Dollah passionate in his convictions

4 Oct 1998

It was exactly at 10.10am on Monday last week, fifteen minutes earlier than scheduled because the speaker before him, Prince Mohamed Bolkiah of Brunei, spoke briefly, when Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi walked confidently to the rostrum to address the 53rd General Assembly of the United Nations.

His eyes seemed bright, a sign he lacked stress and sleeplessness despite a supper party at Consul-General Saw Chin Hong's house the previous night.

He told the delegates during the 25-minute speech about our radical currency controls and deftly urged the world to take vigorous steps to impose new financial architecture.

Malaysia did what it did he stressed, in order "to insulate its economy from currency uncertainties while simultaneously promoting trade and commerce and encouraging foreign investment.".

He also warned about the possibility of a world-wide economic recession and depression.

Badawi, in fluent English, punctuated occasionally by minor coughing, said: "The few developed countries cannot forever remain rich and prosperous if more than two thirds of the countries of the world remain poor and socially and politically unstable.

"This is the time to enter into a genuine process of North-South dialogue on an issue of great interest to both.

"Malaysia welcomes the call by President Clinton for a special discussion in Washington on the financial and economic crisis that the world is facing today.

"In the absence of reforms or internationally well-tested formula or guidelines, Malaysia has taken steps to impose currency and capital controls to insulate its economy from currency uncertainties while at the same time to continue to be active in international trade and to welcome foreign investment.

"While countries in East Asia are doing their best to overcome their problems in their respective ways to ameliorate the plight of their people, it is important that the lessons of East Asia are well learnt by the rest of the developing world.

"It is equally important that the international community finds consensus to formulate necessary ground rules to keep in check the rapacious nature of financial speculators and manipulators whose only motivation is profit-making and profit taking.

"This Assembly, and in particular the Economic and Social Council, can and should also consider this important issue. The United Nations can add its moral weight behind the call for regulating these speculative activities, in the interest of protecting or insulating vulnerable developing economies.

"It is Malaysia's conviction that as we approach the new millennium, relations among states should be based on a new paradigm predicated not only on equal sovereignty but also respect for dignity and mutuality of interests and benefits.

"Only on that basis would we be able to reap the full potential of globalisation through genuine international dialogue and cooperation.

"The right to development, recognised as universal, inalienable and an integral part of fundamental human rights, has not been fully realised. There is still no effective international cooperation to create a true environment for equitable economic relations which would facilitate the realisation of this goal."

On the restructuring of the Security Council, he noted with disappointment at the lack of any progress in an important aspect of the reform of our Organisation, the reform and restructuring of the Security Council in the High-Level Working Group of the General Assembly

Individual member states as well as groups of states have made many important proposals on various aspects of the reform and restructuring of the Council, fromits enlargement and composition to working methods, including the exercise o r use of the veto.

Regrettably, all these proposals aimed at making the Council more representative, democratic, transparent and accountable have not received the desired consensus.

The minister took the Assembly to task when he stated: "Clearly, what is lacking is not ideas and proposals but the necessary political will on the part of member states, particularly those with strong views on specific aspects of reform of the Council."

"If the reform and restructuring of the Council continue to elude the Working Group, we have only ourselves to blame for our inability to demonstrate our reasonableness, goodwill and the necessary compromises required from all 'of us to break the current impasse.

'Additional years of continuing on with the sterile debate in the Working Group will only increase the creeping sense of cynicism and pessimism among member states, which would be seriously detrimental to the reform process.

"As its contribution to the reform debate, Malaysia reiterates its call for a comprehensive reform and restructuring of the Security Council.

"We continue to advocate enlargement of the Council in both categories of its membership permanent and non-permanent - circumscribing, if -not totally abolishing, the use of the veto, and improving the working methods of the Council, including increased transparency, accountability and participation by the larger membership of the Organisation through more open debates on issues of importance to the international community"

As the discussions in the Working Group enters its sixth year, Badawi appealed: "It is my earnest hope that there would be increased focus, seriousness and urgency on the part of member states in arriving at a consensus. Otherwise we lose the remaining window of opportunity forever to reform the Council.

"We, should remind ourselves that we do not have the luxury of time and that this opportunity for a comprehensive reform of the Council, if not seized, may not present itself again for many years to come."

Soon after my return from annual leave in London I saw Badawi at Bilik Wismaputra, his office a floor above mine, at the Malaysian Permanent Mission in Tudor City here.