Newly arrived Malaysian Ambassador, His Excellency Agus Salim Haji Yusof, tells Liz O’Reilly about his journey to the Kingdom and plans for the future.
A career diplomat, His Excellency served in Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Brunei and South Africa before taking up his first ambassadorial post in Manama.
He says: “Of my previous postings, I found Kazakhstan the most enjoyable and South Africa the most challenging. I’m hoping Bahrain will be a new favourite, I’m feeling very comfortable here. I came here four times when I was serving in Kuwait and I can see tremendous change. The people are the same but now there are many sky scrapers!
“The Bahrainis are very humble people, compared to other places in the Gulf. And the expat community here is large too. I know Bahrain is a small place but I think I will have an interesting time here and enjoy the events that take place. We had the visit of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to Malaysia, followed by Ramadan, so it has been a busy time since I arrived. But my golf clubs came yesterday, so I’m looking forward to playing a round.”
He says that, so far, he has encountered no problems in his community and welcomes the opportunity to interact with his countrymen at the Malaysian Club.
Of possible future developments, His Excellency adds: “There are approximately 180 Malaysians working in Bahrain – mostly professionals and semi-professionals – together with dependents, the Malaysian community is around 400 people. The number has fallen but from my meetings with the ministries of labour and social development, I see it’s a free market and would welcome more professionals. There are many new projects coming up that will require manpower – so the number may increase again.
“What I aim to achieve in my time here is the enhancement of bilateral relationships in all spheres – they’re already good but can always get better. We cooperate in areas of industry and defence, there’s an air services agreement and cooperation between the chambers of commerce. Bahrain’s Interior Minister will be inviting his Malaysian counterpart to come to Bahrain. Towards the end of the year there will also be a visit by a Malaysian medical university to seek cooperation here.
“Bahrain is also sending a team to Malaysia to open up an embassy, as the country is currently served from Thailand.”
Trade presently stands at USD207 million between the two countries – Bahrain exports USD143 million in aluminium and oil and Malaysia exports USD64 million, made up of timber, furniture, vehicle parts and foods. His Excellency would like to see these figures improved.
He says: “To see that happen there are a number of avenues that can be used. Since last year we have had a Bahrain-Malaysia Business and Friendship Society and it is planning a GCC exhibition in April next year which will bring businesses from Malaysia to the region. Also Bahrain’s Economic Development Board has an office in Kuala Lumpur so I plan to engage with their representative.”
In terms of culture, there will be a Malaysian film event after the summer which will screen a selection of four movies. Later this year there will also be a Malaysian/Bahrain food festival in collaboration with the friendship society – it will feature food from both countries but is still in the planning stage.
And the ambassador adds one further ambition for his tenure, saying: “Finally, during my time here, I would like to see a direct flight between Bahrain and Malaysia and I am in contact with the airlines to try to make that happen.”