Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi sat down with The Globalist to discuss pertinent issues ranging from politics, social, economy and the threat of militant group Daesh to Malaysia’s security. Prior to Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid’s appointment as DPM on July 29, 2015, he served as Minister of Defence from 2009 to 2013. He also holds the post of Minister of Home Affairs since 2013. Below are excerpts of the interview.

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POLITICAL CLIMATE

Globalist: The political climate in Malaysia has become more intense in the last few months. As DPM and also UMNO Vice-President, how do you handle this tricky situation?

DPM: As the No. 2 in the government I am responsible to assist Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to defend the leadership institution. And as one of the three vice-presidents of UMNO, my colleagues and I must jointly defend the presidency and to gain the support of the people for the party. Coupled with a very challenging economic scenario UMNO is facing a huge political hurdle, although not as critical as the party’s leadership crisis in 1998 that involved individuals that just cannot wait its turn. No doubt that UMNO are facing challenges, but challenges come and go. We need to think of ways to tackle the problems, especially the negative perceptions from the court of public opinion. But, to be fair not only UMNO as a political party are facing relentless attacks by the opposition, but the party president was also not spared in their malicious allegations. As one of the vice presidents, I just cannot let our ship captain (president) be alone, the test will come and Godwilling, it will go. When our leader is troubled, he needs
the support of the grassroots to win the upcoming 14th General Election. In fact, UMNO has already started
laying the groundwork for the next general election by targeting “opinion leaders” and tackling the rising living
costs. We have to work with these leaders, including non-governmental organisations at both national and
lower levels, as they are important in ensuring that the messages from the top reaches the bottom. We are also
working very hard to solve the issue that are close to the people’s heart, which is the rising living-cost issue.
We must not only explain, but also take action, especially enforcement on those who earn a fortune outside the procedures of the tax system.

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Globalist: From your observation, do you think Malaysians are indulging in too much politicking activities specially on the social media platform?

DPM: The social media I think is one of the main source of various social ills and the dissemination of information by various unauthoritative mass media channels, leading to the manipulation of certain issues by irresponsible people. I have noticed that there are efforts by certain quarters, especially the social media players, who are out to incite racial tension. It is better for the social media users, especially the bloggers, to adhere the mainstream
media protocols, which promote journalistic ethics and a better writing style. It is sad to see that many issues on security had been politicised, especially those related to radicalisation, extremism and terrorism. There are some isolated issues that are often played up to tarnish the image of Islam, the religious institutions, heads of religious departments, muftis, and sometimes, Muslim intellectuals are subjected to character assassination. Politicians, especially UMNO leaders, must work hard to put aside the negative perceptions, especially propagated by the
Opposition in the social media.

Globalist: Your take on the so called UMNO-PAS Cooperation.

DPM: It is too early to say if the formal political cooperation with PAS will materialise, but I believed that there exists some form of “chemistry” between UMNO and PAS leaders, even though some PAS members rejected the idea. But, the “unity” displayed by leaders of with both parties recently was a good sign, and the “tahaluf siyasi” (political cooperation) could be forged through this initial understanding. It can’t be a one-sided effort. It takes understanding on both sides. The cooperation and solidarity of the two parties are encouraging and political ties could be established if an understanding is sealed. This is good for future Malaysia political scenario. To be honest, UMNO has extended an olive branch to PAS for political cooperation in strengthening the position of Islam in the country, but this does not mean that other parties or religions will be sidelined. We seek a common agenda with all Islamic political bodies so that we can speak with one voice on Islam, while still respecting other religions. I sincerely hope that this cooperation will materialise for the interests of the ummah.

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NATIONAL SECURITY

Globalist: How do you evaluate our readiness in confronting the Daesh militant threat?

