Remembering Tun Abdul Razak: “Putting People First”

January 14, 2014

Remembering Tun Abdul Razak: “Putting People First”

by Nazir Razak@

Nazir Razak2…there are signs that inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic tensions are once again approaching worrying levels. What can be done? There is a Malay proverb: “Sesat di Hujung Jalan, Balik ke-Pangkal Jalan.” Loosely translated, it means “When one has lost one’s way, one should return to the beginning.”… And “the beginning” here, in my view, is the values, commitment, vision and inclusiveness demonstrated and embodied by Tun Razak.–Nazir Razak

Thirty-eight years ago today, on January 14, 1976, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein passed away in London from complications wreaked by leukaemia.

Malaysia lost its Prime Minister. I lost my father. Malaysia (Malaya) was 19. I was nine. The days immediately after were shrouded in personal sorrow and national mourning.My four brothers and I sought to comfort our mother, while the public and heartfelt outpouring of grief throughout the country served as a resounding reminder that we were not alone in our time of tragedy.

I must confess that given my age and my father’s hectic schedule, I sometimes lament the factTunrazak14_300_575_100 that he gave so much to the country, leaving too little for his family. However, I have never wavered from being enormously proud of his selfless dedication to our young nation.

I did not get the time to know him. But imprinted in me are the values he imparted, the integrity that he insisted upon, above all. Yes, above all, including his family.

I recall the time when my brothers and I approached him one evening and asked that a swimming pool be built at Seri Taman, the Prime Minister’s residence where we lived.

The lawyer that he was, he insisted that we make our case with logical and rational arguments. We did so, and thought we had presented the argument pretty well, until we noticed his face had started to darken, and the eyes flashed with annoyance.

My father made it abundantly clear that while Seri Taman may be our home, the house belonged to the government and, hence, to the people. Anything spent on it would have to come from public funds, and there was no way he was going to allow the state coffers to be depleted on something as frivolous as a swimming pool.

“What will the people think?” he thundered. In my years of growing up, I actively sought to hear from people who knew my father well, including those who had worked with him in government, politics, the Merdeka movement and so on as well as his personal friends.

It was my only way of getting to know him. What stood out for me was that in almost every conversation I had about him, the qualities they always referenced were his values.

As the custodian of the nation’s coffers, his frugality was legendary.”You had to account for every cent, or he would be on your back,” one former Minister told me. Well, I knew that already. Not just from the swimming pool episode, but many anecdotes.

My elder brothers often talk about one of the rare opportunities they had to accompany him on an official trip to Switzerland.He made sure he paid their expenses himself, he was so careful with the cost of the trip to the government that he moved his whole entourage to a cheaper hotel than originally booked, and they dined over and over again at the cheapest restaurant in the vicinity of the hotel.

And then there was his final trip to Europe in October 1975 for medical treatment. He must have known that it could well be his last trip, yet he did not allow my mother to accompany him to save his own money; probably concerned about her financial situation after his passing.

She only managed to join him weeks later on the insistence of the cabinet and with a specially approved government budget for her travel.

His integrity was another trait that came up often in conversations. He was guided by what now seems a somewhat quaint and old-fashioned concept of public service; that a public servant is first and foremost a servant of the people whose trust must never be betrayed.

The other point that kept being repeated was his stamina. Many were later astonished to learn he had been suffering from leukaemia, given that when in office, he was constantly on the move, attending to official duties, immersing himself in the minutiae of policy and, of course, his famous surprise visits to constituencies around the country that allowed him to hear directly from the people about what was happening on the ground.

Of course, few people forget to recount Tun Razak’s dedication to rural development. He was “People First”, long before the sound bite.

But above all, what they unanimously emphasised was Tun Razak’s commitment to national unity – towards building a nation where every single one of its citizens could find a place under the Malaysian sun.

That vision was encapsulated in the two initiatives that my father spearheaded in the wake of the May 13, 1969 tragedy – the formulation of the Rukunegara in 1970 and the New Economic Policy in 1971.

The Rukunegara reconciled indigenous cultural traditions and heritage with the demands of a modern, secular state.

