PETALING JAYA: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has broken his silence following weeks of attacks, saying that despite calls for him to step down, he will continue to lead the country and Umno as long as he has the people and the party's mandate.
Speaking on TV3's Soal Jawab talk show, the Prime Minister spoke on several leading issues of the day, including those raised by former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Najib fielded questions on the controversial 1Malaysia Development Board (1MDB), the case of murdered Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu, the Sedition Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act and the economy, during the one-hour interview with Hamdan Ahammu.
Despite heavy criticism from Dr Mahathir, Najib said he still respected the former prime minister "just as I respect every citizen of this country".
"I accept criticism as part of politics and that it won't always be easy. Although the criticisms are hurtful, the fact remains that I am responsible to the people and party.
"As long as the people and party continue to give me the mandate and trust, I will continue to lead the country and party," he said.
Urging Malaysians to look at the bigger picture and the country's future direction, Najib said: "We should not allow an issue to determine that the country and its economy have been destroyed or we have problems that cannot be resolved at all.
"That is totally untrue. We must be confident of our direction. If there are any weakness, we will improve.
"That is why I said no government is perfect. There will be weaknesses. During Dr Mahathir's leadership it was not perfect and neither is it during my time."
On the 1MDB, Najib said he had directed the Auditor-General (A-G) to determine if funds had been abused to finance the making of a film, in reference to his stepson Riza Aziz who produced the big-budget Hollywood movie Wolf of Wall Street.
"I do not want to defend anyone as it involves my family. But I want the A-G to verify this."
Asked why the 1MDB funds were transferred to Singapore from Cayman Islands instead of bringing them back to Malaysia, Najib denied that the money was parked in Cayman Islands, adding that it had merely used the island for registration purposes since it was a tax haven.
Some 200 Malaysian companies, he pointed out, had accounts on the island, adding that they deposited their monies there to profit from foreign exchange.
"At an appropriate time, the money will be brought back to Malaysia," he added.
Asked if he had explained the 1MDB issue to Dr Mahathir, Najib said: "Personally, I did not as he did not raise the issue directly with me. But the fund's board members and chief executive had met him."
Stressing that he would not condone any abuse in 1MDB, he said he had directed the A-G to look into the accounts although its own auditor Deloitte had verified these.