If there is one thing the stint at US has taught you that we need to change about Malaysia to forge ahead, what would it be? Ayesha, Perlis
When I first arrived to the United States, I realised that we have not promoted and marketed the nation as well as we should. It appears that many of Malaysia's success stories hadn't been effectively sold to American audiences. For example, as a successful trading nation with a moderate approach towards Islam, a great majority of Americans are unaware of this. Our economic performance has continued to exceed expectations and is the envy of many in the developing and developed world, yet many Americans have not heard of this. The number of American tourists to Malaysia also remains relatively modest. My job is to work on these issues and use them as leverages to enhance our country's image and standing here in the US. From an economic perspective, it is important also to promote our products and services in the US, while at the same time encourage more investment and tourism. Ultimately, the greater economic interaction between our two countries will lead towards economic prosperity and job creation for both of us. Greater people-to-people contact through such activities as tourism will also lead to a better appreciation of the successes Malaysia has achieved and also what our country has to offer to the rest of the world, including the US.
9. It is commonly known that you like your Cuban cigars and lead a fancy lifestyle. Is that perception true? Lippi, KL
The truth is, I am not an avid smoker. However, as a corporate player and a politician, I can't avoid from getting caught in the “networking circle” as I would call it. In some of my meetings in Malaysia in a more informal setting, aside from the usual teh tarik and nasi lemak, cigars are also part of the menu! But in the US, smoking is frowned upon. Smoking inside restaurants and enclosed spaces is illegal. Smoking is allowed only outside buildings.
10. What is your past-time activities in the US? Rosario, Penang
My past-time activities are mostly related to taking care of my health. I exercise rigorously by jogging, going to the gym and playing some golf. My wife does an excellent job in managing my healthy diet at home. I particularly enjoy the social scene here in Washington DC. It is such a fantastic city to socialise and meet people. Each time I attend a function, meeting or reception, I try to maximise every networking opportunity I get with members of the US administration, the diplomatic corps, the US Congress and representatives from the think tanks and NGOs in town. I have enjoyed making new acquaintances and keeping in touch with the latest information in town.
ZAINAH ANWAR is one of the country's most prominent women's rights activists. She led the Sisters in Islam (SIS), a nongovermental organisation she co-founded that fights for the rights of Muslim women under syariah law, for two decades before stepping down. She remains on the board of directors of SIS.
Any burning questions to ask her? Email to email@example.com
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