14 March 1999

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Firstly I was sent out of the Prime Minister's Department to the Ministry of Environment and Science, then detained and was released only when Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad became Prime Minister in July 1981.

Razak, despite his illustrious achievements, in his heart of hearts, always remained a kampung boy. Only a person with a soul such as his could have loved the desa - the rural area as he did. He came from it and went back regularly to his roots in Pekan which he represented in Parliament.

He was happiest amongst the rural folk. His eldest son, Datuk Seri Najib, 46, the Minister of Education, inherited the Pekan constituency from his father but not without much latent in fighting.

The chairman of the Pahang Umno Liaison Committee, Tan Sri Hamzah Abu Samah and the Mentri Besar of Pahang, Datuk Mohamad Jusoh, Najib's uncles through marriage, had other plans.

Abdullah Majid (Razak's parliamentary secretary), Khalil Akasah (Umno's executive secretary), and Umno leaders in Pekan ensured that Najib followed his father's footsteps.

I am also a kampung boy, from kampung Bandar Kok Lanas, Pulai Chondong in Kelantan, and still am in my heart. I feel as Razak did about the rural people. His deep concern for them was incredible; it was legendary He was the principal architect of the rural development which transformed the landscape.

Razak changed the rural people's attitude though it was not wholly successful. Until he started rural development in 1959, time had little meaning amongst the majority of kampung folk; often it appeared simply to stand still They led almost the same hard and poor lives as their ancestors.

Razak, his advisers and officials had to deal with Malay poverty deprivation and frustration almost on a daily basis. This deeply upset them. They called it a tragic paradox: Malaysia was (and is) rich, yet the majority of the population was poor, hopelessly unproductive and inefficient.

During the 14 years I worked closely for and with him, I knew Razak's feelings on this were deeply rooted. His response and passion were more out of his own experience of his early years in the kampung than ideological or philosophical abstractions, though as a law student in London, he did follow and was briefly attracted to the Labour Party and the Fabian society

Following the tragic race riots on May 13, 1969, Razak restructured the economy via the New Economic Policy (NEP). Like rural development, it was successful although again, it did not wholly meet the desired target.

However, the NEP was able to level up the Malays a bit. Mahathir managed to make them less unequal with other Malaysians but, alas, the outstanding achievement has temporarily suffered a major setback as a result of the Asian economic crisis.

While a more liberal decision to allow whoever was capable of doing business to go ahead is desirable, to do so without taking due consideration of the nation's social and political cohesion will invite potential threat to instability.

(Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad is our Special Envoy to the United States.)

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )