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Fortune: An Unhappy Anniversary (for Mahathir)
By Jim Rohwer
1/8/2001 9:38 am Wed
[Malaysia memang nampak semakin kaya ... tapi kaya dengan
hutang dan penyelewengan tetapi miskin dengan denda dan tindakkan
terhadap penyangak yang berkeliaran. Malaysia kini sudah semakin
hilang sinarnya dan Mahathir mungkin tidak akan mampu mengembalikan
kegemilangan negara semula walaupun dia seperti cuba berpatah semula
atau berkhidmat sampai mati.
Wawasan yang luar biasa yang gagal menyebabkan kecederaan yang
luarbiasa juga. Itu termasuk kecederaan kepada pengampunya juga.
Apabila dana dan untung semakin tiada mereka akan hilang sabar dan
akan nanti memburu dan menghukumnya jua...
An Unhappy Anniversary
Mahathir's 20 years in power have gone sour.
It shouldn't have been like this. Before the financial thunderstorm of
1997-98 broke, Malaysia had one of the region's best economic
records. Mahathir can claim credit for an era of multiracial stability,
economic openness, and public investment that raised incomes by
almost 6% a year for 20 years, to an average of $4,000 for each of
his country's 23 million people. The incidence of absolute poverty (not
being able to meet basic needs) fell from 40% to just over 5%. Even
the controversial imposition of capital controls in late 1998 seemed to
work. GDP grew by more than 8% last year, and Malaysia started to
clean up bank balance sheets.
That was then. The global tech collapse has uncovered serious cracks
in the Malaysian facade. The workings of Malaysia Inc., the
corporations on which Mahathir's ruling party depends for its funds,
are as murky as ever. The most notorious instance was the
government buyout in 2000 of Malaysia Airlines' well-connected
controlling shareholder, Tajuddin Ramli, at more than twice the market
price. That's a premium that adds up to 0.3% of the country's GDP.
More broadly, Danaharta, the asset-management agency, has taken
on $1.3 billion in nonperforming bank assets but has liquidated few of
them. The feckless borrowers continue merrily on their way.
An unreconstructed Malaysia is in no position to weather the global
downturn. Exports amount to 110% of GDP (with electronics
accounting for more than half), and their value is shrinking. The dollar
peg, imposed in 1998, is hurting too. Malaysia's real exchange rate
has risen by 13%, while the rest of Asia's (save for Hong Kong's)
has been falling as the dollar rises. As a result, capital is fleeing:
Foreign-exchange reserves have dropped from $34 billion in the
spring of 2000 to $26 billion now. With the economy
faltering--GDP growth of 2% this year looks optimistic--investors
have lost faith. The stock market is 40% off its post-crisis peak in
the spring of 2000, and according to global banking group ABN
Amro, foreigners own only $5 billion of it now, compared with $100
billion in 1997.
That's just the beginning. Malaysia soared in the 1980s and 1990s on
the wings of multinational investment in factories, especially those
churning out chips and disk drives. In the precrisis 1990s, foreign
direct investment averaged $5 billion a year; now it is down to less
than $1 billion--with a similar dwindling in the transfer of advanced
technology and management methods. The best young Malaysians, of
all races, have already noticed: There is a brain drain to Singapore,
with the ranks of SingTel, in particular, swelling with Malaysian
engineers. And when China joins the WTO, who's going to choose
the desolate Multimedia Super Corridor outside Kuala Lumpur when
they could be in Shanghai?
Such headaches are spreading pain throughout Southeast Asia. The
prescription, as Singapore's remaking of itself into a much more
flexible place since 1997 has shown, is imaginative leadership. But the
attention of Dr. Mahathir--a physi- cian before he went into
politics--is not on the patient. Ever since he turned against his
designated heir, Anwar Ibrahim, in late 1998, and had him jailed (he's
now serving a 15-year sentence), Mahathir has been focused on
shoring up his political base. Anwar is no saint, and maybe not much
of a leader. But he is popular with Malays and a lot more talented than
the deputies now surrounding Mahathir, who are, in the words of
David Roche, a London-based investment advisor, "a bunch of
mediocre sycophants who couldn't rule a rice paddy in a monsoon."
All this may ring a gamelan for you. Malaysia looks increasingly like a
richer, smaller version of late-Suharto Indonesia. Just hope that it's a
more manageable one.