PUTRAJAYA — (The following is the transcript of the interview with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in conjunction with the Ageing, Learning & Technology: Enriching Lives Connecting Communities Conference 2018 scheduled for Oct 9, 2018. The interview was conducted by Cheah Tuck Wing and Datuk Muslim Ayob from the Third Age Media Association and Bernama News Channel (BNC) at the Perdana Leadership Foundation in Putrajaya recently. The full interview was aired over BNC yesterday and will be repeated at 5pm (Monday), 12 noon and 5pm (Sept 22), 5pm (Sept 23), 9am (Sept 29) and 5pm (Sept 30).
BNC airs over Astro 502, Unifi TV 631 and MYTV 121 and can be viewed around the world on the website www.bernama.com, Facebook and YouTube.
Q: Malaysia will be an ageing nation soon? In 2020 we will be having like 3.6 million of people above 60 and will be reaching 8.2 million in 2040. So what are the plans the government has for this group of people who are growing rapidly?
Tun: We have been adjusting the age of retirement because people now are more healthy and even after the retirement age of 55, they are still able to work and function well. So that (retirement age) has been adjusted to 60 now and many countries now don’t have a retirement age. For as long as you can work, you work, so that means that old people will be able to continue earning a living and not be dependent on pension, which of course is not enough. And they are going to live for much longer time so the pension cost is very high because people live longer after pensionable age. The other thing is of course about if these people don’t leave and be pensioned off, then the place will not be vacant for younger people. This is something that we need to study. We don’t want to deprive younger people of opportunities or promotion. Having taken that into consideration, we have to think in terms of caring for the old people. Normally old people’s families like to leave old people in homes and all that. It’s not very good for the old people but we need to have some facilities to take care of old people especially when they cannot function well, they become senile and all that. So these are big issues that need to be tackled systematically.
Q: So just like the CEP (Council of Eminent Persons), they have so much to contribute to the nation. Now there are seniors like that who are able, willing and committed, and they are still very healthy. Now we always complain about shortage of English teachers, why not we tap into these groups? I mean they are passionate about the work, not the money so they are willing to give to the nation. So can we provide a platform for these groups?
Tun: We have stopped using English as a medium of instruction for a very long time. So those who are familiar with the English language are now very old, unable to function well, also their numbers are very small. So we cannot completely depend upon them. But we may be able to depend upon them for certain programmes. That will have to be thought out but the old people must be kept busy. They must do something. I believe that if you retire and you just don’t do anything, you will soon fade away. So we must find something for them to do or to entertain them. This is where the social workers need to study, the needs of old people.
Q: So, we know that nowadays we have families struggling to take care of their parents, what is your advice to these seniors who can’t take care of themselves. And to children unable to take care of them, they also don’t have enough savings and what not. What is your advice to these people?
Tun: In the first place, you should (try to) delay the time when you become senile and unable to look after yourself, and that can be done by keeping people active after being pensioned off. The tendency for them is to do nothing, and that is bad. When we do nothing, we don’t exercise our muscles and body, and if you don’t exercise your mind too, it behaves the same way as the muscles. The muscles regress, the mind also regresses, and then it becomes quite useless. That is why it is important to get them to actively participate in talks, discussions, group discussions and all that so they will exercise their minds. They will talk about things, (make) observation of things, it is good for the mind. (But) the tendency is to feel weaker and weaker and you want to sleep. And when you sleep of course the muscles do not function and they become very weak. And as they become weak, you have the tendency to sleep more and so you regress both in mind and body. So that is my belief. It’s not backed by any scientific studies… that is my observation since I was a doctor many years ago. It is important to be active, so the society must create means by which they can be actively participate in certain things, do charity work or whatever.
Q: Quite a number of seniors work hard in the early days but unfortunately they wasted their money when they retire because they pay a lot for hospitalisation and bills and others. Do you think that seniors must have some form of Medicare, where contributions could be made when people are younger so that they’re insured?
Tun: That is something that will happen eventually; because most developed societies have got some funds to help old people. (There are) people who are unable to earn a living and who need to be taken care of. That thing can be done by insurance, contributions while they are still working, it is almost like the EPF, but (in the) EPF the amount is not very much and does not last very long. On the other hand old people tend to live longer now… so that is again an area we have to study what other nations do, especially the developed nations as we are going into that area where there is an ageing population. So how do you look after them, it’s not just a question of giving accommodation, we need to keep them active because if they are not active they sort of fade away.