DPM: Terrorism threats faced by Malaysia are not a political spin and should be taken seriously by all parties. Terrorism and violent extremism must be looked at, with a renewed urgency, and therefore, a new and more comprehensive approach is needed in view of the constantly changing nature of this kind of threat. Malaysia has taken various steps to address terrorism threats. We have strengthened our legislation and intensified the operations of local law enforcement, intelligence and security forces. Our action couldn’t be more fitting as very recently, the world – particularly, this region and precisely, our close neighbour Indonesia – was rocked with a terrorist attack that killed innocent people. The spread of militant groups, such as Daesh influence and their radical ideology, is a big threat to the national security. The government views the matter seriously and will continuously work with national
security agencies around the world to ensure that such militant groups will not set foot in this country. On that note, Malaysia is to host a regional centre to counter the spread of Daesh ideology and propaganda via the internet. The centre, called the Regional Digital Counter-Messaging Communication Centre (RDC3), would be set up in Kuala Lumpur and will be operational in May. Malaysia was chosen because of our commitment, especially of the police force, in countering the threat of international terrorism and cross-border criminal activities. As many recruitments by Daesh are being made through the social media, the centre is being set up to monitor all movements by terrorists, or those with the potential to engage in terrorism.

Globalist: Could you elaborate on the recently launched Internal Security Policy (DKDN)?

DPM: DKDN is a comprehensive internal security policy which covers internal security, public order and global terrorism threats. The main objective of DKDN is to keep Malaysia as an independent, sovereign and peaceful nation, capable of defending her national interests based on the principles of the Federal Constitution and Rukun Negara. The implementers of the DKDN were all enforcement agencies concerned with internal security and public
order, including the Home Ministry, National Security Council, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the Malaysian Armed Forces. Two committees would be set up to oversee the effectiveness of the DKDN, including a high-level committee chaired by myself, with members comprising the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and other relevant ministers. Another committee called the
working committee would also be set up, chaired by Home Ministry Secretary-General and will include permanent members from the ministry’s agencies and departments, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, National Security Council and the Armed Forces. Basically, the DKDN has eight strategic thrusts and 34 objectives, including the protection and strengthening of key national institutions, maintenance of border security, protection of social
cohesion and national defence, as well as combating threats to public order.

Globalist: Your opinion on Total Defence implementation in Malaysia.

DPM: The fact that Malaysia is considered as one of the safest countries in Southeast Asia proves that the Total Defence concept, also known as Hanruh, implemented by the Government, has been effective in maintaining security and hence, stability. Hanruh implementation in Malaysia has been translated via collaboration of the Malaysian Armed Forces, Royal Malaysian Police and other enforcement agencies, such as People Volunteer Corp and Malaysia Civil Defence Department. Hanruh consists of five basic components – national vigilance, solidarity and unity of the community, public vigilance, economic fortitude and psychological resilience. In fact, the DKDN emphasis on the implementation of Hanruh is not only for the security agencies, but also, the people of Malaysia.

Among the main agenda of the committee are to educate consumers, such as the importance of using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and how economic factors and oil prices influenced the increase in prices of goods. I strongly believe that there is a need to have a better communication method to avoid misunderstanding or distorted information on the hike of consumer products prices. I would also like to urge the leaders of NGOs and the public to take into consideration the factors which cause prices of goods and services, including public transportation and toll, to rise. We need to have collective responsibility and not point fingers, but find the best way to resolve the problem holistically. We will engage with various relevant sectors to find the best way to reduce wastage, such as giving options to consumers to buy items that have been repacked, in accordance to their needs, especially for the B40 households.

LOVING COUPLE: Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid with his wife, Datin Seri Hamidah Khamis
LOVING COUPLE: Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid with his wife, Datin Seri Hamidah Khamis

Globalist: Recently you announced that Bagan Datoh is a new sub-district in Perak, what is the significance
of this new development?

DPM: There is no doubt in my mind that Bagan Datoh as a sub-district will help boost development in the area. The new status will surely pave the way for major improvements and developments to this place, which is under my purview as its Member of Parliament. Since it is located between Port Klang and Lumut, it has the potential to be the
next new port development for Perak. With the establishment of the new port and construction of the West Coast Expressway, or WCE, which is expected to be completed in 2019, Bagan Datoh is set to transform into an industrial and agricultural hub with concentration on iron ore, steel, fisheries and coconut produce industry. I am happy to note that work is also ongoing to set up an administrative centre in Bagan Datoh, which will house government
departments and agencies, to offer services to the public. Currently, Bagan Datoh residents have to travel to Teluk Intan, which is about 50km away, to deal with the government departments and agencies. But, I would like to stress that physical change is not enough. More importantly, Bagan Datoh residents must also grow spiritually for a stronger cohesion.