The NEP‘s goal, as outlined in the policy announcement, was the promotion of national unity to be undertaken via a massive experiment in socio-economic engineering through the twin thrusts of eradication of poverty irrespective of race and economic restructuring to eliminate identification of economic function with ethnicity.

The debate on the NEP rages on today. I myself have publicly remarked that something has gone awry in its implementation.The fixation on quotas and the seemingly easy route to unimaginable wealth for a select few have created an intra-ethnic divide in class and status, while fuelling inter-ethnic tensions. Both these developments serve to undermine, if not completely negate, the overarching goal of Tun Razak’s NEP, strengthening national unity.

What went wrong? Some have argued that the fault was affirmative action itself.  For me, it was because its implementation was skewed by the focus on the tactical approach rather than the commitment to the strategic goal.

The NEP has certainly helped eradicate poverty and reduced economic imbalances by spawning a Malay middle class. However, in terms of the larger vision, the best that can be said about the NEP is that it initially helped blunt the edges of racial conflict in the aftermath of May 13.

Thanks in part to the NEP, Malaysia did not follow Sri Lanka, which became embroiled in decades of strife between the immigrant Tamils and the indigenous Sinhalese.That is no small achievement. But the NEP promise of strengthening national unity has not been realised.

In fact, there are signs that inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic tensions are once again approaching worrying levels. What can be done? There is a Malay proverb: “Sesat di Hujung Jalan, Balik ke-Pangkal Jalan.” Loosely translated, it means “When one has lost one’s way, one should return to the beginning.”

And “the beginning” here, in my view, is the values, commitment, vision and inclusiveness demonstrated and embodied by Tun Razak.

I have mentioned earlier the remarks about his integrity, commitment to the concept of public service and his vision of a progressive, prosperous and united Malaysia. But let me close here by emphasising two other highlights of his legacy.

One, he was a true democrat. Two years after running the country as head of the National Operations Council, he disbanded the committee and restored democratic rule.

He held virtually dictatorial power as the NOC chief, but his worldview and values rested on a foundation of democratic rule, not dictatorship. His decision-making style exemplified this as well: he brought in all who needed to be involved and engaged in a consultative discussion before any major decision was adopted.

He never excluded those with contrarian views, he encouraged multiplicity of opinions in order to have the best chance of making a right final decision.

Two, while he was committed to helping improve the material quality of life for the majority Bumiputeras to avert another “May 13”, he viewed this as a national prerogative rather than a racial one. That, to me, explains his determination to involve Malaysia’s best and brightest in this quest, regardless of their racial or ethnic origin.

Just check out those who served him and his administration back then. They were and are, Malaysians all, united in their determination to rebuild this nation from the ashes of May 13.

That was Tun Razak’s legacy to Malaysia. We can best honour it by returning to “Pangkal Jalan”.

* Datuk Seri Mohd Nazir Razak is the son of the second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, and a brother of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. He is Managing Director and Chief Executive of the CIMB Group..Photograph courtesy Nazir Razak

17 thoughts on “Remembering Tun Abdul Razak: “Putting People First”

  1. What a refreshing piece…and I am sure said from the heart. This son knows better…and we can only hope that it’s not too late for the older to see some sense …for the sake of this country that we love.

  2. Hahahahaha! Din & Pak bean! Hahahaha! Enjoy! Come to think it, it’s meant for Mahathir Mohamad but then Najib also can although the Come on Cleo more suitable for Najib

  3. Tun Razak was one of a kind. His son who is our Prime Minister today is not even a chip of the old block. As the late Tun was frugal, Najib is quite the opposite. He spends public funds as if there was no tomorrow. Frugality is alien to Najib. But then Najib does not have wife like Tun Rahah. Tun Razak was the embodiment of integrity and selfless dedication to duty. Najib, on the other hand, lacks the qualities of a leader. I congratulate Nazir for sharing some insights into the character and leadership qualities of Tun Razak. –Din Merican

  4. Nazir, was Najib adopted ? He seems to be just the opposite of your father ! All Najib need to do is follow Tun’s leadership qualities and he will be on safe ground . One other thing Nazir failed to mention was , after May 13 Tun organised ‘MUHIBBA PARTIES ‘ to rally the people to stay united and he was on the ground attending them and provided critical leadership to the people ! And we are stuck with his son Najib ! SIGH !

