16 September 2013| last updated at 01:34AM
‘I am here to chart a new course’By Shahrum Sayuthi
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SOLVING PROBLEMS, CHANGING MINDSETS: Menteri Besar Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir shares his vision for Kedah and Umno. Shahrum Sayuthi has the story
Question: How do you find your job after more than four months as menteri besar?
Answer: I find it interesting, exciting and challenging at the same time… even daunting at times. The experience that I had before this, whether as deputy minister in the International Trade and Industry Ministry (MITI) and prior to that, in the corporate sector, augurs well for the job I’m in now. But there are still tonnes of stuff I need to learn the hard way. Previously, as a deputy minister, I had Tok Pa (Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed), who was my boss, giving me assignments. He is one of those ministers who gives lots of leeway on how I was to execute his instructions.
So, I learnt a lot that way. I must admit that my four years’ experience at MITI was of tremendous help. Having said that, as chief executive of the state, despite having access and lots of help from the government machinery, executive council members and assemblymen, in some sense, I am on my own.
I have to decide on some critical matters, which have direct impact on more than two million people. So, that’s where the task is daunting. But, I’m quite happy to step up to the plate and take on the responsibility and fulfil the mandate given to me by the people. My intent is still the same, which is to be of service to the people the best that I can.
Question: Of all you had encountered these past four months, what was the toughest?
Answer: The toughest, generally speaking, is fulfilling the expectations of the people. I think that when they voted me in and voted back Barisan Nasional in Kedah, there were such high hopes that a new state government under BN would bring lots of good to the state, and of course, that’s what we want to do anyway. But sometimes, the expectations are somewhat unrealistic, that they want it done now. They almost expect overnight improvements. That’s when the pressure mounts. I guess it’s somewhat a tradition that in the first 100 days, the leader is judged by what he does in that very short time.
I find it strange that people expect some drastic changes to happen within 100 days. The pressure can be unbearable with people asking what are you going to announce, what do you want to announce…
I said: “You really expect that much changes in 100 days?”
In the end, I could only talk about what we hope to do and what we could get done in terms of policies to create a better Kedah for its people. So, meeting that expectation is the toughest for me.
Question: Does the fact that Kedah was previously under Pas make it harder for you to fulfil your tasks?
Answer: Not really. It was somewhat easier because… well, I don’t want to rub it in, but I think everyone knows that, in fact, this is the reason why we won. They did a dismal job for the past five years. So, it’s not difficult to come out looking like a bed of roses after that. The pressure is there of course.
For example, the Kuin (Kolej Universiti Insaniah) issue. We inherited that problem. It is a multi-faceted issue, in that we need to address the issue from so many angles. It was political, financial, academic and social in nature. But we were determined to do something about it and, generally speaking, there were some low-hanging fruits that we could solve immediately and turn the tide as to how stakeholders of Kuin look at the state government.
But there were also long-term measures that needed deliberations. While I think it’s not difficult to remedy the situation, those guys who were much the culprit and have first-hand knowledge about the internal goings-on of Kuin, they spin the issue to make us look bad when actually, we inherited this problem from them.
So, that’s when things got convoluted. But I think we explained this quite well during the state assembly and their arguments fell flat in the end. They said a White Paper needs to be done to investigate Kuin and anyone found responsible for any criminal breach of trust should face the full extent of the law. So, that was quite telling because before that, they were whacking us but then, they turned 180 degrees. So, I think it wasn’t too difficult taking over from Pas because of the mess they left us.
But still, that novelty may wear off, maybe in six months to a year. After that, we are on our own again. We can’t go on harping that it was what the previous government did. In fact, I said in the state assembly that I don’t want to keep talking about the misadventures of the previous state government. I’m here to solve problems and chart a new course for the state.
Question: Talking about charting a new course for the state, maybe you can share with us your visions for Kedah and how you want to bring about change.
