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Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad:

“Yemen is in need of confidence and needs to attract foreign industrial companies to invest in the country. The task is not that easy nowadays. Now, investors prefer to go to China, Thailand and Singapore because there is abundance and cheap workforce. Nevertheless, you must always try and have to decide your priorities.

  Interviewed By: Mustafa Nasr (FOR THE YEMEN POST)
  Article Date:
January 05
, 2009



When I asked the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad about how much time Yemen needs to come to the level of Malaysia? He laughed a lot and politely stated that "You can always try. Yemenis are successful especially when they are abroad."

Mohammed, who managed to transfer Malaysia into an industrial country, pointed out that his country is exporting industrial products mounting to $100 billion. It is a legendary figure especially when Malaysia lacks in most natural resources if compared to several countries including Yemen.

Malaysia has worked as a limited responsibility company and it attracted world investments and trained a local cadre to lead the county. Before that, it provided different political and security conditions. This is the essence of the Malaysian experience.

Mustafa Nasr: Through your frequent visits to Yemen, what is the advice you have for Yemenis so they can achieve development?

Mahathir Mohamad : Yemen is  in need of confidence and needs to attract foreign industrial companies to invest in the country. The task is not that easy nowadays. Now, investors prefer to go to China, Thailand and Singapore because there is abundance and cheap workforce. Nevertheless, you must always try and have to decide your priorities; e.g. once you want to develop electronics sector, you have to visit countries famous in this field and convince them to invest in your country. You also have to tell them about the different incentives ensured under the Investment Law.

MN: But your emphasis during the recent industry Conference in Hadramout's Al-Mukalla, was on the culture of society and the love for work as well as other cultural values?

MM: Certainly, these factors do affect, because industry enters the cultural system of the country. For this perspective, you have to decide what to want, what you like and what you dislike. There are some investments which are of no interest for you. You have to consider the interest of society.  

MN: What are the manifestations you think Yemenis must change?

MM: They have to adopt a culture similar to the Japanese culture which honors the love for work and abandon laziness. They have to abandon Qat, because it is a bigger problem.

MN: How long does Yemen need to become like Malaysia?

MM: We worked on such an idea for 50 years. We started our industrialization revolution as soon as we decided our interest, whether electronics or heavy equipments, or something else.

MN: In case you rule Yemen, what will be your priorities and what will you do?

MM: I will focus on education. I will start with education and the private sector. The government must be convinced to invest in education and training. 

MN: What did Malaysia do to achieve this great success?

MM: We worked as if we are "Malaysian Company Ltd." and we formed one team with the private sector. I used to travel with 100 to 200 businessmen to participate in the international exhibitions during which we market for what Malaysia has and can offer. We also discovered new markets. In sum, we encouraged the private sector; e.g. the private sector has electricity-generating stations and it sells these services to the government at certain prices. We have to offer the private sector the chance to make profit. At the end, the government will get 28 percent of the profits. 

MN: Can you tell us about your experience with the private sector?

MM: We keep telling them that we will help them make more profits. If there are profits, there will certainly be cooperation. The government must act as a friend for commercial houses. It must interfere to solve the private sector problems, because the governments can get more revenues out of profit taxes. When the government helps the private sector, it primarily helps itself.

MN: What about taxes you impose?

MM: We reduced taxes and we got more revenues out of profit taxes. If you want to develop the industrial and commercial activities, you have to levy little taxes so that you do not affect their activities. 

MN: In Yemen, we always talk of our past and we have not made great achievements in the present, what is the problem?

MM: There are not a lot of changes. I can say that Yemenis are successful. Yemenis who live abroad are successful, especially when they are allowed the chance. Thus, I can say that Yemenis can do something for their country.

MN: Since 1990, Yemen has been undertaking the economic reform program; however, most economic experts stress that political reform should precede the economic reform. In your own view, to what extent should the political reform be prioritized over the economic reform?

MM: If you have a bad government, then you certainly need political reform. Investors having works and business contracts in Yemen are freely allowed to work. Thus, you have to exploit the facilities and to direct them to the right path. We notice that there are people who plan for future projects and some of these projects have been materialized. This is evidence of political stability. Though it is seducing to speak about political change process, this needs quite a long time before it can materially exist.

MN: How do you see the impact of the world financial crisis on developing countries?

MM: The current financial crisis will certainly affect all countries; however, these effects will be larger in countries which have stronger relations with the US. The problem was clear in the financial and banking system. If they had realized the situation then, they must have known that this will happen one day because the banking system is built on promises.

MN: So what is the solution?

MM: The solution is to change the current monetary system. We have to reduce our dependence on the US Dollar because dealing in Dollar will empower the American regime. 

MN: At the personal level, when will Mohammed stop his general activities and set for writing his memoirs?

MM: Now, I am living my own personal life. What I do now is the right thing. If you were a working person and referred to pension, you must not sleep. You have to do things you have not done before. Thus, you can live longer.