Yang Amat Berhormat Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tan Sri-Tan Sri, Puan Sri-Puan Sri, Datuk-Datuk, Datin-Datin, Members of The Edge Billion Ringgit Club and the media, Friends and colleagues,

On behalf of The Edge, I wish you all a warm welcome and I thank you for being here this evening.

Tun, I am most grateful for your graciousness in honouring us with your presence, as I am aware how busy you are.

Tun, I think I speak for everyone here, every member of The Edge Billion Ringgit Club (BRC), that without you speaking up on 1MDB and leading the charge in the last general election, there would not have been change.

Without going into details, I believe that if there had been no change, the country’s finances will only have gotten worse, and the previous government will have to sell more of the country’s assets and commit ourselves to more debts in dodgy transactions to cover all the holes that they created.

This would have inflicted a very painful burden on Malaysians for many generations to come.

Malaysia was truly on the brink.

And Corporate Malaysia, like all Malaysians, owe you a debt of gratitude for coming out of the comfort of retirement to do what you did.

We know how big a risk you took and how hard a fight it was. We saw you campaign across the country in the rain and under the scorching sun. We even saw you climbing up a ladder to speak on a pickup truck.

Tun, we may or may not agree with some of the decisions and actions of the Pakatan Harapan government over the past 16 months, but one thing we all agree is that Malaysia is a better place today because of what you did, Tun — putting nation before self.

The Edge might not be operating today if the general election result had been different, and in all likelihood, I won’t even be able to live in Malaysia.

For me and Dawn, and members of my family, and all of us at The Edge, a special thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is the 10th year of the Billion Ringgit Club Corporate Awards. We have always had a gala dinner either in August or September — except for 2015, when we had a simple lunch in October because of our troubles with the then government over our reporting of 1MDB. The lunch was held only after we won our suit and after our suspension was lifted by the court in the September of that year. And even then, we were not sure if it would be well attended, as there was a climate of fear.

As it turned out, the lunch was very well attended — which showed that Malaysians and Corporate Malaysia mostly stood with The Edge during our darkest days.

On behalf of The Edge, I would like to thank all of you members of BRC for your support.

And a big thank you also to our sponsors — OCBC Bank, Mercedes-Benz and Jaeger-LeCoultre — for being there for us.

Tun, it was you as Home Minister who issued us the licence to start The Edge 25 years ago. I am happy to report that we are the only traditional print media in Malaysia and one of the few around the world which have continued to grow our readership and sales in print as well as on digital platforms despite the onslaught of online news and social media.

I believe this is because we are honest in our reporting and in our opinions. This often makes us unpopular with the government of the day, including the government of today, as well as companies we report on. But what is important is that we are trusted by our readers because we are credible and honest.

Similarly with our awards like BRC, which are coveted by Corporate Malaysia because the methodology and criteria are transparent and independently audited.

Tun, our awards cannot be bought!

We started the awards 10 years ago to honour the best and the biggest of Corporate Malaysia with the aim of encouraging Malaysian companies to be even better, to grow, to invest, to create jobs and to be socially responsible.

To be recognised and to win awards, companies must grow their profits, be more efficient, invest in technologies, exhibit high returns to shareholders through dividends and stock price.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While we will recognise many successful companies tonight, the hard truth is that over the past six years, many companies listed on Bursa Malaysia have not done well.

This is evident in the continuous decline in profit margins. Consequently, the stock prices for companies on Bursa Malaysia have performed poorly. It drives away both foreign and local investors.

It is not surprising, given that economic growth over the past decade came mostly from consumption, household spending, rather than higher manufacturing activities, or exports or investments.

Household debt of Malaysians is high relative to others.

Our annual real GDP growth would have been 2% or even less over the past 10 years, rather than the 4.7% as reported, had we prudently managed domestic consumption.

There is a cost to the policy of the past decade.

The high debts of households have increased the cost of living of Malaysians, especially the B40. Because they need to service debts, they have less money to spend and have little by way of savings.

Our national savings rate has declined. This affects bank deposits and the ability of banks to help finance investment needs.

Even worse, 70% of commercial bank loans are made to consumer financing, leaving not much room to make loans to corporates, commercial and SMEs.

The bottom line is this — Malaysian companies have not invested enough to make themselves more efficient by embracing technologies and new opportunities so that their profit margins will increase.

The economy needs private investment growth to create employment, to raise wages and to share prosperity — now more than ever — as the other levers of growth, like government spending and consumption, are now limited.

