July 19, 2017
April 17, 2017
The Passing of Othman Wok: A Patriot whose courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore
Note: It was my good fortune to have worked with Mr. (Pak) Othman Wok when we together with Mr. Neville Watson were fellow directors of Sime Sembawang Limited, which was engaged in the fabrication of oil rigs and platforms for oil and gas sector. As a director, Pak Othman brought his vast experience to bear on deliberations of our Board. He was friendly and helpful to me, offering personal advice about building commercial networks based on trust and integrity. I shall miss him and offer Al-Fatihah in his memory. To Ibu Wok and family, Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I convey our heartfelt and sincere condolences.
I was also grateful that I had the chance to work with Mr. Eddie Barker, Professor Tan Sri Maurice Baker, Mr. Michael Wong Pakshong and Pak Ridzwan Dzafir on the Board of Sime Darby Singapore Limited (1988-1991). They were outstanding individuals who served Singapore with distinction. They all touched my life and made a huge difference to my career with Sime Darby.–Din Merican
Mr Othman Wok, a former Cabinet minister and one of Singapore’s first generation of leaders, died on Monday (Apr 17) at the age of 92.
A journalist, union leader, politician and Ambassador, Mr Othman’s courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore at a critical time in its history, said the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Born in 1924, Mr Othman was the son of a Malay school principal. Despite objections from his grandfather, his progressive father sent the young Othman to Radin Mas School and Raffles Institution – both English-medium schools.
Mr Othman joined the Utusan Melayu, a Malay-language newspaper as a clerk, but was soon talent-spotted and offered a job as a cub reporter by its editor and managing director Mr Yusof Ishak, the man who was to become Singapore’s first President.
Mr Othman Wok in his youth.
While Mr. Othman was working for Utusan Melayu, he became involved in union activities, and it was as Secretary of the Singapore Printing Employees Union that he first met Mr Lee Kuan Yew – the union’s legal advisor.
Persuaded to enter politics, he joined the People’s Action Party (PAP) a few days after it was formed in 1954. Mr Othman won his first electoral battle in 1963, but was to learn that achieving racial harmony was easier said than done.
Following Singapore’s merger with Malaysia, racial tensions between the Malay and Chinese communities, stoked by fiery speeches by extremist Malay leaders from Kuala Lumpur, came to a head during the 1964 procession to celebrate the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday.
“UMNO had a meeting on July 19 at Pasir Panjang, (a) talk about racialism and all that by Jaafar Albar. He made a very strong communal speech at that gathering which included UMNO members from across the Causeway that they ferried down to Singapore by buses and lorries,” recalled Mr Othman. “And these people, after that meeting on the 19th, didn’t go home … they were used to cause trouble.”
Mr Othman, who led the contingent of Malay MPs and PAP supporters at the procession, recalled how trouble broke out: “When my contingent arrived at Kallang Bridge, there was this old Chinese man on a bicycle, on the left side. Some Malay youths came from the front, caught hold of him, beat him up with sticks and threw his bicycle into the drain. He was severely injured.”
For the rest of Mr Othman’s life, the horrific images would return whenever he shared his experiences.
“People were being beaten up, houses were being burnt, vehicles being burnt – all pictured in my mind at that time. I was involved in it, I saw it with my own eyes,” he said. “It is just like a film being played again and again to me. I was very sad. This is racial riot between the communities, the Chinese and the Malays. And before that they were very friendly.”
In the aftermath of the riots, it was clear that concerted and strenuous efforts were needed to rebuild relationships between the races, as racial polarisation was evident, even at relief centres.
“The Chinese didn’t go to where the Malays went – the police station; they went to other police stations, so became segregated again,” said Mr Othman. “And my ministry had to prepare food for these refugees. Every day we cooked, in our central kitchen, and I went around in our lorries together with my staff, and we found that for example, I went to Paya Lebar Police Station, they were all Malays there, no Chinese. Then I went to another police station, Serangoon at that time, they were all Chinese there, no Malays.
“So we decided after the riots that this should not go on – polarisation between the two communities. We had to let them live together. So at that time, we (were) building flats so we moved them, mixed (them) together. It was not an easy thing to do but eventually they began to learn how to live as good neighbours.”
At the height of the 1964 tensions, Mr Othman himself became the principal target of verbal abuse among some segments of the Malay-Muslim community.
