110 years ago today our first Prime Minister was born, and normally my colleagues and I would be hosting an anniversary event with the blood and ideological descendants of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra at his former residence (now memorial), because we chose the same date three years ago to formally launch IDEAS.
At that launch event Tunku’s great-granddaughter Sharyn Shufiyan and political ally Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah gave us accounts of their relationship with the first Prime Minister, before Tunku Khadijah Tunku Abdul Rahman gave a personal tour of the house in which she used to live.
Our first anniversary event in 2011 included recollections by former cabinet minister Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir and a panel discussion comparing the economic policy of the first Prime Minister to the current, as well as the publication of a pamphlet of some of the Tunku’s quotes. That is when it became clear that a few prominent organisations had no qualms in condemning what they saw as Tunku’s weakness in being “too soft” on non-Malay Malayans.
Our second anniversary event in 2012 took a similar format, as Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim reminisced about his family’s Kedahan connections with Bapa Kemerdekaan, before former Chief Justice Tun Dzaiddin Abdullah spoke about the rule of law followed by a panel discussion comprising PKR’s Nurul Izzah Anwar, UMNO’s Dato’ Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Bar Council President Lim Chee Wee and Anis Yusal Yusoff from UKM’s Institute of Ethnic Studies.
This year, however, we are too busy preparing for the general election observation mission. After months of negotiation, IDEAS and other civil society organisations were formally presented with appointment letters by the Election Commission Chairman. The official website – www.pemerhati.my – has detailed information, but our first priority is to recruit volunteers who will be on the ground to check nomination, polling, counting and tabulation. Those who would like to be a part of this should email email@example.com. Some continue to accuse us of being cronies of the EC, but I encourage these people in particular to become volunteers so they can focus their energies on ensuring the cleanliness of the election instead. If they like, they can still accuse of being cronies of the EC afterwards.
Another anniversary was celebrated this week: in 1963 the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan Tuanku Munawir officiated the opening of Shell’s refinery at Port Dickson, and on Tuesday my elder brother and I toured the facility still run by the quaintly-named Shell Refining Company (Federation of Malaya) Berhad.
My knowledge of the petroleum industry is rather limited, but the briefing by the Managing Director Rozano Saad and his team was most comprehensive. First we got an overview of the history of Shell here (they commenced operations in the Straits Settlements in 1891 and struck oil in Miri in 1910 courtesy of a well called the Grand Old Lady), before talking about the more strategic aspects of its upstream and downstream operations and finally, the more technical side of things. As I have not sat in a chemistry classroom since 1998, I had to clarify several terms the engineers referred to. But I now understand the significance of the refinery’s new Hijau project which is soon to go live – it will enable the refinery to vary its feedstock options, increase diesel production and improve refining margins.
After a brief stop at the 2 kilometre purpose-built jetty, there was lunch, commemorating Shell’s 50 Years with the Community. Of course, there was a video that all big corporates now have to prove their corporate social responsibility credentials. This one featured a large number of testimonials from community leaders saying positive things about Shell. Away from company representatives, however, I asked for unabridged sentiments. A resident of Kampung Hailam told me that Shell had donated fire extinguishers to villagers just months before a lightning-induced blaze actually occurred. An elderly gentleman from Kampung Arab essentially credited the entire economic development of the area to the oil giant, while another said that three generations of his family had worked at Shell. Wow: this is the kind of relationship that must be the envy of many other big corporates, like those chaps wanting to open a rare earths plant in Pahang.
During his lunchtime speech, the Tunku Besar Seri Menanti pulled out a well-preserved programme book and photos from the launch event 50 years ago, which got the senior staff and community leaders into reminiscing mode for the rest of the afternoon. PD can be sure of Shell for a while more, it seems.
The feelings and inspiration triggered by the past can be powerful indeed. Alas, I have rarely seen public sector employees express such institutional loyalty and motivation compared to what I saw from these private sector employees.
Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz is President of IDEAS