  5. i hope the PM reads what’s written by his younger brother on the frugality and other values of his late father. Beyond comparison and its like black and white.

  6. Then Nazir should be our Prime Minister instead of Najib judging solely by what he wrote. Is Nazir hinting at something or hitting at somebody ? He should make his position as clear as daylight. His brother’s tenure in office is no longer tenable. He has made a mockery to the great legacy of his late Dad. Enough is said for nothing good will be said of him.

  7. The advice from Nazir – if at all it was to be an advice for his big brother – comes a bit to late… Najib is beyond saving! He cannot “balik ke pangkal jalan” because he is “sesat” too far down the alleyway already… Might as well just have the YDP Agung dissolves the government and cabinet and form a council of leaders to include, amongst others:

    1. Tun Musa Hitam
    2.Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah
    3. Saifuddin Abdullah
    4. Rafizi Ramli
    5. Dr Afif Bahardin
    6. Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim
    7. Husam Musa
    8. Khalid Samad
    9. Mohamad Sabu
    10. Liew Chin Tong
    11. Tony Pua
    12. Anthony Loke
    13. Gobind Singh Deo
    10. Ambiga Sreenivasam
    11. Din Merican
    12. Tan Sri Zaman Khan

    and then set the new General Elections 6 months later….

  8. Frugal like the Malacca-born PAP leader and
    major architect of Singapore’s dramatic
    economic transformation Dr Goh Keng Swee.

  9. I believe Tun Razak to ultimately be a nationalist but this picture is too rosy. The real democrat, post Tunku Abdul Rahman, was really Dr. Ismail who argued for much was what has been credited by Nazir here. Razak was the person who brought back Mahathir into the party even though he was poison to Tunku, who played no small part to Razak’s rise and career and never blamed Razak even as Tunku fret and fought until his last dying breath of the Mahathir problem.

    Razak personal character itself is beyond reproach. He was responsible. He was accountable. He pretty much saw no future for Najib and the fact he was wrong, showed how thing had gone terribly wrong than what he had imagined.

    Its easy to say, if only Najib was more like his father. ITS NOT THE ISSUE. The root of the problem is in OURSELVES, the fact that we made Najib the leader when his own father thought it impossible. WE MADE IT POSSIBLE – true we were manipulated to be posible but WE GOT MANIPULATED. WE ARE GUILTY OF THE FAILURE – ONLY WE CAN FIX THE PROBLEM, not look to any leaders be it Anwar, Hadi Awang, Rafizi, LGE or anyone else to fix it..

  10. If you look at it from another perspective, this family gave up a lot for the country during the father’s time, when the whole family could have lived a normal life in relative material comfort and enjoy the warmth of family-life.

    Now that the son is in office, he is taking this opportunity to recover what the family has lost … on all fronts, at the expense of the nation. In his mind, this is his right and is the right thing to do. The country has to give back what he and the family have lost, principal + interest.

    This is the most polite reason I can think of and write about the person who is currently siting in the prime minister’s chair.

  11. Sad. Both brothers probably know what is good for the country; But the power structure of UMNO is such that the leaders have to follow the followers. If UMNO leaders were to be fair and value-based, they will be booted out in no time. Sad. Real sad.

  12. I was fortunate to be able to serve Tun Razak as his Press Secretary. He was a man of the people and to him it had always been the people first and last. He was very prudent with government expenditure and preferred to remain in the country to be with the people and listening to their problems. To him, the problem was in the country and not outside.
    He was a true son of the soil.
    Ahmad Mustapha Hassan

  13. I am not sure Tun Razak is a kind PM as compared with Tunku, or better still Tun Dr Ismail but Tun Razak is definitely the most competent malay politician in Malaysia since Independence. Too bad that he passed away too soon. I meant what he may have achieved if he were still alive till now.

    Tun Ismail would have brought back the rule of law in Malaysia if he were still alive till now.

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