Writing a memoir is a painful pleasure

21 June 1998

I became much interested in politics rather early - in Third Form at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) in 1952 because at that time it seemed full of promise. Umno leaders and the rakyat appeared more interested in independence and good government than in politics, position and money.

I remember my history teachers Salleh Hussein and Drennen, English teachers J. R. Davidson and Anthony Burgess (Wilson) and expatriate Indian teachers Dr Ahmed and Peter Norton. They often discussed, even debated with me about political developments within and outside Malaysia.

Michael Hughes, the senior geography teacher (he did not teach me) and Sanderson, my science teacher, Davidson, Wilson and Salleh encouraged me to develop independent ideas rather than be too ready to go with the crowd about anything and everything.

I benefited much from their guidance, though, I must say, it was not too much to be harmful! I learnt self trust and confidence in my coping ability.

I entered Parliament in 1974, (having rejected an earlier offer to be a candidate in 1969) and was made the first deputy minister in the Prime Minister's department. My contemporaries entering Parliament for the first time with me were Tengku Razaleigh Hanizah, Michael Chen, Leo Moggie, Dr Ling Liong Sik and the late Datuk Seri Syed Nahar among others.

The Cabinet of 20 was assisted by 17 deputy ministers. Tun Razak was Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence. Hussein Onn was his deputy Minister of Finance and Minister of Coordination. However, the defacto Minister of Finance was Tan Sri Chong Hon Nyan, Hussein's deputy.

Hon Nyan was a Cambridge educated man (Trinity Hall). He was Secretary-General of the Treasury before becoming a politician. Hon Nyan was one of those I consulted before leaving for St John's College, Cambridge in 1982. He was, like Razak, a good administrator-politician, a breed which is almost extinct now.

What we have now are largely political animals, professional politicians and careerists. Nothing wrong in being a political animal if he is (more) open to fresh ideas and not against good input even from industry and "veterans".

Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen was Minister of Information and Minister with Special Functions who occasionally deputised for Razak in foreign affairs and other special assignments. Razak liked Rithauddeen because he was uncontroversial and exceedingly pleasant.

The most junior Cabinet minister then (this may surprise readers) was Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Minister of Education,who within two years leap-frogged to the astonishment of many (not to those in the know), to become Deputy Prime Minister when Hussein assumed premiership following Razak's sudden death on Jan 14, 1976.

Musa Hitam, who was the second most junior, was Minister of Primary Industries and in 1981 was picked by Mahathir as his deputy. Musa beat Razaleigh twice for the Umno Number Two spot which in one way or another triggered the Mahathir-Musa split, and Ghaffar Baba's ascent.

Razaleigh was not in the Cabinet but as chairman of Petronas he enjoyed ministerial status. Razaleigh was offered the Ministry of Coordination but he declined prefering a senior ministry which Razak thought Razaleigh was not quite ready for. Anyway, I persuaded Razak to bestow Razaleigh,a ministerial status in lieu of it..

Of the ministers, many have - to the best of my memory - since died except for Ghafar Baba (Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development), Lee San Choon (Labour and Manpower), Hamzah Abdul Samah (Trade and Industry), Ong Kee Hui (Local Government and Environment), Ghazali Shaftie (Home Affairs), Ghani Gilong (Works and Transport), Lee Siok Yew (Health), Aishah Ghani (Social Welfare), Taib Mahmud (General Planning and Social Economic Research) and Michael Chen (New Villages).

Five of the 17 deputy ministers have passed away and only one is still in government - Mohammad Rahmat, Minister of Information. In 1974, he was Deputy Minister of Coordination.

Lee Siok Yew was so good to me and at my persuasion, built the first ever hospital in the Machang constituency within two years of my election. It started with 28 beds and now the Machang Hospital has more than 100 beds and under the expansion plan approved in 1995 it will have between 250 to 300 beds.

The Machang people should always be grateful to Siok Yew. The speed with which the hospital was built astounded not a fewpeople in Kelantan. It di dand does matter if one is minister or deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Department provided, of course, the holder of the post knows his way around Jalan Dato'Onn.

The Fourth Parliament was a mixed bag of exciting, talented and mediocre people - one or two were extremely intelligent. Of course, there were a few jokers and many more passengers. I shall only single out some prominent members from both sides of the aisle - Lee Lam Thye, Leo Moggie, Dr Lim Chong Eu, Lim Kit Siang, Syed Nahar, Sopiee Sheikh Ibrahim, Aziz Yeop, Samy Vellu, K. Pathmanathan, Senu Abdul Rahman, Azahari Taib, Dr Tan Chee Khoon, Sanusi Junid and Dr Ling Liong Sik.