PART TWO: Ten Years' Retired And Still Working Hard For The Country
Touching on the budget, how do you feel about it? Would you have done anything differently?
No. Before the budget (tabling), The Star (newspaper) gathered the feelings of the people regarding the budget that they want and among the things (the people) said is that we should do away with BR1M but apparently the government still believes that they should give money to the people.
It is quite a lot of money, comes to almost RM4 billion, so it may contribute towards the deficit. I'm not so sure, because I don't have the figures. But on the other hand of course when you give money it contributes towards the GDP growth.
So, I'm disappointed that the views of the people appear to have been ignored by the government. Then of course I was expecting that we would build the bridge etc but somehow or rather Singapore doesn't agree, or something like that, and we cannot build anything that Singapore doesn't want. And we seem to be subservient to Singapore.
During your time, what was the closest form of 'handout' that the government had given compared to BR1M?
We do have very very poor people. We have to give them some allowance because they are very poor and jobless. But mainly we believe in training people so that they can do jobs which can give them an income. Provide opportunities for them to do small businesses, give them training, provide some capital for them to use, but not just giving anybody. They must qualify for the government help.
I think some people appreciate that because if you gauge by the support (that people had then) for the government, it was quite clear that the support for the government then was very strong despite the fact that the government does not give handouts.
You've given your views on the implementation of minimum wage, you think its not time yet. When do you think we will be ready for that?
Everything has got to be done step by step. You know when you have a sudden jump, it disrupt things. Now, if a person is receiving RM700, suddenly you give him RM900 minimum salary or wage, what happens to the people who are already receiving 900?
Obviously they are not going to be happy, so you have to give them, too. And when they move up, the others also must move up.
So, actually the cost to business is much higher than the mere determination that the minimum wage should be 900. Because those who are above the minimum wage would also get pay rises otherwise, they will not be happy.
We are already, among Asian countries, next to Singapore, we are the highest (in terms of) cost. Our productivity does not go up, in fact it goes down because we have more holidays now than ever before.
Before, we used to work Saturdays. When we don't work Saturdays we lose 52 working days in a year. But Saturdays we work half days so we can see not 52 but 26 working days are lost. Then we have a lot of festivals of course with this country, we had to show our appreciation for these festivals.
But then a small group has a festival, why should the whole country come to a stop? I don't think that is the right thing. We are a developing country. We cannot afford the luxuries of a developed country.
In developed countries, they can work less and pay more. But even they, as you know, are suffering today. Europe is no longer competitive, simply because they work less and get higher pay, their cost goes up and they cannot sell their products.
If we behave as if we are already developed, we work less, we pay more, and I think we will lose competitiveness. Already we have lost competitiveness, but we will lose more later on and I think that will not be good for the country.
But why do you think this idea is being put forth, knowing that this is not a good idea right now?
Well, that is not a good idea from my point of view, but maybe others have got different ideas - maybe it will make people popular. I did not always do things to make myself popular. I do things which I think will contribute.
That said, we still think Deepavali break needs an extra day off.
There are ten percent Indians. If you look at the government's staff of 1.4 million, the number of Indians is not even ten percent of that 1.4 million. And yet when ten percent has a holiday, all the rest of the staff must stop work, because we are not a single ethnic single religious country, we are multi-ethnic multi-religious country.
If they have the holiday, they need a holiday, then by all means, let them go off because the government can still work, and even if in the industries, they can still go on working.
You see, when they go for holiday, the cost for businesses is very high. If you have to make them work you pay twice. If they work after working hours you pay four times. So it contributes towards cost.
Why should 90 percent of the workforce go on holiday when only the ten percent needs the holiday? Yes we have respect; I think one day is good respect, because it is ten percent of the population. Having a holiday is not a mark of your status. To me, people who do not work don't deserve to be paid.