Q: I understand that in Australia, the government of Australian has got the ministry for aged care. It was part of the Ministry of Health, but since 2008 they have turned it into full ministry to look after aged people. Shouldn’t we be thinking along that line?
Tun: It is not as urgent for us as it is for the old communities of these older countries. We are still quite a young country but gradually we are moving to this old age problem and we have to study what other people do, find and get some ideas…the important thing is whether you can afford it because that will happen in any society. (In tackling an) ageing population, the younger people must make more money and they will have to pay tax, then the government will have the money to look after old people, because families, children, grandchildren, do not like the idea of looking after very old people especially when they are senile. They like to put them in old folks home and all that.
And that is traumatic for old people, so as far as possible we should try to get the family to continue looking after the old people and maybe with some government support.
Q: The third age people, in other words 60, you enter into the third age until you pass on…so these people can still contribute…as you said they can also be paying taxes instead of just burdening young people to pay taxes to support old people. Their energy, their experience and their knowledge should be harnessed. In that sense there is a need to look into this.
Tun: As I said just now, we have raised the pensionable age from 55 to 60… Again, in many countries they don’t have a retirement age, they continue working for as long as they can continue working. That is another way for keeping them active, earning an income for themselves so that they can look after themselves, that is some way but not everybody can do that. There will be some who will be prematurely old and there is a need to look after them. So some form of government support will have to be devised. But government support depends on government finances, and government finances depend upon taxes that are being paid, being paid largely by young people. You cannot avoid that because young people have an obligation to look after old people but they are not up to it, and they expect the government to look after their old parents. So they must contribute towards that, they are paying by way of some funds like the EPF but mainly in the form of taxes to the government. The government if you know has created a fund for pensioners, that may be extended to cover more people at the older age.
Q: We are now in the digital age and I know that you have been the one spearheading Malaysia into the digital age with your (multimedia) super corridor in Cyberjaya and many other things. You are also a blogger and also a great example to the senior generation. How much have been achieved in terms of getting the senior generation into the technology era?
Tun: Older people are resistant to changes, they are very resistant, they cannot believe what we can do with today’s telephone for example. Before, when you want to record things, we have a tape recorder, a very big machine and you know that it is being recorded on the tape. Before, it was recorded in the record, the usual round record we use for our gramophones. From gramophone to tape is not too big a change, but now there is no tape, just a small piece of instrument and it records everything and memorises everything. So for old people, it’s very difficult to accept that this is possible. We need to re-train old people to accept new technologies, especially those relevant to management of old age. For example, if they cannot move, we have this signal or bell which is not connected to any wire, so they can call for help as quickly as possible and there should be modification of the designs for our toilets and all that so that they suit the needs of old age. As you know for the disabled, the toilets have got these rails that you can hold on to….that will reduce the need to always depend on other people. They can still do a lot of things, for example, if they want to move in a supermarket, they can have a wheelchair that is controlled by electricity. And all you have to do is press a button and it can turn corners and all that. So all these things are devised to cater for old age and with the technology that we have now I think we can provide a lot more to ease the life of old people. Now you can even well talk to a machine and the machine will respond. If you can’t move you can talk, if you can’t talk…then you have to make use of your fingers, even your legs can be used.
Q: Digital technology is supposed to lead to a paperless society…but I notice that no the need for paper seems to be increasing. For instance, for our magazine, people still want to read the printed version rather than using laptops or smartphones, accessing the Internet and things like that. So in other words, there is a need for a rethinking of this paperless society.
Tun: There is no doubt we are using less hard copy, we are using the smartphones and all the other gadgets and computers to read even the latest news. In fact the devices give you (information) immediately just as it happens. So more and more young people are turning to these gadgets, they don’t want to read and the printed words are not something they’d like to see, having to hold up a book and all that. As people age, the use of paper will also will be reduced. But the younger generation are the ones who are embracing technology…digital age and they know that if you want to buy something, you just press a few button on your phone, you have a list of the products, you choose the products, you can immediately order whereby the products will be sent to you and you need to pay electronically. So paper is not involved, no cheques are signed. Overtime the use of paper will diminish.