The government has a role to facilitate and enable the private sector to grow, to make financing more available through the banks and capital markets. It must improve the investment climate and be a catalyst when the private sector can’t.

Personally, although I am a social and economic libertarian, some measures of the much-criticised “Malaysian Inc” spirit of 30 years ago might be what the country needs today.

At this moment in history, when we are confronted with massive technological revolution and behavioural changes — the internet, digitalisation of data, sharing of assets, robotics, artificial intelligence, etc — we must plan and execute well to compete.

Countries that are ahead of us were not naturally endowed to succeed; they acted and made it happen. We must do the same.

The government must help, but ultimately, the private sector, the entrepreneurs and business leaders must take the lead and just do it.

I believe our problem today is mindset.

We have lost the optimism and confidence of decades past, when we believed we could do anything — the “Malaysia Boleh” era.

Today, too many of us fear the unknown, see a ghost in every shadow. We look for what can go wrong, rather than dream of what is possible. Perhaps we, both the private sector and the regulators, are still frightened by the experience of 1997/98.

Many are increasingly cynical but offer no solutions.

When the government arrives at a decision quickly, some see it as authoritarian. When a decision is debated publicly, it is interpreted as indecisiveness.

When we do not get our way, we say that the government is useless. When others get their proposals approved, we say it’s corruption.

We need to stop running ourselves down.

The people of Malaysia bravely voted for change last year. It is time for corporate leaders and government leaders to also be brave and take on what is difficult but necessary, rather than the easy way out.

It is a myth to think there is no cost to inaction. Rather than do nothing and wait to fail, would it not be better to do something, take the risk and the plunge, and have fun even if we fail in the end?

In any case, it is often in adversity that humans triumph.

And this is what tonight’s event is about — to recognise some 40 companies that have done well so that they can inspire others to be daring.

I am proud of the company that will be announced as Company of the Year tonight as it joins the likes of Supermax, QL Resources, Genting Malaysia, Digi, Dutch Lady, Tenaga, Nestlé, AirAsia and Petronas Dagangan.

A company I have personally known for decades. It took on huge risks, borrowed massively and utilised the natural assets in Malaysia, combining with the low-cost technology from China, to now become the largest player in the industry in Southeast Asia. The company has since achieved tremendous profitability and growth in stock prices, with a market capitalisation of about RM20 billion.

We have also chosen as Value Creator: Malaysia’s Outstanding CEO of the Year someone who is a true rags-to-riches story, using natural resources that are plentiful and free out in the open sea to build a company that is today worth RM11 billion.

We last recognised his company nine years ago as Company of The Year, and since then its market capitalisation has grown five times larger. And he is a truly nice and humble person of integrity, and joins other illustrious Value Creator recipients.

Last but not least, we will also be presenting a special award for contribution to nation building to an institution that is the guardian of the largest pool of national savings in the country, that everyone in this room values.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me thank you all again for being here this evening, and for patiently listening even if you may not agree with what I have said.

And Tun, sorry my speech was a little too long; it is the one and only opportunity for me to share the objectives of this forum with you.

Thank you, and may God bless everyone.

COMPANY OF THE YEAR

2010 Supermax Corp Bhd
2011 QL Resources Bhd
2012 Genting Bhd
2013 Digi.com Bhd
2014 Dutch Lady Milk Industries (M) Bhd
2015 Tenaga Nasional Bhd
2016 Nestlé (Malaysia) Bhd
2017 AirAsia Bhd
2018 Petronas Dagangan Bhd
2019 Press Metal Aluminium Holdings Bhd

VALUE CREATOR OUTSTANDING CEO OF MALAYSIA

2010 Public Bank Group chairman Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow & CIMB group former chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak
2012 AMMB Holdings Bhd chairman Tan Sri Azman Hashim & AirAsia group CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes
2013 S P Setia Bhd former president and CEO Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin & Malayan Banking Bhd former president and CEO Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar
2014 Axiata Group Bhd president and group CEO Tan Sri Jamaludin Ibrahim & Sunway Group chairman Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah
2016 Khazanah Nasional Bhd former managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar
2017 Westports Holdings Bhd executive chairman Tan Sri G Gnanalingam
2018 Dialog Group Bhd executive chairman and co-founder Tan Sri Ngau Boon Keat.
2019 QL Resources Bhd executive chairman Tan Sri Chia Song Kun