Barry Wain speaks on the Malaysian Maverick (Part 1)

May 20, 2010

Barry Wain speaks to Malaysiakini (Part 1) on the Malaysian Maverick

by Aidila Razak

EXCLUSIVE Just how did author Barry Wain manage to interview Dr Mahathir Mohamad on three occasions for his book, ‘Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir in Turbulent Times‘, which offers a highly critical look at the former premier’s career?

Some have suggested that Wain, a veteran journalist formerly with the Asian Wall Street Journal, managed to beguile the octogenarian statesman into doing so, a suggestion which the author flatly denies but instead considers it a compliment.

NONEIn an interview with Malaysiakini today, Wain said he did not trick Mahathir, but was amused by the suggestion of his detractors.

“(Mahathir) is one of the most consummate politicians of all time and anyone who can outwit him should be elevated to a higher status, but I don’t think I did,” he added.

In fact, Wain, who is in town to promote the book which was recently given the green light by the Malaysian authorities after five months of pondering on whether to slap a ban, insists that he has been fair to the former premier.

“You could describe my book as critical in the sense that I look at the issues very closely… but critical as in disparaging, no.

“It is understandable that he should feel a bit defensive because you have to understand that with Mahathir, he doesn’t really accept that he has ever done anything wrong or that he made a mistake.

“I’m very happy that a number of reviewers who have no stake in Malaysian politics (have said) that the book is extremely fair to Mahathir,” he said of the best-selling book, now in its seventh edition.

Dr M’s short memory

Soon after hitting the bookstands, the book made it into the best-sellers list for several weeks in Singapore, where it was published, but the Malaysian authorities withheld the books allegedly for “insulting the national leadership and the institution of the Malay rulers”.

NONEMahathir himself was very displeased with the book and initially threatened to take Wain to court. He also claims he was misled by Wain during the course of three interviews.

“I thought he was a reformed character. He used to criticise me before. He was so very nice when he came to see me. He asked me very nice questions. On the topics he wanted to say nasty things, he didn’t say anything. That’s journalistic freedom,” said Mahathir.

Wain defended the integrity and factual accuracy of his book, claiming it was “100 percent accurate”, because the allegations were backed up by evidence referenced in 1,326 footnotes.

Among the contentious claims made by Wain was that Mahathir had squandered about RM100 billion through several financial scandals during his 22-year premiership.

One such scandal was the case of Perwaja Steel, which Mahathir was quoted in the book as stating losses involved of “maybe RM1 billion or RM2 billion”, instead of RM15 billion to RM20 billion as estimated by others.

“He’s got a short memory. His finance minister (Anwar Ibrahim) actually introduced an audit report by Pricewaterhouse (Coopers) in Parliament in the mid-1990s, and that the losses then were I think RM9.5 billion and they accumulated after that.

“He won’t be very happy to be reminded of this, but that’s life as they say. As long as I’m fair to him, and I have put across his point of view,” he said.

Willing to be challenged

Other denials by Mahathir include dismissing Wain’s claim that UMNO’s 40-storey headquarters at the Putra World Trade Centre was financed by public funds and that UMNO was broke when Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah stepped down as party treasurer in the 1980s.

putra world trade centre pwtc“I’ve got a copy of UUMNO’s audited accounts, including (data on) the secret political fund and it shows quite clearly, they had tens of millions of dollars in that account when (Daim Zainuddin) took over,” he said to stress the veracity of his facts.

However, Wain did admit to one instance in which several anecdotal accounts by second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein’s political secretary Abdullah Ahmad, could not be corroborated and backed by documentary evidence.

Referring to Abdullah’s claim that Razak had instructed him to ensure the loss of several UMNO members in the party’s 1975 General Assembly, Wain said: “It is impossible to get another person to corroborate this since Razak is dead.

“I have chosen to accept a detailed explanation because I have gone through it over and over again and I am convinced that it is true.”

In any case, the seasoned journalist will not have to worry about defending his claims in court, as the ‘maverick’ himself, despite an initial outcry, chose not to sue after all.

“I feel entirely calm and happy, quite content that he is not going to sue me,” he said, laughingly, thanking Mahathir also for doing his bid in marketing the book which has sold about 17,000 copies thus far.

He added that in the five months since his book was launched, it has been reviewed throughout the world and no one has challenged his facts to this day.

Helping people remember Dr M

Wain also appeared unperturbed by critics who claim that there is nothing new in his book, and that it is just a compilation of old allegations. “If it were merely a compilation of whatever’s that is already there, then why are people buying it?” he said tongue-in-cheek.

He added that many people around the world are interested to read about Mahathir and his career, and that for these people, the story must be told in full, whether or not it has been reported before.

“A lot of the financial scandals were not published in Malaysia (and) many young Malaysians were two years old or weren’t born when the Mahathir administration decided to manipulate the tin price,” he said.

NONEInterestingly, he added, some readers have dubbed his book a “political thriller” which has found fans in the banking industry, with several foreign banks buying it in bulk to give to their clients as a sort of handbook on understanding Malaysia.

Will this account of Mahathir’s colourful political career make it onto the reading lists of university courses?

“This is a hybrid book, the best of journalism and academia. I hope it gets accepted for undergraduate political science or Southeast Asian studies. Heaven forbid, students may actually enjoy reading it!” he said.

Wain, who is the writer-in-residence at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, explained that he had intended to write a book that was easily readable for the masses but properly referenced for the academia.