Q: I would like to ask you about the third car project. As an engineer, I understand what you are after, but they are many negative reaction to it. I believe that you need a good group of people who are really supportive and this group could be MIGHT, the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology, that can really get what you have in mind moving by getting various organisations, the government, the universities, the industry to really work together. MIGHT has been quite dormant for the past number of years. Are you going to reactivate it?
Tun: We have been given a briefing and I think MIGHT can play a big role to explain to people and to support industries. Industries can grow only when people accept them. The normal person is the consumer. All he wants is to have goods that are cheap and are of good quality. And he thinks that imported goods are better, coming from the well known countries. But if you do this, then you become only a consumer and you need money. If there are no jobs created, then very quickly your money will be finished. Then you have no money to buy imported goods. But when you have local industries which create jobs, we will earn money then they can afford to buy goods. Should they buy foreign goods or local goods? That depends on the policy. The consumers just want to buy cheaper goods. The government has to think about the development of the country. And the development of the country must include the capacity to produce things by yourself. If you are buying from outside then the money is flowing out. By producing (things) yourself, the money is staying in and you can even bring money in through export so the government’s view of things is quite different from the consumers’ view. The government feels the need for us to acquire engineering capability. Engineering here means that you have to produce things for yourself and manufacture, produce and sell goods to other countries so that there is an in-flow of money. Out flowing money is very bad for the country, that’s the government’s way of thinking. The consumers’ way of thinking is quite different . That is why they object to having a third car (project) because may be you need to impose taxes to protect the infant industry. But if you look at some countries that have become very well known for their engineering capability, manufacturing (prodects) like Japan, South Korea and China now, you see that they are keen to produce things, not to buy things from outside. They want to produce things and export what they produce to earn money, with in-flow of funds, so these countries can progress. The countries that say we cannot do these things, we better buy this things, they will never make progress.
Q: Many Malaysians are amazed with the kind of energy you have. So we want to know, what drives you to come back to full time politics. I’m sure there are reasons (behind it). Can you elaborate on that?
Tun: Like everybody else, when I decided to resign and may be retire, I wanted to have a good life, enjoy life, perhaps go on a cruise or whatever. But as soon as I stepped down people came to see me, telling me I should do something for the country because they see a decline. Politically, economically there was a decline. And this can be seen by everybody. So they say please do something. That’s why I become active again, eventually doing something which involved myself participating in politics. Taking a major role in politics means also that I am active. I think a lot, argue and all that. That keeps me active. My brain is active, my body also has to be active because I have to move from here and there to give speeches. I think that is good for the body, you think all the time, you study, you read books, you write letters, you write articles, you write for your blog and all that. These are the activities that keep your brain active all the time. And that is good for the brain, body also, move around and move your muscles. You don’t lie down because the tendency always is to sleep when you feel tired. If you stay in bed for a long time, the whole body weakens. That is bad.
Q: There is saying that behind every successful man is a woman. (Dr Mahathir’s wife) Tun Dr Siti Hasmah (Mohd Ali) has been with you (all this time), I mean she is your soul mate. She has been with you for so many years and somehow you manage your time with family and work (well). We want to know more on how you manage to do that?
Tun: Well, my wife always says that behind every successful man there is a wife, not just a woman. She objects to that. We learn to be tolerant. At first of course, when you are young, we have differences, tensions and all that. But as you grow older you realise that you cannot change your partner very much and she cannot change me very much, and we learn to accept that this is what the person is like. You have to be tolerant. If you are tolerant then you can be together. I spend my time mostly in politics and she accompanies me although she is not involved in politics. And if I have to leave her because I have some work, she tolerates that. On the other hand, I also tolerate her… I think there is need to be tolerant and i think there is a need to consider the feelings of your children and it’s a disaster for the family when parents break and re-marry. (If this happens) the children will never have a good life. So you need to show concern for your children.
Q: You are very successful in raising your children. I mean, they are all successful people. What sort of values do you think are important now that most the young people are pursuing wealth. We feel that through the education system we must cultivate the values like in the old days, otherwise the young people will lose track of what constitute good values. What’s your view on this?