ECONOMY

Globalist: Your thoughts on the 1MDB rationalisation programme and the expectations of the people.

DPM: The public should not be so quick to fall for unverified reports on 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) alleged financial irregularities. The bipartisan Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is scrutinising its claims and the report will be tabled very soon. PAC is studying the details and the authorities are investigating them, we should not
fall for the misinformation spread, especially by the social media. We shouldn’t make any judgement based on information from unverified sources. I am confident the investigating authorities will uncover the truth. And I would like to remind that when PAC report is finalised, it must be accepted as the official report for 1MDB as it has been agreed to by Members of Parliament from the Opposition as well as the Government. As we all aware, there are
allegations of hidden hands making profit out of 1MDB, and I sincerely hoped that the PAC report will unearth the truth.

Globalist: Do you think Malaysia’s economy is resilient enough facing the drastic drop of oil price and the Ringgit currency?

DPM: It cannot be denied that Malaysia has been affected by the drastic drop in oil prices, but the situation is far less panic than perceived externally. The Government has taken several proactive steps on the oil price movement with a Budget recalibration. The Government is also working to minimise its fiscal deficit and will not perform a
knee-jerk reaction to cut expenditure. We want to control growth and have a very steady reduction in our fiscal deficit. And not to forget, the Goods & Services Tax (GST). Though the public has mostly reacted negatively to this tax, it has been proven that the implementation of GST help reduced tax evasion, improved business discipline and most importantly, increased our revenue. It is true that the drop in oil prices has affected Malaysia, but rest assured, the country’s outlook is far from gloomy. Our banking sector is in a firm foundation, it is well monitored by Bank Negara and the Islamic finance sector growth, for example, has been very positive. On the macroeconomic front, Malaysia’s gross national income continues to increase annually. Malaysia economic growth for this year, at between 4-4.5% as projected by Bank Negara, looks promising despite the gloomy global economy outlook.

Globalist: Could you enlighten us on the purpose of the Cabinet Committee on Tackling the Rising Cost of Living, which you chaired?

DPM: The committee comprised six ministers and secretaries-general of the respective ministries. The ministers involved are the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister, Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin; Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar; Higher Education Minister, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh; Education Minister, Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid; International Trade and Industry Minister, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed; and Second Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah. Among the main agenda of the committee are to educate consumers, such as the importance of using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and how economic factors and oil prices influenced the increase in prices of goods. I strongly believe that there is a need to have a better communication method to avoid misunderstanding or distorted information on the hike of consumer products prices. I would also like to urge the leaders of NGOs and the public to take into consideration the factors which cause prices of goods and services, including public transportation and toll, to rise. We need to have collective responsibility and not point fingers, but find the best way to resolve the problem holistically. We will engage with various relevant sectors to find the best way to reduce wastage, such as giving options to consumers to buy items that have been repacked, in accordance to their needs, especially for the B40 households.

Globalist: Recently you announced that Bagan Datoh is a new sub-district in Perak, what is the significance of this new development?

 DPM: There is no doubt in my mind that Bagan Datoh as a sub-district will help boost development in the area. The new status will surely pave the way for major improvements and developments to this place, which is under my purview as its Member of Parliament. Since it is located between Port Klang and Lumut, it has the potential to be the next new port development for Perak. With the establishment of the new port and construction of the West Coast Expressway, or WCE, which is expected to be completed in 2019, Bagan Datoh is set to transform into an industrial and agricultural hub with concentration on iron ore, steel, fisheries and coconut produce industry. I am happy to note that work is also ongoing to set up an administrative centre in Bagan Datoh, which will house government departments and agencies, to offer services to the public. Currently, Bagan Datoh residents have to travel to Teluk Intan, which is about 50km away, to deal with the government departments and agencies. But, I would like to stress that physical change is not enough. More importantly, Bagan Datoh residents must also grow spiritually for a stronger cohesion.

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