Photo of Mahathir from The Sun Daily

Speaking at the media conference in Tokyo on Sunday (Jun 10), Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that he will lead Malaysia’s transformation to be like Japan. Calling for Malaysians to adopt Japanese working ethics, the newly-elected Prime Minister said Malaysia need to adopt a similar value system to produce quality work:

“It’s about acquiring also the Japanese work ethics, the Japanese sense of shame whenever they fail to deliver what they have promised to deliver… When I first came to Japan in 1961 – a country destroyed by war – I watched the Japanese people work and work very hard to rebuild their country, and sure enough the result was that Japan very quickly became one of the biggest economies in the world. From a defeated country, a destroyed country, Japan was able to rebuild itself at a fast rate and effectively. I found that why the Japanese succeeded in rebuilding their country was due to their work ethics, their value system. If you have the wrong way of working, if you are not hardworking and you don’t take pride in your work, you will fail. Japanese took pride in making high quality products that were able to compete successfully with those produced by other countries. But in Malaysia we don’t have this value system, we don’t feel ashamed if we come up with sloppy products which are of poor quality … whether what you do is good or not does not seem to matter.”

The statement by Mahathir Mohamad is likely to be impactful on young Malaysians who have for decades look to Singapore for a “better” model, politically and economically. There are currently over 450,000 Malaysians living and working in Singapore, excluding a further 500,000 new citizen who were born Malaysians.

Singapore in recent years have been a decline, with a low quality public transport delivering substandard services and a workforce sustained by ageing or foreign low-income workers.

Although both Japan and Singapore face similar ageing demographics, the two countries adopt completely opposite policies. In terms of labour, Singapore workers do not enjoy adequate employment rights due to government unions siding with employers. Unlike Singapore, Japan has a minimum wage of 748 yen (S$9.07) and the workers do not pay a mandatory 37% tax off their salaries. For birth rate, Singapore import hundreds of thousands of foreigners every year as a quick-fix solution, while Japan focus on environmental factors to encourage local births. Japan has a birth rate of 1.42, while Singapore is the world’s lowest at 1.16.

While Malaysia is looking at Japan, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is however looking to China as a model economy, where he openly praised the country’s cashless payment system and economic development.