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An Exclusive Interview with: H.H Prince Sulaiman Shah Ibni Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Ahah

December 2015

HOW DO YOU BALANCE BEING A PROMINENT FIGURE IN BOTH THE ROYAL PALACE FUNCTIONS AND THE MALAYSIAN CORPORATE WORLD?

Both roles require one to conduct oneself with the utmost respect, integrity and transparency. Both roles also require me to put the interests of all stakeholders in mind – it isn’t so much of a balancing act as they’re both responsibilities I’m very privileged and honored to have and the continuous support of both my corporate team and family has made the continuous transition very easy for me.


HOW HAVE YOUR VIEWS ON OPERATING IN A CORPORATE STRUCTURE CHANGED; SINCE FOUNDING

SYARIKAT PEMBINAAN SETIA SDN BHD ( NOW S P SETIA BHD ) IN THE 1970s?

The world does business differently today, than it did thirty years ago. Information and transactions happen faster, knowledge is exchanged more quickly, and hyper globalization has made us conscientious and aware of the positives and negatives of other economies as they undoubtedly, affect us as well. Malaysia has of course, become a worthy competitor in the Global arena. Investors look at Malaysia in the same vein as Singapore, South Korea and other ASEAN countries. We are all dynamic, flexible economies that present so much to the world – and each offers a niche industry that others cannot or will not replicate.


WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHANGES YOU WANT TO SEE HAPPENING IN THE MALAYSIAN FINANCIAL WORLD?

I personally believe that the Malaysian financial scene is on path to be a trend setter with other ASEAN economies – it is its own brand of Asian finance and has created a platform for both conventional and Shari’ah compliant financial systems to co- exist. It has always been a pioneer and an innovator, and I hope to see that trend continue. It is for our investors, regulators, and all who have a stake in this economy to voice their opinions. The younger generation views the world from a different perspective than that of my generation and predecessors. 


WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHANGES THAT NEED TO BE MADE TO ACCOMMODATE SHARI’AH COMPLIANT BUSINESSES BETTER?

In general, the existing governance structure of any country should support Shari’ah laws and should be aligned earlier than the implementation of Shari’ah governance. I believe Malaysia has established itself as a credible, reliable platform for Islamic finance, and the Islamic economy as a whole. The Halal economy is ever growing, and we are growing alongside it – and hopefully providing all its stakeholders with the support they need.

Once more I must stress that those with the knowledge and expertise must speak up. Islamic investors, financiers, scholars and consumers must all communicate their ideas to the appropriate channels. How else will change occur?


WHAT ROLE DO YOU BELIEVE THE WIEF CAN PLAY IN THIS?

The role of the WIEF as a Shari’ah platform is credible where Shari’ah community can meet, to exchange ideas, knowledge and regional know how. Moreover the efforts of WIEF to bring valuable personalities of Shari’ah governance to a global forum are highly appreciated to make the prominence and significance of Shari’ah implications on the global economy.


WHAT ROLE SHOULD THE GOVERNEMENT PLAY TO EASE FACILITATING BUSINESS FOR ISLAMIC ECONOMY PLAYERS?

Fundamentally, the role of the government is very important because it is responsible for providing customized forums that can match the Shari’ah governance and absorb the real impact of its effects. Globally, local governance is not providing the flexible forum to adopt Shari’ah forums so the implementation of Sharia governance is always a challenge.  


DO YOU BELIEVE THE GENERAL MALAYSIAN PUBLIC UNDERSTANDS THE PRODUCTS AND SERVICES OFFERED BY SHARI’AH COMPLIANT COMPANIES?

Absolutely. Time is a very important factor in building the confidence and knowledge of the public; we are pioneers having raised Shari’ah governance since the late 1980s or so.  I believe that the average Malaysian; regardless of their personal faith or belief system, understands the basic difference between the Shari’ah compliant products offered to them as well the differences in conventional products. A large part of that is due to the efforts of Malaysian banks such as CIMB, Maybank, among others who take the time to educate their customers, and provide them with competitive products and services.


IS THERE ENOUGH OF A PLATFORM FOR ARTISANAL OR COTTAGE HALAL INDUSTRIES?

I believe that there is always a chance for improvement while evaluating critical factors .However there are a lot of reputable forums, like WIEF, where individuals can raise their voice to get support from different forums. 


WHO DO YOU BELIEVE IS BECOMING A SERIOUS CONTENDER IN ESTABLISHING ITSELF AS A GLOBAL ISLAMIC CENTER, ASIDE FROM MALAYSIA AND DUBAI?

