NEW YORK, Sept 26 — Reducing the economic gap between the rich and poor is among ways to avoid racial tension in a country, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University here.
When asked what lessons the United States and Europe could take from the Malaysian experience, he said there must be fairness for all citizens of a country.
“We have three main races and 30 different tribes in Malaysia and we have tried to be fair to all of them.
“The different people have different cultures and capabilities. We find that some are very well adapted towards capitalism, for example, and they have benefited and become very, very rich, leaving the others behind.
“As you know, if there is a great disparity between rich and poor, there will always be tension.
“If the disparity between rich and poor is amplified by being of a different race, the tendency towards violence would be much greater.
“We cannot change the race of the people but we can change their economic performance for example.
“So we help the weak to catch up with the rich community. That was what we were doing through affirmative action,” he added.
The prime minister said affirmative action has proven to be successful.
Dr Mahathir said now there were Malays who were doing well in business.
“I was talking to a man last night. He flies helicopters and owns a lot of helicopters not just in Malaysia but all over the world. He was given a chance, and he made good use of the chance,” he added.
To another question, the prime minister said the government would no longer hand out contracts to those who were unqualified.
“What happened before is that we were giving opportunities very freely without considering their capabilities.
“Now we are going to be very selective to overcome this habit of selling contracts and other opportunities given to them.
“We want to ensure those who got the contracts carry them out. If they don’t, we will take it back,” he said.