PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has claimed that he inherited a government riddled with corruption and untrustworthy officials.
"From outside, we saw the damage, but we never expected the damage to be so extensive," he said in an interview with CNN aired on Thursday (July 26).
"Most of the top echelon in the government are corrupt."
Tun Dr Mahathir also said that he has to work with people who are suspect.
"It's a very difficult job, if you don't work with people you trust, you don't know whether what you want them to do will be done or not," he was quoted as saying.
The CNN report also touched on succession plans after Dr Mahathir steps down as premier.
Before the May general election, Pakatan Harapan had announced that Dr Mahathir would be premier for two years before handing over the reins to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) adviser Anwar Ibrahim.
Dr Mahathir said: "If the condition for us working together is my serving as prime minister for two years or three years, for me that is not important.
"I will abide by the wishes of the people."
Despite the chequered history between the pair, Dr Mahathir told CNN that his personal opinion about Anwar did not matter.
"I have to trust him - whether I like it or not. I can't be here all the time," he said, adding that if people wanted him to serve beyond the time agreed with his coalition partners, he would.
In 1998, Dr Mahathir sacked Anwar from the Cabinet over sodomy charges, triggering the formation of PKR and the Reformasi movement.
Before the latest general election, Dr Mahathir formed a pact with the Pakatan Harapan coalition, which included Anwar's party, to help wrest Putrajaya from Barisan Nasional.
In the interview, Dr Mahathir also told CNN that the country's relationship with China has "always been friendly".
"There's a saying (that) the powerful will take what they will, the weak will yield what they must," he said.
Dr Mahathir said that with China's increasing assertive behaviour in the South China Sea's disputed territory, Malaysia "cannot go to war with them".
He said: "They are more powerful, and we cannot fight against them, (so) how do we benefit from their wealth and their power? That's what we are looking at now.
"We have to accept the reality of the situation."
Dr Mahathir also accused China of seeking to spread its influence with the money that it had.
He added that although China-backed mega projects were welcomed in Malaysia, he cautioned against government or businesses relying on borrowing Chinese money.
Additionally, Dr Mahathir also commented on US President Donald Trump's economic policies, saying that trade wars would do no good for the world.
He said: "He asked for things which are quite, quite unacceptable. For example, he wants to build a wall to separate Mexico from the US, and he is asking the Mexicans to pay. It's your project, you pay.
"But is it because he thinks he's powerful so he can ask people to pay for what he wants to do? So how do you deal with that kind of mindset?"
Dr Mahathir also pointed out that a trade war would make all parties lose - including the US, China and even the world.
"War and trade wars (don't) solve any problems," he said.
CNN reported that besides Chinese warships in the South China Sea, Malaysia's security concerns include terrorism in the Middle East and the Philippines.
Dr Mahathir said in the interview that the country has tried to counter terrorism with very sophisticated ways using new technology, but pointed out that "terrorism has a reason, it has a cause".
"You have to (tackle the) cause of terrorism, if you can tackle the cause and remove it, then there won't be terrorism," he said.
He blamed extremist religious leaders for fuelling the violence.
He said: "Islam that you see today is not actually the Islam that is taught by the religion. It is the Islam interpreted by certain powerful people, leaders, scholars and all that.
"Islam of the Quran is a very moderate Islam. (It) calls upon all Muslims to be brothers, it forbids killing, but (they) are doing all those things which are forbidden by Islam."