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MAIN KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY
TUN DR MAHATHIR MOHAMED, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF MALAYSIA
DURING THE ASEAN-EC INTERNATIONAL HRD CONVENTION & EXHIBITION
18TH JANUARY 2005

I would like to thank the ASEAN-EC International for this invitation to speak on Human Resource Development in Developing countries.

The Story of Human Civilisation is the story of Human Resource Development. The societies which were able to develop and progress were the societies which succeeded in developing and harnesing human resources.

Those unable to develop human resources remain backward and often times become dominated by those with developed human resources.

Initially the stress was on brawn, the brute strength which enables hard laborious work to be done. Intelligence was not at a premium. Moving huge boulders to build the pyramids in the end depended on large numbers of well-built workers. On their own, the workers would not be able to build. But the supervisors and the engineers applied the brute strength of the workers to achieve the wonders that we still see today.

The societies which developed based on human resources became stratified with manual workers at the bottom and the others above, graded according to their level of skills and intelligence. The highest level would be those able to manage the human resource. In themselves they constitute the highest level of human resource.

In many societies the stratification became institutionalised and embedded in the culture. It became even a part of the beliefs and the religion. Thus we have to this day in some religion and society, a very complex system of castes based on specialisation of labour and occupation. Once this happens, the upward mobilisation of the lower castes becomes difficult. Much potential woould be lost.

But in some countries the stratification is not so rigid and it is possible for skills to be developed by the lower caste so as to be upwardly mobile. The more upwardly mobile the human resources, the greater would be the availability of higher human resources.

Today outwardly at least we do not believe in castes or stratification. The member of any strata can move up or down as he wishes. And society benefits because the potentials of everyone can be exploited to the maximum.

It is this realisation that has made human resource development an important matter for any society wishing to progress.

If we look back again at history we will see some backward nations developing into very sophisticated and powerful civilisations. On the other hand we will aslo see some highly developed nations regressing. And we will find that progression or regression is really the result of developing or deteriorating human resources.

We all know how Peter the Great of Russia changed his very backward nation into one of the most powerful in the world. He forced his people to acquire the skills of Western Europe until they were able to excel in the particular skills that he, Peter, considered necessary for the ambitions he had for Mother Russia. It was human resource development on a massive national scale, achieved through the autocratic power that Peter and his successors wielded.

The development of human resources in the modernisation of Russia is something that people interested in human resource development should study. Because primarily the Russian Czars were interested in becoming a great power and expanding their territory, they trained their people in the design, production and application of weapons of war.

To this day Russians are unable to produce quality consumer goods, but are able to invent, design and build the most effective war machines. They may not be as sophisticated as the war machines of the west, but they serve the Russians well enough.

This ability is the result of selective human resource development. No doubt if the Russians wanted to, they can produced the best radios or televisions or motor cars and other consumer goods. But their priority has always been guns, tanks, aeroplanes, rockets and nuclear bombs. And not even the Americans are prepared to test these weapons by going to war with them. Russian human resource development has achieved the target they aimed for.

This raises the questions of why the Russians can produce first-class weapons but not first-class shoe-horns even. It is all about the focus in human resource development.

Actually skills can be acquired and honed to a high-degree purely through focus and efforts. The Orang Asli of Malaysia may not be good academically but they are good with the blow pipe and make good wood carvers. Similarly we know that the Balinese are good wood-carvers though they may lack other skills.

They are all very ordinary people but because their focus and concentration and effort is on wood-carving, they acquire these skills simply because that is what they want to do, or what their religion urges them to do. They began very young probably whittling away at pieces of wood as soon as they could hand a knife. Over time not only would the fingers and hands coordinate well in order to carve, but their whole body develops and adapts to the position best suited for wood carving. As they do this over and over again the quality of their work improves. The dexterity and the speed improve constantly.

Invariably some would be better than others. But all would be better wood carvers than people who are not from the community of wood carvers.

This begs another question. Why are people from a community skilled in a particular craft much more likely to become skilful in that craft than people from outside the community? It would seem and this is my personal and unscientific opinion, that skills are inherited. The children of craftsmen are much more able to master the craft than children of people not skilled in the craft concerned.

Now, if this is true, the acquisition of skills by the parents will in fact be passed on to the children. And each generation would inherit the skill of the previous generation. If we care to observe we would notice that this is happenning all the time.

We know that the human race acquire more and more skills with each generation. Our generatiion today is more skilful in whatever we do than our father's and our father's generation was more skilful than our grandfather's generation. Certainly we are more skilful, more able in whatever we do than our ancient ancestors.

Is our high skill simply due to our conscious effort to acquire the skills of the past generation or is it that we inherited these skills and were able to get a head start so to speak. We do not have to invent the wheel because not only has it been invented but improvements have been made to it and, if we care to do so we can improve on the improvement. Without thinking of the original crude wheel, we can take off from the latest sophisticated wheel, as used in aircraft landing gear for example, and improve on it. All the accumulated knowledge of the past seems to be ours without having to learn about the long process of development that the wheel had gone through.

If we inherit the skills of our forebears, then our own skills, hone in our lifetime would also be inherited by our children. If that is so then the benefit and the returns on human resource development are far more than the benefit to our generation. We are actually contributing to the development of future generations.

If we develop a whole community, then that community would become more and more skilled with the passage of time. Moreover the skills and the values which accompany them would become a part of the culture of the community.

The Balinese people are again a prime example. For them wood carving and stylised painting are a part of the culture of the community. In fact they are directly linked to the religion they profess. And that culture will be inherited by future generations. Once a skill becomes a part of the culture, then the human resource in terms of the particular skill would just continue through the generations, improving with each generation.

In Malaysia we have a problem. We have three different communities, each with different skills. Unfortunately the skills of the indigenous community are not only less lucrative, but because they don't give a good living, the skills are dying out rather than improving. Besides, the skills were from the age when products wrought by hands were the only ones available. Today all of them are manufactured by others using modern techniques and machines. The handworked products of the indigenous people are not needed now and they cannot retain and hone their skills simply because they don't have a need to. If they wish to survive and prosper then they have to learn new skills. Since they have not inherited these new skills, they will have to take time. They may need several generations before the new skills became part of their culture. As the Russians have demonstrated through persistence and focus they can become as skilled as or even more skilled than the communities which already posesses these skills.

As has been pointed out, a people not familiar with a particular skill will find it more difficult to acquire by comparison with people who are already familiar. Doing business is part of the culture of the Chinese. They are more familiar and skilful at it. The Malays have become monetised only recently and their business skills are much poorer compared to the Chinese.

What is needed for the Malays and other indigenous people in Malaysia is training in business as a part of Malaysia's human resource development. There is evidence that they are already acquiring some business skills. But their business acumen on the average is still inferior compared to the Chinese and Indians. Training enables them to leapfrog the gap between them and the Chinese. Living in a Chinese business environment would also help.

If my theory that skill can be inherited and can become a part of the culture, then the efforts at Malay Human Resource Development in Malaysia would in time result in the handicap faced by the Malays becoming less and less. Human resource development, provided it is carefully planned and assiduously carried can not only develop and enhance the skills of the target group or the community, but it would also have long term effects over generations.

A matter which needs serious attention in human resource development is the training in attitude and work ethics. Far too often the stress is on skills while attitude and ethics are given less attention.

Of the Asian people the Japanese have shown the fastest capacity to acquire skills which were foreign to them. They did make special efforts to acquire the skills but they have a culture which enalbse them not only to acquire skills quickly but to do even better than their models.

The Japanese are very diligent and very meticulous. Their traditional handicrafts are of the highest quality. A sense of shame influences their attitude to work and the products they produce. Not producing the best would be shameful. And shame is enough for the Japanese to commit suicide even.

That sens of shame if the work is not up to expectation drives the Japanese to learn and to acquire exceptional skills. True, initially the Japanese produced goods of inferior quality. But there are instances even at that time that Japanese products could be far superior to the products of the people they were learning from.