Answer: It’s one thing to talk about visions, development plans and all that. But for me, there are two things that I find as preludes to those things. First is a proper strategy which takes into account ideas and opinions from as many people as possible. For that purpose, I started the Kedah Transformation Lab.
We got good people in it representing academia, non-governmental organisations, government officials, corporate sector and individuals who are experts in their respective fields so that in the end, there is absolutely no doubt that what comes out of the lab has been thoroughly deliberated by stakeholders. So, it’s not going to be a one man’s idea of what is Kedah’s future. I wouldn’t say I have solutions to everything. I’m more the type who is able to tap into people’s brains to come out with the best ideas.
Second, and more importantly, the gumption and will to actually transform among all those who will be playing a direct role in this whole transformation of the state. There is no point in planning and strategising while the problem remains in the execution and implementation.
Therein lies the challenge of changing their mindset and getting them out of their comfort zone, and be willing to accept not just change, but also transformation. And transformation is defined as not incremental change, but sometimes earth-shaking movements that destroys before it reconstructs.
Question: How do you expect to change mindsets.
Answer: Systematically. I don’t lecture them, instead I really believe in training and gentle persuasion. We will soon be conducting training for as many people as possible, such as civil servants, professionals, entrepreneurs, teachers and others.
I have plans to conduct training for 1,000 people in the first batch. After that we will see how many more we need to train. The underlining mission is to get everyone on the same page doing something for Kedah.
We are all Kedahans and first and foremost on our minds should be what can do for Kedah instead of what Kedah can do for us. There’s some religious element to it too, so that they understand what we ask them to do is fardhu kifayah (collective responsibility).
Question: Before the general election, it was said that Kedah Umno was somewhat fragmented. But once you came into the picture and was announced as the team leader, things started to gel together. How did this come about?
Answer: Even during the time of Datuk Paduka Ahmad Bashah (Md Hanipah), as his deputy, I found that we worked extremely well together and complemented each other. Now that our positions have switched, it’s still like that.
So, it’s been good in that sense that others tend to follow suit and they are very supportive of what the state and federal leadership wanted to do.
The only issue is when we get to party elections. This is where sometimes, fragmentation happens because positions are contested at the divisional level.
I guess this is part and parcel of democracy. At the same time, I want all of them to conduct themselves honourably. The problem with party elections is that, if there is any hanky-panky, the effects extend all the way to the general election.
The internal sabotaging that sometimes happens at general elections comes from the party elections. That is usually the case. So, if everything is above-board during party elections, insyaAllah (God willing), there should not be any problems at the general election.
Question: As the state party chief, how do you plan to minimise these fragmentations?
Answer: If we find there are contests which are unnecessary, we will provide some advice to the players without jeopardising the democracy that we are practising. I will only advise and if they don’t listen, it’s fine as we cannot compel people to go one way or another. If they still want to contest, then my next advice is for them is to do it properly and correctly.
They must adhere to all our rules and regulations. If we find someone really flouting the rules, then we will take stern action because I think that sort of behaviour really damages the party and its reputation. We really shouldn’t tolerate that kind of behaviour.
Question: It is has been observed that the menteri besar, who is state Umno chief, tends to place his people at the divisional level and this usually leads to problems. Are you planning to avoid this practice? Answer: Yes, definitely. I truly believe if there are no disruptions by way of unacceptable behaviour, then we should really leave it to the branches to decide who should be their leaders at the divisional level. Usually, they know better.
We keep saying that we are the largest party in the country with 3.5 million members and we are very proud of that, but what is the point of having 3.5 million people if we are not going to listen to them or want to dictate to them who they should pick as their leader?
You can’t say we are strong because we have 3.5 million people but we expect them to follow instructions on such matters. That is why we go into general elections with 3.5 million people, but are baffled by the number of votes coming in which indicates that they didn’t vote according to our wishes.
Question: This next question is likely on everybody’s mind. What can we expect from your position in the party election?