The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said of Mr Othman: “I remember your staunch loyalty during those troubled days when you were in Malaysia and the tensions were most severe, immediately before and following the bloody riots in July 1964.
“At that time, the greatest pressures were mounted by UMNO Malay extremists who denounced you and Malay PAP leaders – especially you – as infidels, “kafirs” and traitors, “khianat”, not to Singapore but to the Malay race.
“I heard it, the crowds said it, bunches of them. They were designed to intimidate him and the other Malay leaders in PAP. Because of the courage and the leadership you showed, not one PAP Malay leader wavered and that made a difference to Singapore.”
On the incident, Mr Othman simply said: “I was surprised, because not only I, but my Malay colleagues in the PAP stood together and faced the onslaught together with the Prime Minister, because we were fighting for what we believed in.
“So that accolade to me, I thought, was also for my colleagues because they faced the same danger, they faced the same accusation and criticism from the Malay community at that time.”
Singapore’s Mr. Cool
Mr Othman’s loyalty to Singapore was tested again in 1965, when they were faced with the critical decision to support or oppose separation from Malaysia.
“PM called me. He said: ‘Othman, come with me to the next room.’ And he said to me: ‘Would you sign this separation agreement?’ I said I would. I told him: ‘PM, the only worry I have is the Chinese in Singapore – what I meant was the communists in Singapore.’ ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘It’s my problem, I will handle it. You have nothing to worry.’ That was what he said to me.
“But my feeling when it was announced was, internally, you know, relief. After those two years of bickering, the pressure on me, my colleagues, the Malays in the PAP, on the government, I say it was a relief. No more pressure against us.”
And the next year, when an independent Singapore held its first National Day Parade, Mr Othman made sure he was there – a proud member of the People’s Defence Force.
Mr Othman was to serve for 17 years, 14 of them as Minister for Social Affairs.Promoting racial harmony was a key responsibility, as was the promotion of sports among the masses and encouraging athletes to represent Singapore.
Said SS Dhillon, former Secretary-General of the Singapore Olympic Council: “Mr Othman Wok – I always to refer to him as Mr Cool. He has a very cool personality, he is very approachable, very kind, very loving and he used to go around sportsmen and coax them to participate. Train harder and he encouraged them in that way.”
It was also Mr Othman who got the National Stadium built. “When you think back to those times, those were very economically hard times, and yet he could push this through Parliament and get it passed,” said former Olympian sprinter C Kunalan. “So I think more importantly it was not how he fired us up but how he fired up the Cabinet to get the approval for all the plans that he had.”
“Always be loyal to your country. You’re a Singaporean, you will always be a Singaporean.”–Othman Wok
As Minister overseeing the Malay-Muslim community, Mr Othman’s legacy includes the setting up of the Mosque Building Fund as well as the Islamic Religious Council or MUIS, which sees to the welfare of Muslims in Singapore.
“Through this fund, we managed to build a first mosque at Toa Payoh,” said Mr Othman. “A modern, better, multi-purpose mosque, not like the old ones, only for prayer; (there were) other activities. And people came to support and it was not difficult to get people to contribute. We had the contribution by deducting their salaries, voluntarily if they wanted to, through the CPF. It started with S$0.50. They could write in to say: ‘I don’t want to contribute’, but the majority, all I think the Muslims who worked with the Government then, contributed and they were able to build one mosque after another.”
After retiring from active politics in 1980, Mr Othman served as Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia and also on the Singapore Tourism Board and Sentosa Development Corporation.
The born storyteller also published his collections of horror stories as well as his autobiography, Never In My Wildest Dreams.
But for the man who lived through the race riots of the 1960s, unity among Singaporeans was an enduring mission, and Mr Othman continued to serve well into his 80s, giving talks on National Education to civil servants.
“Even with this terrorism problem, some of these young people do not take it seriously because it has not happened in Singapore,” said Mr Othman. “The test will come when a bomb explodes in Singapore, people are killed … What happens, do we tighten our bonding, become a united front of faith or we disintegrate? This is the test that we have to face if the real thing happens. I hope not. Because today when there are disasters in other countries, Singapore came together to help. I am sure were this to happen in Singapore, we will get together, to face it and solve it. I have that confidence.”
He added: “Always be loyal to your country. You’re a Singaporean, you will always be a Singaporean.”
