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The legends about Ismail are many. Some have been made up by his enemies and therefore
little that was bandied around could be taken as truth even if they sounded right.
I will add this true story to the chronicle.
It takes uncommon courage for any man to defy a prime minister or deputy prime minister
(of Razak or Tun Dr. Ismail and Abdul Rahman's stature). He must be on a strong moral
ground and have impeccable integrity to undertake the perilous task. Ismail was such
Three times he ignored Razak's instructions and he survived. Two of the three involved
banking licences and the other a finance company's licence. Ismail eventually relented
on the finance licence and approved the establishment of one of the banks whose original
name has been changed following a takeover. But he was resolutely opposed to the
Razak sent me over to talk to him. He agreed to issue the licence on one condition
which he and I knew the applicant would find a bit difficult to fulfill. Still, it
was a gamble. Razak instructed me to call, the man whom we shall call "the front
man". He said he could not produce the evidence Bank Negara wanted. In any event,
the friend of the "frontman" now runs a bank.
Critics were divided about Ismail's strong leadership at Bank Negara. Some found
him intolerably inflexible. They would have preferred a pliant governor. His admirers
(few but well placed) thought he was a godsend governor to look after our banking
system and a strong counterweight against Treasury politics and machinations.
The thing I always admired about Ismail was his integrity. He was a fierce man but
he was also a noble gentleman, a rare combination.
Whatever people say about Ismail, he, much more than anybody else at Bank Negara,
then and now, administered our money with prudence and evenhandedness. Indeed, he
characterised an era which has since long gone.
We shall miss this great Malaysian, an indefatigable leader of men. People may say
anything about him behind his back but his hands were cleaner, as was his life, than
those who indulged in whisper, innuendo and allusion.
Tun Haji Ismail bin Ali is an excellent role model for young Malaysians to emulate.
He should have been buried at Masjid Negara for he justly deserved the honour. Unless,
of course, he gave instructions that he should be buried at Ampang next to his beloved
wife, Toh Puan Maimunah Abdul Latif.
I called him Haji. Few knew that he performed the haj in 1971 the same year I did.
May Allah bless his soul.
Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations
(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )