White snow covered much of Davos, plunging the temperature at this little hilly town in eastern Switzerland drastically from minus 9 degrees Celsius to minus 20. But, even such a severe chill failed to check the enthusiasm of 2,250 politico-economic and cultural elites across the world to discuss various issues affecting our world today.
Other than the large hordes of academics and non-governmental activists, there were also more than 20 heads of states, 70 ministers, and over 500 presidents and CEO’s of top multinational corporations, as well as other powerful people taking part in the 2005 World Economic Forum.
More than 300 sessions of official and unofficial discussions were carried out smoothly in the “Davos spirit”.
The World Economic Forum offered a most important platform for political and corporate leaders, as well as leaders of civic organisations worldwide to deliberate on global economy. However, other than deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, our ministers, scholars and others who should have been there, were largely absent from the scene.
Although that was my first time at the WEF, from my observation over those five days, I could deeply feel the “Davos spirit”. There were at least six discussions held simultaneously on any given day, and the doors would be shut once the meeting halls were fully packed, and indeed always so.
Eateries outside the meeting halls were also packed to the seams. These people were not only there for lunch or snack, as a matter of fact, many commercial activities were carried out there. A lot of personal ties were also cemented likewise.
Many private interactions were also carried out at the numerous hotels adjacent to the convention centre. Everyone was trying to make the best use of those five days to bring home some positive results.
Frits Van Dijk, Chairman and CEO of Nestlé told members of the Asia News Network that when he attended the forum for the first time, he spent 85% of his time there listening to various discussions, but today, he would use 85% of his time to cement ties with others.
Many a time, we complain that foreigners know little about us. But in fact, the forum offers a unique opportunity for us to sell Malaysia and establish relationships. Having said that, we have not harnessed such an opportunity.
Petronas president and CEO Tan Sri Datuk Seri Mohd Hassan Marican and Peremba Group president Razali Abdul Rahman are regulars at the forum, and indeed, they have been attending the forum for well over a decade. It was heartening for them to see that more and more Malaysians were going to Davos.
We used to have many ministers at Davos, but most of them went in the company of the prime minister. And if the prime minister was absent, the ministers would also forget about going to the forum. International trade and industries minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz should have made a perfect candidate for the Malaysian delegation as she has the gift of the tongue.
But unfortunately, she only hastily attended the ministerial meetings and was not an official delegate of the forum these two years.
We all know that China’s economy is taking off in a big way now. If you see that China has sent a large delegation and has been participating actively in the forum, you should know that the country is doing all it can to stay connected with the world.
Malaysian Chinese entrepreneurs were largely absent at the forum, a phenomenon that even the deputy prime minister had noticed. He told Sin Chew Daily before leaving Davos, “I found that Chinese businessmen are not here. They should be here to build their contacts and feel and understand some of the most important issues of the world. They could have come here to understand the latest developments in global trade. This is absolutely the best place!”
As a matter of fact, not only Chinese businessmen, senior government officials responsible to draft out the country’s economic policies should have also been there. As for our university professors and scholars, they also did not embrace the world. If you were here, you should have discovered that the scholars and professors at the forum, including many from China, were world-class.
Neighbouring Indonesia sent its coordinating minister for economy Aburizal Bakrie and minister of trade Mari Elka Pangestu, while Singapore sent its trade and industry minister Lim Hng Kiang and permanent secretary at the information, communications and arts ministry Dr Tan Chin Nam.
Indonesia’s trade minister Mari Elka Pangestu said, Jakarta felt that the forum was very important because chief leaders at various sectors from across the world were there.
She said, “There are two spirits at Davos. The first is networking, which allows us to meet people from various sectors, and as such, I have managed to hold bilateral talks with many people here. Secondly, there are a lot of official meetings from which we can learn new things while listening to the views of others. We can also deliver the voice of Asia here.”
Najib told Sin Chew Daily, “Malaysia must participate actively in the forum. It doesn’t have to be me, but at least someone must be here.”
He said he would discuss this matter with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and propose to send some senior leaders to the meeting on a yearly basis.
“The World Economic Forum allows us to deliver all kinds of messages. The participants are of very high calibres. There is hardly another occasion with such a high standard.”
“Secondly, major international media players are here to cover the event. You can be interviewed by them, and relay your message. Additionally, there are also a lot of important private meetings being carried out here, which
is a good thing.”
As a “new guy” at Davos, Najib’s performance deserves some respect. During the session “Modernisation Without Westernisation”, he managed to handle the situation despite having to face difficult questions from CNN anchor Jim Clancy, making him the first speaker to have received thunderous applause from the floor. Other dignitaries interviewed by Clancy included Pakistan prime minister Shaukat Aziz, Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Mahmoud Nazif and Iranian vice president and environment minister Masumeh Ebtekar.
To stay connected with the world, Malaysia needs more than just a prime minister or a deputy prime minister at Davos. The government should systematically bring in the elites, allowing them to take part in or chair any session within the forum. The government must also purposefully infiltrate into the participating crowd, forging new friendships and collecting all kinds of information, as our neighbours have done.
We can wait no longer. Davos needs Malaysia’s active presence!