He talked about scoring poorly in English while in primary school and how tough life in a big family was while growing up in a small village in Johor.
“But I was granted the opportunity to enrol in the government run Mara Junior Science College and from there managed to improve my language skills. My heart was set on becoming an accountant, to a point where I was able to study accountancy in the UK under a scholarship from Mara.”
Wahid spoke about the government’s many initiatives to improve the lives of Malaysians through education.
“Unless you live in this country, I think you will be largely unable to grasp the many complexities that come with managing a relatively small diversified nation of people that has always punched above its weight, and further nuanced by differing economic and social pressures.”
From the economic perspective, he alluded to reports from the World Bank and Malaysia’s policies on the economy and trade. He pointed to the following:
1. The World Bank points out that since gaining independence, Malaysia has successfully diversified her economy from an essentially agriculture and commodity-based one to one that now hosts robust manufacturing and services sectors, making us one of the world’s leading exporters of electrical appliances, electronic parts and components.
2. Government policies have helped turn Malaysia into one of the most open economies in the world, with a-trade-to-GDP ratio averaging over 140% since 2010.
3. Our openness to trade and investment has been instrumental in creating employment and spurring income growth; 40% of our jobs linked to export activities.
4. Since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998, Malaysia’s economy has been on an upward trajectory, averaging growth of 5.4% since 2010.
“And now with less than 1 per cent of Malaysian households living in extreme poverty, my government’s focus has shifted toward addressing the well-being of the bottom 40% of the population.
“It is a band which my family and I once belonged to and is for me personally a hugely important policy development in terms of narrowing the wealth gap and ensuring that Malaysians of all walks of life succeed and prosper together.”
He was picked to head UEM-Renong, at that time Malaysia’s largest infrastructure company with 11 publicly traded companies, when he was 37 following a government takeover.
“Many of my peers were also accorded leadership positions in large government linked companies when they were in their 30s and early 40s. They were not from rich and well-connected families. They were given equitable opportunity and recognised for their abilities. This trust in our talent and diversity has helped make Malaysia what it is today.”
But Wahid also acknowledged that Malaysia is not perfect.
“Malaysia is certainly not perfect and there are many areas for improvement. But having seen my Malaysia through the eyes of a once poor village boy who made it to the corporate world, I will say this: business thrives on a stable foundation and a proven track record of economic governance.
“In the 61 years it has helmed Malaysia, my government has brought development, prosperity and peace to the people of a still-young nation. And lest the world forgets, Malaysia is still growing, and fast. We are still climbing, and fast.”
He makes no excuses for being a cheerleader of the social and economic upliftment policies implemented by the government asks that people go beyond the headlines and see Malaysia for what she truly is.
“Thanks to her policies and government, Malaysia has successfully broken the so-called resource curse: the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth, democracy and worse development outcomes than less-endowed nations. Malaysia believes in sustainable natural resource development and ensuring that the oil resource replenishment rate is above 100% i.e. extracting oil & gas at a rate lower than the discovery of new reserves. That is why the World Bank has cited Malaysia as a success story in terms of harnessing natural resources for development.
“It is on these coat-tails of broad-based social and economic development policies that Malaysia will continue to embrace a highly uncertain but hugely exciting 21st century, which I am 100% sure will bring innumerable benefits to all who wish to participate in it with us.”