Answer: I’m running out of time before nomination day. I must admit that I’m still in two minds about this matter. I know I am going to contest but in which position, I haven’t decided. I have taken the opportunity to talk to as many people as possible and I must say that the views I received vary.
The most ideal situation is when the leadership’s mind is synchronised with the masses. My worry is what if we are not. I am loyal to the party and I hope no one will question that. Whatever I do, I always bear that in mind… whether I’m doing it for the good of the party. I never put self-interest above the party. I read some comments in blogs which accuse me of having it easy all the time. You know, like he’s been secured, protected and given the easy path all the way.
Well, my first attempt to contest was as the Youth chief of Kubang Pasu and I lost by nine votes despite my father having been the division chief there for 35 years. I won with the highest number of votes in the Youth exco but lost when I contested the chief post, where I came in third among three contenders. This time around, at the general election, I chose to contest at a seat that we had previously lost. So, how could this be a grand design for me to reach a higher level?
Don’t you think that if I had such aspirations, I should have gone and contested in places like Kuah or Jitra, which were sure bets?
So, I think it’s clear that I took calculated risks as I knew what I was doing. Not many understood why I was taking chances as even my father (former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) was not so keen about me standing at state level, and worst still, at a seat where we have lost before.
Even the prime minister was surprised that I said Air Hitam when he asked where I wanted to stand. Of all places, reports were that Air Hitam was not so safe as the votes there swinged a lot and there were also many who tended to vote for Pas. But I was comfortable and confident, and I felt that if I was there to win back the state, I myself must contribute a seat. What’s the point of me standing in a safe seat and expect BN to win the state back?
That’s why I think I am okay with taking risks and I have a proven track record in that regard. I have absolutely no qualms about being in difficult situations and that it’s all for the party.
Question: A lot of people see you as representing the more youthful side of Umno, despite yourself being almost 50 years old. How do you feel about that and in what way do you think you can contribute to rejuvenating the party?
Answer: I don’t know whether it’s really about being young or old. I find that at some point or another, the general perception is that the party may veer from its original cause and that a lot of people, many of them young people, want Umno to go back to its original values. So, because this set of people who want to see a revived Umno tend to be younger, that’s why they say its a generational thing.
I think it’s not really so. A lot of things have happened in the party, some are good and quite a lot that are not so great which damaged the party’s reputation and image. I’ve made it at least a personal mission to clean up the party’s image and I hope others will be with me. That’s why, whenever I have the chance, I talk about integrity, about being professional, about being work oriented and having the right values as well as being grounded in Islam.
All these things, everyone knows are good for the party.
Coincidently, a lot of young people I talked to share the same feelings. Many of them told me that they voted for BN and Umno mainly because they didn’t like the other guys. That is not good enough. I don’t want them to vote for us just because they don’t like the opposition. I want them to vote for us because they trust us and they believe in us and they want to be with us in the true sense. Well, how do you feel if someone (you love) says I love you because I don’t like the other guy?
This old adage about the devil you know, that can’t be it. So, I hope more in the party will champion this issue. Just look at whenever we go into an election or by-election, we can see how the other side behaves. They act like ruffians. They accuse us of practising graft and abuse of power. I don’t think we addressed that enough and a lot of young people believe those accusations.
We shouldn’t assume that just because there is no evidence, the young people shouldn’t believe those accusations. We haven’t done enough to exonerate ourselves from that. And do bear in mind that those guys who accuse us, they actually don’t even have the moral high ground to make such accusations. And yet, their unsubstantiated allegations form misperceptions about Umno as a whole. I hope to clean up the party’s reputation and image.Menteri Besar Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir says he started the Kedah Transformation Lab to gather ideas from the people.
The theme is very clear; changing mindset, propelling transformation and play the catch up game. He is tweaking the game without changing the rules, to achieve better level of achievements. The mandate that UMNO/BN got on 5 May 2013, will prevail the corresponding benefits for the rakyat.
It also obvious that Mukhriz is offering himself as part of the UMNO succession plan.