Toyota started as a producer of textile weaving machines. The orignial machine was from Europe. But Toyotas machine was so superior that they were being bought by the very people whose machine inspired the toyata machine. And today no one questions the quality of Japanese products.

The success of the Japanese is partly due to the development of their human resources compativle with a new industrial environment and a culture which values diligence and attention to quality.

There are of course a whole lot of qualities which will enhance the products of human resource development. Diligence and pride over the qualit of the products are among the most important. Therefore when human resources are being developed attention must be given to the development of the right attitudes and values. In fact, the development of these values is a crucial part of human resource development.

If human resource development is properly carried out then whole new skills can be acquired and the value system or the culture of the people changed. The emergence of great new civilisations in human history is due to the development of human resources. The backward people and nations can become successful and great if human resource development is carried out properly, with proper balance between skills acquisition and the cultivation of good ethical values. It may take several generations but it can be done.

Human resource development gives hope for the poor and the backward peoples and nations to develop and grow and possibly even to catch up with others who are ahead. But in the first place those in authority, the Government in particular must want to develop the people and the nation.

In the old days when governments were autocratic it was possible for the government to force the implementation of human resource development. This was what happened when Peter the Great of Russia decided to modernise his country and catch up with the Western nations. But it may well be that the autocratic ruler has no desire to develop his nation. IN which case the autocracy would spell DOOM for the nation.

Today autocracy is frowned upon. Only democracy is allowed. But a democratic government can be so engrossed with the politics of survival that it may not be able to focus on human resource development. The opposition in a democractic system can be so negative that nothing can be done without their trying to block it, and this includes human resource development. If we compare the progress of India an China, we will appreciate the effect of systems of government and culture on human resource development. One is democratci and the othe autocratic. When the autocrats dcide to develop the speed is formidable.

In a democracy both te government and the opposition may really desire to develop the nation and its people may want to implement human resource development. But the prolonged debates and the sniping at all government efforts can undermine the development and the upgrading of human resources. Human resource development will take place but the process will take time.

Human resource development is therefore not just a case of making training available to the target groups. It requires first a vision and will on the part of the government. That vision must be made the vision of the people as a whole.

To do this the government needs to be strong enough to deflect the negativism of the opposition in a democratic country. In an autocratic country, the desire of those in authority to develop human resources is all important.

If the vision is accepted by the people, then prior to or together with the skills training, there must be incalculated in the trainees the right set of values. They must appreciate that the training is good for them and good for their country. They must understand and appreciate what values can contribute to the success of their development.

The trainees must alsounderstand how, through repetition, they can acquire the necessary skills. More than that the skills they acquire would proabably be inherited by their children and children's children.

In Malaysia, where the business and management skills of the Malays and other indigenous people are far behind those of the Chinese in particular, deliberate training and inculcation of good ethics and values among the Malays can help them to overcome the gap between the two races. Eventually, maybe after two or three generations, the skills and the ethics of the Malays and other indigenous people will match those of the Chinese, and may even match those of the people of the developed nations. When that happens then the inequitability in the development and well-being of the peoples of Malaysia would largely disappear.

Human resource development is therefore the factor that will determine the catching-up process and the progress of the developing nation. Of course developed nations also need to develop their human resources. But their needs to do this are less crucial than those of the developin nations.

There are really no intrinsic obstacles to the development of huamn resource. Obviously for those who are left far behind in terms of the skills of their human resources, a much longer period would be necessary. But with dedication and persistence, with the willingness to repeat doing anything and everythiNG no matter how difficult, over and over again, the skills would be honed and the ability whether it is manual or intellectual will be acquired. The progress will be geometrical rather than linear. The skills will be inherited and become a part of the culture of the people so that less deliberate pressure would be needed in the future.

Truly the hope of the less developed people lies in human resources development. Asciduosly implemented, the disparities within, the community and between the nations would be reduced. It is difficult. It is frustrating. But we have no choice if we don't want to be forever dominated by those who, with centuries of headstart, are far ahead.

I thank you.



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