KUALA LUMPUR: Business contracts with China that seemed tainted and lopsided will be dealt with in a diplomatic way as the Middle Kingdom is an important friend, says Tun Daim Zainuddin.
“China is very important to us. We enjoy very close relations, but unfortunately under the previous administration, a lot of China contracts are tainted, difficult to understand and the terms are one-sided,” said Daim, who is chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP).
Thus, he said the cancellation or review of mega projects linked to China would be handled via the diplomatic channel as it is Malaysia’s close friend.
“We are talking to them (Beijing) now. I met with Chinese Ambassador Bai Tian. China might have been misled by our fellows,” he said in an interview with The Star.
Last week, the new government of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced the cancellation of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) and renegotiation of contract on the China-financed East Coast Rail Link.
Beijing has expressed its anger over the Malaysian actions via a report in the Global Times, an official mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China.
Daim, in his posh office on the 60th floor of Ilham Tower here, said he had expressed a similar stance to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong when they met recently.
“We have to protect our neighbours. The fault is with us (the previous government) here,” said the 80-year-old former finance minister.
In his usual soft voice, Daim shared that Singapore had agreed to repatriate soon whatever amount of “stolen money” from 1MDB in the republic.
He also disclosed that many government agencies were “bleeding”.
“The total losses incurred by 1MDB and other financial scandals are depressing. Every agency we called showed shocking data. We are trying our best to stop the bleeding,” he said.
The five-member CEP, named by Dr Mahathir shortly after the general election, has been given 100 days to advise on actions to wipe out corruption, bring back stolen money and how to rule with transparency and accountability.
Other members in the council are former Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former Petronas president Tan Sri Hassan Marican, economist Prof Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Hong Kong-based tycoon Robert Kuok.
Daim said the biggest challenge faced by the council was to cleanse the corrupted system and get rid of “this malady”.
“To do that, political willpower will be the main criterion for success. I am confident that the Pakatan government has the gumption to do just that,” he said.
The appointment of Lim Guan Eng as Finance Minister, due to his successful management of Penang’s state finance, has a positive impact on the psyche of the nation as it was based on ability and not race, according to Daim.
The man who had helped Malaysia overcome the economic crisis in 1987 and 1998 is hoping former cronies of Dr Mahathir will stay away from the new government.
“I will advise in our final report to the Government that all projects be awarded by open tender,” he said in response to public fear that former cronies of Dr Mahathir, who was premier in 1981 to 2003, might return to grab projects after Tan Sri Ting Pek Khiing announced a RM30bil project in Langkawi.
Ting was reported to have suffered a stroke and became a bankrupt before re-emerging recently.
“My advice to Tan Sri Ting is: ‘Get well and best to stay retired. Please help the Government by not tarnishing its image.’ If he is serious, let his children do the project. But show the money,” Daim said.
On whether premier-in-waiting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim would make a good prime minister, he said: “Anwar served in various ministries and his last post was deputy prime minister. But nobody can rule the country alone. That would be dictatorship. What you need is a good Cabinet, good advisers and good civil servants, honest and with integrity.”
He hoped Malaysians could give more time to Pakatan leaders who lacked experience in running a government.
“You have got to give them opportunity and time. They have been in the Opposition. That’s why they make a lot of remarks as though they are still in Opposition.
“So please be patient. They are learning fast, they are intelligent people. Most importantly, they are honest in serving the rakyat,” he said.
Daim is of the view that Barisan Nasional could not be an effective Opposition now as they lacked credibility.
“If you don’t have credibility, people find it difficult to trust you. Up till today, there is no apology coming from any of the leaders in Umno. They are still unrepentant. The stealers of 1MDB money are still in denial. Umno must change,” he said.
On the inclusion of Kuok in the CEP, he said: “I have known Robert Kuok since the 1970s. We should be proud to have this distinguished Malaysian, who answered the call of the nation to serve. He has many ideas and insights as to how Malaysia can move forward.”
Daim made clear that once the CEP report had been submitted to the Government after 100 days, he would not stay in the council.
“Once the report goes in, that’s it. It applies to other members – all of us, unless they are offered something else. But I will stay away. In fact, I have stayed away for a long time but because of this elections, I came out,” he said.
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