Tun: I’m very concerned about values, I believe it is values which determine whether a person succeeds or fails, whether a country succeeds or fails. It is the value system. Physically, we are all the same in terms of our capacity, there’s not much difference, but the values determine how we behave, how we do things and all that. In the old days of course values are implanted in children by the parents. But nowadays parents are too busy, mother and father would be working, no quality time spent with the children… So the implementation of values must be done at the school level, even at the kindergarten level because when they are young, they are more receptive. If we have a good programme to inculcate good values in our little children, then they will grow up to be morally correct, they will show respect to old people, to their parents and all that and I think they will become people of good character who are most likely to succeed. For example, the need to work hard… this is very important , people are not stupid, it’s just that they don’t do any work and of course they don’t produce anything but I have always watched the Japanese, for example. After the war they recovered very quickly and the reason is because they have a great sense of pride of their own country and a sense of shame if they do something bad, to the point of committing hara-kiri if they fail. So they want to avoid bringing shame upon themselves which means that whenever they do something they want their products to be recognised by people as good quality products. Then they will feel proud. But if they produce things that are of poor quality then they feel ashamed of themselves. So these are values that we have to implant in our children at a young age. Since the parents cannot do that anymore, we have to do this at schools. In the schools, we are going to change some of the curriculum in order to include some kind of shaping of character of people at a young age. Of course some people may see this as a kind of work camp and things like that, (saying) you are trying to brainwash their children. But we are all being brainwashed, we are all being brainwashed by our community, by our parents all the time.
Q: So on the education level; you do agree that we need to bring some reforms to it?
Tun: Yes. We have to include (elements on) the moulding of character. You see, you give knowledge to somebody but (if) you don’t shape his character to use his knowledge, he uses that knowledge for bad things. The knowledge can be used for good or bad (things). I always compare (the situation) to the knife. If you have a knife that is sharp, you can use it to carve beautiful things, you can also use the knife to kill people. It’s your decision… If the knife is in the hands of somebody of bad character then his usage of the knife will be bad. But if you teach him good character, then he will make full use of the knife to carve beautiful things and to do good things. So that is what shapes a person. I believe that people are the same, capacity wise they are the same but it is the value system. If people are hardworking, obviously they are going to succeed but if people are laid back, lazy, postponing everything, they are not going to succeed in their lives.
Q: What other aspirations you hope to achieve?
Tun: I have a lot of things to do now because the country is in a very bad shape, indebted in the trillions of ringgit and the government machinery has been spoiled and we have to rebuild the government, put in place good people and all that, retrain them and bring them back to serving the country… saving the people and the country, not serving one particular person. So this is a job that I have to carry out and with my friends of course in the government. But I happen to have more experience perhaps because of my age, perhaps because I was prime minister for a long time (before)… I know what will happen if we do something that is wrong, I know what should be done in order to achieve certain objectives. So I have a very big job to do at the moment, it is occupying my whole day, weekends, I don’t have any leave anymore. Sundays, Saturdays I work, at night I also have to work to finish. Because when I go to the office, numerous people come to see me, the whole string of them the whole day. So I don’t, I cannot have the time to write, to read even the letters that are sent to me and some people complain that I have not replied to their letters. It’s just impossible because I have a backlog of about six months’ correspondence. I’m trying my best to finish but I just cannot, because I also have to see people, talk to them, explain things to them.
Q: Just amazing. I mean there was a comment saying that you wish to have 36 hours instead of 24 (in a day). Thank you very much for having us here. As you know we will be having a conference in October in which you will be the keynote speaker. We look forward to your presence.
Tun: Well I hope I would be able to contribute something because of my experience, very long experience – 22 years as prime minister and now again as prime minister. Maybe my experience can be useful to a lot of people. I am quite happy to share about that.
Q: Do you have any message for the country’s senior citizens?
Tun: One thing about older people is that they have experience. Young people have got ideals, old people have got experience. You cannot just be based on experience, we cannot just be based on ideals. There should be a marriage of these two assets – old people with their experience and young people with their ideals. So they (young people) want to build a great nation, a great society but there are certain things that stand in the way and they need to have the experience of the old people to inform them what can be or cannot be done. So I think for the old people, their contribution would be their experience because this country has changed tremendously. I happen to live from a time we were under British rule, I experienced living under Japanese rule…and independence. I have gone through many phases in the development of this country… As you say experience is the best teacher….Young people were born at a time when the country is fairly very well developed…there are some things that they will not understand or appreciate. So they need to appreciate the past. I like to quote George Santayana who says that those who forget lessons of history will be condemned to repeat their mistakes over and over again. So the old people must remind the young of our history.