SINGAPORE,. Both Singapore and Malaysia have enjoyed a close relationship over the last decades, and the public should not read too much into what is being said in the media, said Malaysia’s former trade and industry ministry Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz yesterday.
In recent weeks, Malaysia Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has made a series of remarks in the media on bilateral issues such as the high-speed rail (HSR) project and water prices, raising questions about whether he is reviving the frosty attitude shown towards Singapore during his first premiership stint.
Asked for her opinion on bilateral ties, Rafidah — one of Dr Mahathir’s closest allies — said at the OCBC Global Treasury Economic and Business Forum: “Relationships are built over many decades. Just one wrong interaction does not reflect the kind of relationship we have built up over the years.”
The 75-year-old added: “What you read in the media is not necessarily what transpires. I must be the nastiest person around if you just judge by this.”
Weeks after he led the Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance to victory in Malaysia’s general election on May 9, Dr Mahathir said the HSR project will be scrapped to trim the country’s RM1 trillion debt, but he later said it was postponed and he would speak to the Singapore government.
Earlier this week, the Singapore government said it has yet to hear from Malaysia, and it is pressing the latter on the status of the project, given that the Republic has already incurred significant costs.
Dr Mahathir has also revived the dispute over water prices, after saying in a media interview that the current prices are excessive and should be reviewed.
During Dr Mahathir’s first stint as prime minister, Rafidah had served as a minister in his administration for 16 years until he retired from politics in 2003. She continued helming the trade and industry portfolio till 2008, when she left politics.
Speaking on the topic of Malaysia’s future at the forum, Rafidah was also asked what would hold her country back from achieving its full potential.
In response, she said: “Politicising things that shouldn’t be politicised, because that will cause a lot of divisiveness, friction and uneasiness.”
She added: “For example, politicising education, politicising race — there is really no place for that. Politicising religion no place whatsoever. So, we should be colour-blind to race, religion, and gender, and get on with governance. Governing does not include all these other factors.”
She also called on Malaysians to be “realistic and not expect miracles” when it comes to expecting changes, as they would not want the new government to do “slipshod” work.
When asked how much time the government has to make the necessary changes, Rafidah said: “That is like asking God how much time left you have It is not about the timeline. You must take time to do the right thing. If it takes three years to do something properly, take three years, rather than six months and risk it.”