One of the most powerful figures of the Mahathir era could re-emerge as an economic advisor to the government.
Tun Daim Zainuddin, respected for his decisiveness and deal-making skills and reviled by critics of the Mahathir regime, is being touted to the Najib administration as a man with the perfect combination of experience and skill sets for the Council of Economic Advisors.
The Malaysian Insider has learnt that supporters of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad have been lobbying for the former finance minister’s inclusion into the council.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak this week announced the setting up of a council of economic advisors. Members of the council will enjoy ministerial powers.
He has not identified council members but it is widely expected that the former head of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Datuk Andrew Sheng, and corporate figures Datuk Md Noor Yusof and Datuk Azman Yahya will figure in the shortlist of candidates.
Besides drawing up strategies to cushion the impact of the global economic slowdown on Malaysia, the council is also expected to come up with a plan to transform an economy which has become sluggish and too dependent on low-cost foreign labour.
Government economists have all but buried the idea of Malaysia achieving developed nation status by 2020, arguing that structural deficiencies in the economy will limit growth to around 5.5 per cent even when the world recovers from the global meltdown.
Daim played a pivotal role in steering the country out of the recession in the late 1980s and the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998. He resigned from the Mahathir administration in 2002 after apparently falling out with the former PM over policy differences.
Since then, he retreated to the corporate world, running his business empire with interests in Eastern Europe and Africa.
Media shy when he was in government he has been willing to grant interviews recently, warning the government that the economic slowdown will cause severe dislocation here.
Najib will have to weigh carefully the benefits of having Daim back on the main stage.
The owner of a sharp mind and strong work ethic, he brings with him the baggage of being the architect of the now discredited policy of nurturing a class of Malay corporate captains on government largesse.
Individuals such as Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli, Halim Saad and others flew high in the 1990s but their true mettle was tested during the Asian Financial Crisis.
Nearly all of them fared poorly.
And though Daim presided over the explosive growth of the Malaysian economy, critics say that the country’s love affair with mega projects, cheap foreign labour and opaque business practices had its genesis during the Mahathir era.
Also, his return could lend credence to talk of the growing influence of Dr Mahathir in the Najib administration.
Still, government officials believe that members of the economic council will only be selected if they are credible individuals and with workable ideas to reshape the Malaysian economy.
The council is likely to work closely with the Finance Minister, Economic Planning Minister and the Minister of International Trade and Industry.
Sheng was a member of the Abdullah administration’s Economic Council and is said to have impressed Najib with his analysis on what ails the economy, his knowledge of the global slowdown and impact on Malaysia and possible new growth strategies for the country.
The PM has also tapped the authors of the Blue Ocean strategy for advice. It is uncertain whether they will be appointed to the council.