Mr Othman leaves his wife and four daughters.
March 9, 2017
Fond Farewell to my good friend, Phang Tat Cheam
I was shocked and saddened today to learn on Facebook of the passing of Phang Tat Cheam. He was 82. My friendship with Phang goes back a long way to the 1960s when I was with Ismail Md. Ali’s Bank Negara.
We kept in constant touch as I used to meet up with him at the Lake Club and the Royal Selangor Golf Club. He was a keen golfer and fierce competitor on the links. He enjoyed listening songs of Fifties and Sixties. His favourite female vocalist is Joni James, who is also mine. He enjoyed Dean Martin, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Cliff Richard, and others of our generation.
Phang, you will be missed. So today, in my tribute to your memory, I am honored to present Joni James with some of her popular tunes.
May you rest in peace,my dear friend and fellow Malaysian. You and I never let our ethnicity and religion come between us. I know how sad you are to see a divided nation as you leave this world. You and I never expected to witness our country become a failed and corrupt nation under Prime Minister Najib Razak. That said Phang, I will never forget you for your counsel, compassion, generosity and optimism.
To his bereaved family, my wife Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I convey our heartfelt condolences on the untimely demise of Phang Tat Cheam.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican
March 3, 2017
The Passing of a Legendary Actor, Director and Film Maker–Tan Sri Dr. Jins Shamsuddin
Approximately 1,000 people turned today up to bid farewell to legendary actor Jins Shamsuddin at his funeral.
According to Bernama, family members, fellow artistes and friends converged at the cemetery to pay their last respects to the Malay film hero.
The late movie veteran was buried at 10.30am at the Masjid Al Ridhuan cemetery, Hulu Kelang, after preparations at his residence in Kampung Pasir and prayers at the mosque.
Utusan Online reported that veterans in the entertainment field, such as DJ Dave, Norman Hakim, Yusof Haslam, Ahmad Nawab, Fauzi Ayob, Zaiton Sameon and M Nasir, were present. Also present at the cemetery was Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri.
Jins, 81, died yesterday at a clinic in Taman Melawati, according to his son Putera Hang Jebat. Putera Hang Jebat said his father complained of difficulty breathing when having tea at home and was rushed to the clinic at 5.45pm.
Jins leaves behind a wife, Halijah Abdullah and three sons, Jefri Jins, Putera Hang Jebat and Putera Hang Nadim.
‘Strict, but also loving’
Putera Hang Jebat, 30, described his father as a strict disciplinarian when dealing with his children.
“My father was serious about matters involving our education. He was strict, but was also loving,” he told reporters when met at the cemetery, Bernama reported.
Putera Hang Jebat said Jins had always hoped that more local artistes would further their studies in the arts to take the Malaysian arts industry to a higher level.
“My father wanted local artistes to be knowledgeable,” just like him, who has a PhD degree.
Meanwhile, actor Zul Ariffin, 31, described the death of Jins Shamsuddin as a big loss to the Malaysian film industry. “I learned a lot of acting from him, although we never acted together. Jins Shamsuddin is my mentor,” Zul added.
Film hero who became politician
Mohamed Jins Shamsuddin was born on November 5, 1935, in Taiping, Perak. The Malay film hero subsequently went into politics and was a two-term senator, from 2004 to 2011.
He was awarded the Seniman Negara (National Artiste) by the government in 2009 for his contribution to the development of the Malaysian film industry.
The late actor starred in more than 40 movies, including ‘Sarjan Hassan’, ‘Gerak Kilat’, ‘Si Tanggang’, ‘Bukan Salah Ibu Mengandung’ and ‘Sumpah Wanita’.
Among his directorial efforts are the classics ‘Bukit Kepong’, ‘Ali Setan’, ‘Menanti Hari Esok’, ‘Esok Masih Ada’ and ‘Balada’. Jins career took off in 1950 and lasted until the 70s. In his early years, Jins received the support of national legend P Ramlee.
January 19, 2017
The Passing of my friend Manan Othman
COMMENT: Al-Fatihah. I am deeply saddened to learn this morning via Malaysiakini-– the web- paper I follow closely daily without fail for its bold, fair, accurate and timely reporting– of the passing of my friend Manan Othman (pic above).
