Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today that the pressure on the ringgit arising from the trade war between the United States and China could be avoided if the country did not rely so much on imports.
The way to accomplish this, he said, was to place more emphasis on agriculture so that we can produce our own food and simultaneously improve the ringgit.
However, his administration seems to be going in the exact opposite direction given its pull-back on financial assistance to the needy planters, farmers and fishermen.
SUBANG JAYA: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today that the pressure on the ringgit arising from the trade war between the United States and China could be avoided if the country did not rely so much on imports.
Speaking during a press conference in Langkawi, the Prime Minister said the way to accomplish this was to place more emphasis on agriculture so that we could produce our own food and simultaneously improve the ringgit.
“For example, if we can produce vegetables, fruits, fish, livestock and so on, we do not depend on the supply from other countries, so God willing, we will be able to strengthen and improve our economy, and when the economy is healthy, the ringgit will strengthen,” he said.
But does not that resonate with what Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in 2004?
When Mahathir first took control of government back in the eighties, he spent five years promoting heavy industrialisation, cutting government spending and placing government linked entities under his scrutiny.
In 1984, he appointed Tun Daim Zainuddin as Minister of Finance and fast tracked the reversal of all his predecessors’ fiscal policies.
Daim ‘rationalised’ the banking sector by putting his people in charge and helped Mahathir privatise state-owned enterprises and corporatize government controlled organisations on the pretext of reducing expenditure.
The corporatisation, in particular, was to allow both Mahathir’s and Daim’s cronies to reap benefits from government owned assets by getting these cronies to own those assets through the listing of government controlled entities.
By 1982, Malaysia had become the world’s leading exporter of integrated circuits used in computers and other electronic equipment.
But the boom Mahathir had anticipated by placing emphasis on the high tech industry quickly turned to gloom when factories that used to work around the clock in 1983 and 1984 began operating at less than half capacity by 1985.
The world computer market had over-stocked, lost its appetite for microchips and caused many firms to either slash wages or shut down temporarily.
The Promotion of Investments Act 1986 did help lessen the impact by attracting more export-oriented manufacturing investments and reduced the insulation between export-oriented and domestically-oriented production.
But it failed to reverse the impact the microchip slump had on the economy as semiconductor companies began slashing workforces and pulling out to relocate elsewhere in the region.
Despite this, very little emphasis was given on the need to revolutionise the agro-based industry to offer the economy a sustainable lifeline.
Even the technology transfer that was supposed to be the basis to Proton’s venture with Mitsubishi never came by.
Quite the opposite, the auto manufacturer was plagued with corruption and power abuse involving politicians with stakes in parts-supply chains and dealerships that contributed to bloated production costs and overall losses.
When Abdullah took over, he aspired to make Malaysia a centre for agro-based industries and biotechnology to bring about tangible benefits to Malaysian farmers.
He wanted agriculture to be one of the engines of growth, which was wise, given that a thriving agricultural sector would have reduced our dependence on imports and helped soften the impact every time things went bump in the heavy and high tech industry.
Not only would it have presented job opportunities for graduates, particularly the Food Technologists, scientists and Biotechnologists, it would have reduced our country’s dependence on hard labour in the longer run as labour-intensive agriculture became technologically advanced and depended more on automation.
That way, you would have needed to worry less about youngsters being picky and focused instead on introducing vocational and community college programs for them, particularly school leavers who failed to make the cut for university programs.
The programs could have been designed to equip students with specialised skillsets to supplement and boost the technological advance in the agricultural sector.
That would have opened up the job market for our youth in the longer run, as the better is the technology and knowhow, the lower will be the risk of failure for farmers, meaning, there would be more opportunity for future graduates as the agro industry expands and becomes more sustainable.
But Mahathir went ahead and architected Abdullah’s downfall.
Today, he’s saying more or less the same thing Abdullah used to say but isn’t backing his statements with concrete plans of action.
If anything, his administration seems to be going in the exact opposite direction by pulling-back on financial assistance to the needy planters, farmers and fishermen.
That leads one to wonder if someone else wrote his speech today or if he forgot to proofread it.