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
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 )