Anybody who takes the time to understand what the Islamic economy has to offer, as well as the sheer breadth of individuals it caters to can succeed. Brazil, Bahrain, London and Japan have all made wonderful strides and are being successful. The belief is, and I hope this is shared globally- Islamic finance, Halal Products and Shari’ah compliant instruments do not belong solely to the Muslim people or the Muslim world. Traditionally, Halal has been a difficult market for major supermarkets, partly because of its scattered nature and partly because there is no single Halal cuisine. Customers looking for Halal products might have their roots in Pakistan, Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa, Bangladesh or India. But Sainsbury's, Tesco and Morrisons all now sell ranges of Halal products at selected stores. Boots sells Halal baby food. The World Halal Forum estimates sales of all types of Halal food combined totaled £2.6bn in Britain in 2011. We want the Islamic economy as a concept to be shared not only for Muslims but  for all levels of communities that help growth based on ethical governance.


HOW DOES YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESS ASSESS THE ECONOMIC TIES BETWEEN MALAYSIA AND THE UAE?

Our nations have the ties of Islam, brotherhood and friendship before all else. We are diverse, and multicultural. I believe that is reflected in our individual economies. Trade with the UAE in 2011 stood at $7.1 billion out of which Malaysia exported goods worth $4.3 billion. Major exports included electrical and electronic goods, jewellery, vegetable oil, furniture, computer parts, building materials, etc. In fact, the UAE is Malaysia’s largest trade partner in West Asia region. Malaysia and the UAE will always be trading partners, and friendly competitors – and I believe that is how it will always remain.


HOW DOES MALAYSIA ATTRACT FDI? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES IT FACES IN THIS REGARD?

The Government of Malaysia strongly encourages foreign direct investment (FDI), although it maintains restrictions and limits on investment in some sectors. It actively reaches out to targeted industries and negotiates incentive packages to attract FDI. Malaysia provides a number of incentives, particularly in export-oriented high-tech industries and "back office" service operations.


Malaysia is a diverse and fast growing nation, we are a leading ASEAN economy, and being the only ASEAN nation to withstand the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis is a testament to that. Malaysia has one of the world’s most trade-dependent economies with trade reaching 200% of annual GDP. The Malaysian government values foreign investment as a powerful force for the continued economic development of the country, the government continues to liberalize and in some cases remove investment & trade restrictions. Our global trading partners and investors know that the government is responsive, the market is matured and the rule of law ensures all parties’ interests are protected. 


WHAT INDUSTRY DO YOU FEEL THE HALAL ECONOMY HAS YET TO TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OFF?

Each and every industry that involves the Muslim community should fall under the purview of being Shari’ah compliant. The Islamic economy is still growing, there are many untapped markets, and this will change as the average Muslim consumer has better knowledge, and a larger disposable income. With the increase of Muslims travelling further and settling in non - Muslim countries, we see them developing the amenities needed to thrive. From Halal restaurants and supermarkets, to Halal vacation destinations as well as Educational curriculums that focus on the Islamic economy at University level and beyond – the industry is really flexing its creative muscle, and I’m sure this is only the beginning.


HOW IS THE MALAYSIAN ECONOMY COPING WITH THE FALLING OIL PRICES?

Malaysia’s oil and gas export prices are at premiums to import prices. On top of the surplus in oil and gas trade, the export prices of Malaysia’s oil and gas are at premiums to the import prices of oil and gas. Technically, the positive price gap add to the positive trade gap to ensure the oil and gas trade surplus is intact by minimizing the net trade effect of lower crude oil prices and the knock on effect on gas prices.  Being a trade oriented economy; the prices may not have as adverse effect on us as it would on one fully reliant on energy export.


WHAT IS YOUR ECONOMIC VISION FOR MALAYSIA IN THE NEXT five YEARS?

The same as every other Malaysian- a self-sufficient industrialized nation by the year 2020, encompassing all aspects of life, from economic prosperity, social well-being, world class education, political stability, as well as psychological balance. The government is constantly revisiting the national vision and updating, modernizing and changing it to fit this new world. Reforms include the 1Malaysia concept, the Government Transformation Program, the New Economic Model and the Tenth Malaysia Plan. They represent the key initiatives to drive Malaysia forward as a modern, inclusive and high-income society by 2020. The Government Transformation Program aims to reduce crime and corruption as well as to raise the standard of living for low-income households, improve rural infrastructure and urban public transport. We are seeing results: The overall crime index has dropped by 15% from the first quarter of 2010, and is decreasing steadily.


WHAT ROLE CAN/DO THE INDIVIDUAL ROYAL MALAYSIAN FAMILIES PLAY?

I believe that every royal house has a duty first and foremost to its people, and that duty determines the roles they must play. Whether it is to facilitate investment via infrastructure, tourism, universities – whatever and however a state can cater to the masses – the ruling families must be aware of.  In this modern age, the royal families act as a link between the people and the government, or between different factions between the people themselves. It is their responsibility to remain neutral, righteous and above all fair. That is the greatest role, and responsibility of Royalty. 


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