Tomorrow: The two sides of Mahathir

14 thoughts on “Barry Wain speaks on the Malaysian Maverick (Part 1)

  1. I read Barry Wain’s book and found it very complimentary in the earlier chapters on Malaysia’s strong man. His expose on the economic and business aspects of the Mahathir era most illuminating, accurate, and educational.

    Mahathir is obviously a brilliant strategist, but his policies went astray as he became impervious to constructive criticisms. He wanted to do things his way and that given his grip on power no one dared to challenge him. And those who did became the victims of his wrath and sarcasm. Even in retirement, he remains combative and unbending, refusing to acknowledge his policy failures when they are obvious to most of us.

    The doctor in Mahathir thought he had all potions to cure Malaysia’s ills. He should have realised the side effects of his prescriptions, and the frailties and greed of those he chose to administer them on the Malaysian body politic. He was a poor judge of human character by his sardonic admission.

    My wife, Dr Kamsiah and I met Barry Wain at ISEAS Regional Economic Outlook Forum in Singapore last January and we enjoyed our conversation with him. He spoke to us in measured tones and expressed regret at that time that the Malaysian authorities did not allow it to be sold in Malaysia. This “ban” was only recently removed and the book is selling well in Kuala Lumpur.

    Barry is a keen observer of Southeast Asian politics. I knew Barry since his days with the Asian Wall Street Journal and wonder what could be his next research project after this obviously successful and controversial book on the Maverick Mahathir. Now we also await the publication of Mahathir’s memoirs.–Din Merican

  2. Many PTD officers who had international exposure knew what was going on. But no one wanted to bell the cat. They made their views known outside official meeting but at the meeting itself they tied the horse where their boss wnated them to tie it. We are in a State of Denial and this will destroy all that we have built since independence if action is not taken before we see Zimbabwe being converted into a verb and applied to us.

  3. Thumb Logic said “Many PTD officers who had international exposure knew what was going on. But no one wanted to bell the cat.”

    Cari mampus nak lawan orang tua tu. Ptd officers are just ikan bilis and it would be harakiri for ikan bilis to fight the jerung. Moreover with Official Secret Act still binding long after retirement do you think any ikan bilis would dare to put his head on chopping block. Most people would prefer to let all memory of their bad encounter with the shark fading away or as Dr. Bean said he prefers to listen to this song in his Apartment in New York.

  4. Din
    I am also awaiting Mahathir’s memoirs. Nothing like from the horses mouth.
    Sometimes in our hartred for certain people , we tend to erase the good-deeds they have done.
    Sometimes in our love or obsession, we forget the bad things one did. We prop them as our hero, albeit a misplaced one.

  5. To me the destruction and dismantling of a world-class independent judiciary is the old man’s biggest sin in Malaysia. That alone is causing all the freaking miscarriages of justice we see today with a bunch of rent-seeking members of the bench who knows no shame, has no conscience and not even afaraid of God or the hereafter.

  6. Had Mahathir left Malaysia alone to develop on its own, we’ll be a very rich and successful nation today. This old fool suffers from the sickness of megalomania, and (still) thinks he can do no wrong. That he hates Lee Kuan Yew and what he made out of Singapore today, shows just how badly he thought he could bring success to Malaysia as LKY did to Singapore.

    The biggest difference is that in Singapore, the PAP government did little to regulate the intrinsic entrepreneurship of the citizens; in other words, the survival of the fittest rules the day. All in all, Mahathir shall be known as the Father of Destruction of Malaysia.
    Barry (Not Barry Wain),

    We have to try to change the mindset of the generation that know only Mahathir as Prime Minister and their offsprings. I have had the benefit of living under and watching 6 Prime Ministers (Tunku, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein Onn, Mahathir, Badawi and now Najib).

    The partnership between the fatherly Tunku and the technocrat-politician Tun Razak was the best I have had the privilege to observe.It was arguably the best. I also saw what Tun Razak did to transform the Malaysian economy from an colonial backwater to a modern export driven economy. Razak left a legacy to be envied by those after him. Tun Hussein executed the Razakian vision. Mahathir tried to do things his own (using privatization to enrich his cronies and proxies),but overstayed his welcome. Badawi did nothing except to create democratic space. Najib is now given the opportunity to make Malaysia into a high income economy. –Din Merican

  7. The Sime Darby debacle should be included as an additional chapter in the next edition of B. Wain’s book . And even then i don’t think the story of the maverick’s crooked , thieving and deceptive ways will be complete.

  8. If Dr M continues to support extremist groups like Perkasa, his reputation and his place in Malaysian history will be besmirched further.

    To be fair to him, he was proven right in going boldly against
    IMF “structural adjustment” prescriptions during the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s.

  9. Actually, it is because that Mahathir went against the IMF’s recommendation that we were stuck in this mire of recession for years and years after the other countries recovered.

  10. Hi Barry

    Take a look at Richard Peet’s book
    “Unholy Trinity” on the World Bank, IMF and the WTO.

  11. Kai Lit,
    I have no love for the IMF, World Bank and the WTO. I believe they are cahoots with each other to control governments including the great U.S. of A. However, in the case of the 98′ recession, recommendations were made to effectively check Mahathir’s sons and his cronies from the businesses they were involved in. Mahathir’s only desire was to save the rear hides of these people.

  12. Dear Tean,
    You seriously underestimate the powers of the PTD officers. The OSA does not come into play at all. The executive powers is vested in the Civil Service to provide checks and balances particularly in the area of management of the finances of the nation. They are the who have the powers to determine if our Rm1.00 is working like RM2.00 or like RM0.10.

  13. Pingback: Reflecting on Mahathir’s Legacy in Malaysia « The Asianist

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