KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 24 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today shrugged off criticism over his use of the now-defunct Internal Security Act (ISA), saying it does not compare to the atrocities committed by the United States in the use of unmanned drones to kill suspected terrorists.
In a typically antagonistic stance against US foreign policy, the former prime minister argued that all the people he put behind bars came out alive and well.
“Today’s world is very complicated. You do not just manage your country, but also (relations with) your neighbours and countries far away. Today, everybody is looking at us, even detaining people under ISA was regarded as bad... is it bad?” he told a packed ballroom at the close of the CEO Forum 2014.
“We only detained people. They are still alive. Today, people are passing judgement on absentee criminals and decide they should be killed, executed. You can send drones and kill people. I think that’s worse than just detaining,” he added in his closing address.
Speaking on the topic of financial crisis management, Dr Mahathir stressed that a leader needs to be “strong, forceful, wilful and determined” to take action even if it involves making moves that would be unpopular with certain groups.
He said current demands require leaders to be good not only in politics, but also in finance and economics, making knowledge a necessity.
“You can’t have a good leader who is dumb or only good at being popular, but not knowledgeable... you must be a doctor, go through the procedures to reach a diagnosis and prescribe the medicine,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said leaders must also accept the facts of any given crisis if they hope to derive a solution, as his administration did during the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s.
He said it was then that he realised that the financial market — involving hedge funds and currency speculators — added no real value to any economy as it only enriches a few while impoverishing a developing country.
“Now, we are seeing a financial crisis that ails Europe and the US for the past eight years, and they are still having a problem. Their problem is they reject history, the reject the information they receive. They are in a state of denial.
“When it was pointed out that the financial market was manipulated (during the Asian crisis), they did not say it is wrong. Some made a lot of money through manipulation and it should be maintained to allow people to make a lot of money.
“But the financial market won’t benefit anyone but the speculator, just a small coterie of people in America concentrated in Wall Street, and today, they are demonstrating against Wall Street because it is not creating jobs, not helping anyone but themselves,” he said.
Dr Mahathir acknowledged that the banking system is a necessary instrument to promote growth, but stressed that governments must have the temerity to keep banks in line and avoid excessive speculation as had happened in the Asian crisis.
He added that the only viable solution to the current US and European crisis is for their economies to go back to “real” business such as manufacturing or services that create spinoff and supporting industries, thus creating more jobs and collective prosperity.
“If I had the privilege of being a dictator, which I have been accused of, I could have handled a crisis easily. Just line them up against a wall and shoot them. But I was elected in a democracy, which means I had to listen to many views and handle the crisis systematically.
“You have to accept the facts of the case, the signs and the symptoms, that in the financial market, you don’t help the economy, don’t help the people,” he said.