19 April 1998
The soon-to-be 51-year old Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has always, as long as I can
remember, made every appearance an occasion. So, his talk at the 162-year old Union
Club on Park Avenue caused a hush of expectancy among the audience.
Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah and Richard Hu, Singapore's Finance Minister, were among
the 200-plus guests who gave Anwar a standing ovation after his 15-minute speech
which was followed by 40 minutes of questions and answers.
In appearance, Anwar is tall for Malaysians of his generation. Success, diet and
exercise have made him look younger than his age and his eyes appear to be twinkling
with merriment, a picture that everything is fine. He has good relations with Mahathir,
Anwar, dressed meticulously in the spring fashion, wearing a dark-blue suit, light
blue shirt and coordinated tie, arrived punctually as scheduled. After the meal,
Anwar rose to speak again punctually at 1 p.m.
Exuding charm, he said: "In the course of this turmoil, much of the good has
been destroyed along with the bad and the ugly. But we should not try to restore
the status quo ante. Not only would it be an exercise in futility but it would also
constitute an act of denial. To be sure, this is a crisis of nightmarish proportions,
but it is no phantasmagoria.
"The consequences are severe, its effects are hard hitting, and the toll heavy.
But, the sooner we come to terms with it by trying to understand its real causes
and deriving lessons from it, the sooner we will be on the road to recovery. Indeed,
we must seize the moment to put into place the much needed reforms which can purge
our system of its excesses and abuses.
"The gale which has swept through Asia is indeed an agent of creative destruction.
No doubt, to many people, be they victim or simply bystanders, the creative part
of the storm is hard to perceive. Rather than be enlightened, they are more likely
to be confounded and mystified by its ferocity, as if all this while we have been
living in a fool's paradise. Wealth accumulated over years of robust economic growth
has simply vanished overnight. To borrow from Shakespeare, 'what seemed corporal
melted as breath into the wind'.
"Nonetheless, we do recognise that state intervention in economy, no matter
how well intentioned and carefully conceived is fraught with risks. What are meant
to be mere crutches often become permanent appendages, spawning a dependency mentality
and rendering the public purse a rich feeding ground for all kinds of parasites.
"Legitimate affirmative action policies can also degenerate into perverse patronage,
creating a breeding ground for the rent-seeking activities of leeches which suck
the life blood of the economy. These moral hazards thrive under a system which is
more responsive to the demands of vested interests than market signals.
"There is a pressing need to improve the governance of international and financial
transactions to ensure justice and transparency and to avoid policies which can have
far-reaching adverse regional or global repercussions. For this purpose, a balanced
and effective monitoring and surveillance regime is required. Such a regime should
be capable of regulating the activities of lenders as well as disciplining the borrowers.
"To penalise only the borrowers while allowing the lenders to escape unscathed
is inherently unjust. It is crucial that the international community works towards
constructing a system that would actively promote order and prevent future economic
convulsions and financial crises.
"The policies and actions of the United States are crucial to advancing this
agenda. We welcome US support in lending its considerable clout to addressing our
concerns over the skewered direction in which globalisation is apparently headed.
Already, there are complaints from the impoverished parts of the world that funds
are being diverted to Asia by both multilateral instituions and the market, although
they are more needed elsewhere.
"Let me reaffirm our own commitment to liberalisation to intergrating our capital
market and financial institutions with the global market place. Globalisation is
unstoppable and irreversible. While we must all remain vigilant in guarding our respective
national interest, in the context of a globalised economy, there is no room for the
rancid rhetoric of misplaced nationalistic sentiments and protectionists.