Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Me, Pak Lah and the 4th Floor boys

The past five years have been a roller-coaster ride for Khairy Jamaluddin - that's how he described it himself.

Once labeled as the most powerful 28-year-old in Malaysia, Khairy now 32 is struggling to win the Umno Youth chief post when he would have been a shoo-in not too long ago.

In a 90-minute interview with Malaysiakini - the first he has given to the online newsdaily - Khairy talked about what had gone wrong.

In this first of a five-part series, Khairy defended his father-in-law - outgoing PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who is fondly known as Pak Lah - and the Fourth Floor, a powerful coterie of young aides to the prime minister.

How do you actually put your ideas across to the government? Do you go direct to the prime minister or do you use the Fourth Four?

I suppose I can do it in Parliament, but you know you'll have constraints, time constraints, but yeah, you can write about it and send proposals.

But you do have family dinners with the prime minister.

Yeah, but that's the last thing I would talk about - (imagine discussing) unemployment insurance, stimulating SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) loans and things like that.

One of your fiercest critics has been (ex-PM) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad), not just yours but also the prime minister's critic. He is now talking that Pak Lah would stay on (as PM) for another year at least.

I don't think so. I think the prime minister has made up his mind, he has set his heart on the transition and I think we should just respect that decision. Trying to second guess this is all very... well, it creates a lot of uncertainties but as far as I know, it's going to happen.

What do you think would be Pak Lah's legacy?

Malaysia changed in 1998. We didn't change in 2008, and he (Pak Lah) tried to bring reform to the mainstream and much of it has started.

It might not be the finished product - whether or not you're talking about a freer society, in terms of expressing ourselves, in terms of speaking up, and whether or not we talk about institutions, SPRM (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission), the Judicial Appointments Commission...

But these are solid building blocks to a better Malaysia, and one day, if these reforms continue, they will look back and say that this is where it started and, regrettably, he (Pak Lah) decided to fall on his own (sword), sacrifice (himself for) the party.

I think when we look back at this period of reform, as turbulent as it was, you'll see this is where we have definitely turn a corner. There are many other things that I think that are less well documented, for instance, turning around government-linked companies, this happens on his watch and they are much healthier, much more resilient.

The fact that we have money to spend our way out of this economic crisis is because of his frugality of economic management, and the fact that our economy is going to be more than this, not just manufacturing or services, is largely because of his desire to see that the economy opportunities will spread further and wider up than previously.

So I hope that history will take on this...

But the biggest complaint is that he has been slow in implementing the proposals which he talked about when he first came into power. Again, we don't know what's happening to the economic corridors (launched by Pak Lah).

You know, when you come into a system that has been there for a long time, you'll end up being... there's this institutional straitjacket, no matter how well meaning, or how reformist, at the end of the day, there's this reluctant, this inertia to change... So, I wouldn't call it slow, I would call it very difficult institutional circumstances that he was up against.

Secondly, when you talk about the corridors, the big figure, much of it is private investment, not public investment. So that's the difference that Pak Lah is trying to bring, where you announce something, it's not just the government or taxpayers that are going to carry the stick forward, but also the private sector.

Of course, the GLCs (government-linked companies) are at the lead. The GLCs are not using government fund, they're not using taxpayers' money, they are using the money that they raised from capital markets, and from the financial system.

This is productive spending; this is what you have to try to do. You have to try to encourage private investment, private consumption and public investment.

That's our problem; we could not kick start private consumption and private investment after 1998.

So that was what the corridors were about, and ultimately whether or not they end up succeeding is whether they're being continued.

But I think there are certain corridors which are obvious. We should continue with, for example, the one in Johor, and that I hope is not something that would be phased out just because it's one man's vision and not the other man's desire.

I hope that the corridors will take place, it's a long-term vision, and I don't think Pak Lah even thought that he would see it to its creation. I mean, this is a man who had repeatedly said that ‘I'm not going to be there in 2020, I'm not going to be there when all these things happen'.

He pretty much knew his place in history was to get things started, to point us in the right direction and see whether or not we're going to get there.

Do you consider Pak Lah a failed prime minister? Do you sometimes wish that ‘this man should have more spine, he should be firmer', or ‘I wish he could have done this and that'.

I think everybody looks back and wishes that they could change things along the way, but we have to accept the circumstances that we live in and this is the way it happened.

I'm trying to make the best of it and hope for the reforms he put in place that they are continued. And if those reforms are enduring, then I think it would be a greater success than how we view it today.

So was there any time when you feel ‘come on! (Pak Lah)...

No, I mean each person has his own way of doing things and we have to bring the best out of it, including myself. We have to live with the fact that when circumstances and fate collide and conspire...

About the Fourth Floor - why do you think that it is the lighting rod for all criticisms?

Well, I would say if you want to blame it on something and you have to scapegoat something, and I think the Fourth Four was an easy one to use.

Who are the people on Fourth Floor? They're such a shadowy group.

They are professionals who worked as press secretaries, who work as special assistants, who writes speeches, who draft memos, who do research and that's the sum of it really. They don't make policies, and they don't push for projects, contracts and things like that.

But they are easy scapegoats because you have to understand that when Pak Lah came in he want to do things differently, and the institutional resistance that I spoke about was very clear and evident.

And when they couldn't hit out at him, obviously because he is the prime minister and he has such a huge mandate, they want to blame on somebody so they picked on these people from Fourth Floor and say that, you know, they're the root of all evils.

But you were part of the Fourth Floor? Was it because you've been seen to have control over the Fourth Floor?

Maybe, but I left very quickly, I stayed about one year. After the transition was announced from Dr Mahathir to Pak Lah, I was away, then I came back and he (Pak Lah) said why don't you come in and help out, so I say only for a year, after (2004) elections I'll go. Fine, so yeah, I came in and I was there.

You once said that Pak Lah serves as your protection. And now that he won't be there, it's going to be difficult for you. Clearly, it's not in your interest that this transition (of power) happened so quickly.

No, you have to take the training wheels off the bicycle at some point of time, and you just have to bear with it.

But personally, you would disagree with the fact that this happened so...

My personal view on this matter doesn't really counts. I mean, it's what you made of the circumstances. This is the reality of the situation so you have to live with it.

I mean, are you going to stop and hope for another outcome? This is the reality of the politics and this is the game that we're in so we have to accept it and carry on with it.

Being the prime minister's son-in-law, is that a boon or a burden?

Being the prime minister's son-in-law has been a roller-coaster ride. Is that a good enough answer? Roller-coaster goes up and down so...

More ups or down?

I don't sit down and do a cost-and-benefit analysis on being a son-in-law of the prime minister.

BOLD- It would have come in handy at some point, maybe without you realising it - people will try to talk to you, put you in places simply because you are the son-in-law of the prime minister.

Yeah, maybe, but it's a double-edged sword so maybe it's a net ... net neutral outcome.

It could be a handicap in trying to win the Umno Youth chief post?

Possibly, possibly.

Tomorrow: Am I arrogant? I don't think so

Source : Malaysiakini


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