I am always affected when men and women of my generation die. This is because I am reminded on my own mortality. At the same time, their passing urges me to use my remaining years in the service of humanity, in the pursuit of peace, stability and economic and intellectual development in ASEAN and Cambodia. For that, most people, especially cynics, will say that I am a dreamer. Anyway, here I am doing my bit at The Techo Sen School of Government and Internati0nal Relations, The University of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.
I knew Manan in the 1970s. At that time, he was with SEDC Terengganu. He rose to prominence in Malaysian politics as a member of UMNO 1946. Manan got his chance at public office when Tun Hussein Onn was our Prime Minister. He was a loyal supporter of YBM Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and because of that he paid a heavy political price for siding with Ku Li.
After 1987 when Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad consolidated power after beating Ku Li for the Presidency of UMNO, and formed UMNO Baru, Manan was sidelined. As a result, we lost an able UMNO Minister for good. All UMNO ministers today with the exception of Dato Seri Mustapha Mohamed, our MITI Minister, pale in comparison.
My wife Datin Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I wish to convey our deepest c0ndolences to his widow, Datin Nora Abu Hassan, their three children and eight grandchildren on his passing. Fond farewell, Manan, and thanks for your friendship and generous counsel.–Din Merican
Former Agriculture Minister Abdul Manan Othman died while undergoing treatment for a lung infection at the Gleneagles Hospital, Ampang, at 7.12pm yesterday. He was 81.
His eldest son, Nadzrin, 53, said his father was admitted to the hospital on Monday after falling unconscious.
Speaking to Bernama when met at his residence in Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur, Nadzrin said the funeral prayers would be held at Masjid Bukit Damansara before he was laid to rest at the Bukit Kiara Muslim cemetery at 10am today.
Abdul Manan was Agriculture Minister from 1980 to 1984 and had held the posts of Deputy Primary Enterprises Minister, Deputy Trade and Industry Minister and Primary Enterprises Minister before that.
He leaves behind wife Nora Abu Hassan, 78, three children and eight grandchildren.
January 11, 2017
‘We have lost a great son of Sarawak’
Netizens, including politicians, speak highly of the Sarawak chief minister who died at 1.20pm today.
By popular acclaim, the late Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, was a strong leader who stood up for the rights of all Sarawakians. He will be sorely missed. Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I wish to express our heartfelt condolences to his bereaved family.
His passing will no doubt have decisive impact on the politics of this fiercely nationalistic state. My inclination on this sad day is to dedicate Al-Fatihah to the Late Tan Sri and pray (doa) that there will be a smooth transfer of power. I also hope that Sarawak will have a successor Chief Minister who will be strong enough like Tun Taib Mahmud and Tan Sri Adenan to resist any move by UMNO to establish a branch in Sarawak.–Din Merican
Tributes have begun pouring in from netizens, including politicians, following the news that Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem passed away at 1.20pm today.
Many Twitter users spoke highly of the PBB President. Sarawak United Peoples Party (SUPP) president and local government minister Sim Kui Hian said: “We have lost a great son of Sarawak who devoted his whole life to the rakyat.”
Political leaders from the Barisan Nasional poured out their grief on Twitter with Prime Minister Najib Razak revealing that he would be heading to Sarawak.
MCA president Liow Tiong Lai echoed similar sentiments saying: “Malaysia lost a great leader today.”
Deputy Education Minister P Kamalanathan tweeted: “Greatly shocked. Great loss to all #Malaysians. My sincere condolences to the family and the people of Sarawak.”
Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin expressed condolences to Adenan’s wife Jamilah, family and Sarawakians. Sabah lawmaker Rahman Dahlan said Adenan’s struggles for a better Sarawak would be continued.
“Our sincere condolences to the family members of CM Adenan & the people of Sarawak. His struggles for a better Sarawak will be carried on.”
The public, too, have been taking to Twitter to express their condolences over Adenan’s passing. One user with the Twitter handle Ahmad Tarmidzi described Adenan as a true Sarawakian fighter.
“He fought for us, Sarawakians,” he tweeted, adding that he prayed the senior politician would be placed with the pious.
Another user Miz_PhinzSJ said it was a sad day for Sarawak because the state had “lost a good leader”. Meanwhile, Twitter user syazwan said Adenan was his own man.“I actually like Adenan Satem. He is more his own man than I thought he would be as CM. Great loss.”