Pak Lah the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Not many people knew Datuk Sri Abdullah Hj.Ahmad Badawi until he came into the limelight as a young political leader in the late seventies. I think it is important that the general public especially the young, get some insight of this man that is going to lead our country in this millennium. For the success and failure of a country and its people depend very much on who lead them and the understanding of the people toward him. We have been fortunate to have leaders, from the day we got our independence in 1957 to the present day, who have continuously provide dedicate leadership, that make the country prosperous and improved the quality of our life.
Like any episode in the human history change is inevitable, so as can be seen we are in the process of a change in leadership of this great country. Dr.Mahathir Mohamad has decided to leave the political scene and in his place his deputy Datuk Sri Abdullah Hj.Ahmad Badawi has taken his place as the PM of this country. This is my contribution to this man that I know well from the time we were youth and continue to follow his achievement with great respect.
For all of us who were fortunate to have the opportunity to serve with and under the direct leadership of Abdullah Hj.Ahmad, we all knew from day One that Abdullah Hj.Ahmad [he was know then by this name] would go places. During the period of Mageran [National Operation Council] when the country’s parliament was suspended after the 13th May 1969 incident, Abdullah Hj.Ahmad was nominated by the late Tun Abdul Razak, the then PM to head the new revamp Youth Division of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports. The year was 1972. The incumbent Abdullah Malim Baginda who was the Youth Affair Officer at that time left to do his Master Degree in the UK. A working paper that I wrote proposing a development programme for rural youth, the Belia Peladang project brought me to the Youth Division in the Ministry CYS to work directly under the leadership of Datuk Sri Abdullah Hj.Ahmad Badawi. The first time I came to know Pak Lah is when I got a call in Malacca from him to say that I am transferred to the Ministry to work as one of his Assistant Director. I still remember the call I received from Abdullah whom I did not know at that time, the only thing I knew was that a new man has taken over as the new Director of Youth. I am surprise that as Director of a Division he did the call himself and spoke in a soft tone and very polite, which is not normal when a boss give directive to a subordinate. From the mid of July 1972 I work closely in the youth division under his leadership.
Under his competence leadership the new revamp Youth Division was full of synergy, with every officers that has been brought to assist him work diligently introducing new programmes for the development of rural youth. As young officer we were full of new ideas and all those ideas would have gone to waste if the leadership were not receptive with any new proposal. The working environment in the newly revamp Youth Division under the leadership of Abdullah was conducive to the developing of new projects for the development of rural youth. The Belia Peladang [Farm Youth Programme] soon became the core youth project in the rural area, where through this programme young Malay were taught management and programme planning and by doing so turn agriculture into an economic venture rather than only as subsistence for their daily living.
It was felt at that time that rural youth should be organised so that they would be able to play a more meaningful role in national development. It is during his tenure as the Director of Youth that new youth programmes was introduce and saw the increase of new youth clubs all over the country, which in turn increase the membership of youth clubs associated with MAYC and the Gerakan Belia 4 B, the Tamil Bell, YCW, The Hindu Youth and others, soar to not less the five hundred thousand. This development in the youth organisations eventually lead to the restructuring of the State Youth Council in all the states and the consolidation of the Malaysian Youth Council. These youth organisations soon became the breeding ground of new leaders who later on became know figure in political organisations. To get youth leaders to participate in nation building the National Youth Consultative Council was formed, which provide an avenue for the youth leaders to contributes their thoughts toward nation building. It also acts as means of getting feedback from the youth from the grass root all over the country. In a way the NYCC provide the young a chance to be involved indirectly in nation building. The NYCC still exist till today and have proven to be a great bridge between the government and the youth in general.
As leader of the Youth Division, Abdullah would travel all over the rural part of the country meeting youth at the balai raya in the kampong, officiating their Seminars and Workshops. And it is during this period that he was beginning to being refer to as Pak Lah, soon Pak Lah was know in the rural area from the remote kampong in Perlis to the distance one in Sabah and Sarawak. The reference to him as Pak Lah continued to this day even though he is now a Datuk Sri. I guessed this is how his grass root base was firmly established and became useful when he enter politic later on.
It was also during this period that non-Malay youth especially the Chinese both in the urban and the rural areas were encouraged to participate in youth club and play a more meaningful role in national development. And this lead to the formation of the Chinese youth club, call the Gerakan Belia Bersatu. Before this the Chinese youth were not interested in involving themselves in any youth programmes. The Formation of GBB lead to the development of new youth leaders among the Chinese youth and today most of those that was trained during that period are holding places of position in the country political organizations.
Later on we saw the introduction of new youth programmes such as the New Leadership and Motivation Programme, On the Job Training Programme and the Youth Award Programme call the Kurnia Belia Jaya. On the economic front base on a project paper that I wrote, a national youth coop call Kobena was formed [Kobena was registered on his birth day in November that year]. Then came his idea of getting youth in Business, for this purpose, together with Mara and NPC [National Productivity Centre] a programme call the EDP [Entrepreneur Development Programme] was introduced to train and develop new young entrepreneurs. For this purpose a special programme call the Youth in Business was introduce, this program have managed to create many successful young Malay entrepreneur. The National Youth Training Centre at Dusun Tua, the Pelupor Negara pioneered by Shukor Ali was reoganised and an additional wing call the Pembina Negara was added. This institution trained thousand of rural youth in various vocational and leadership skills to meet the need of the labour market at that time. It continues to churn thousand and thousand of skill and well disciplined youth for the labour market till this day. Like Dr.Mahathir, Abdullah is also a leader with vision. It is because of his contribution as Director of Youth in the seventies that saw the emergence of young entrepreneurs in the economic sector and new leaders in all level of society especially in Youth and various political organisations in the country today. Who say he has no vision?
Under his leadership in the Youth Division and later as Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry, he gave us, the young officers the opportunity to contribute our thoughts toward making this country a better place to live. Officers like Sukver Singh and the late Yap Yong Yih work diligently to write working papers on projects with the initial input came from Abdullah himself. The working condition in the Youth Division was so good and conducive that working became more of a pleasure rather then a job, this lead to high productivity. Together with his able deputy Datuk Suffian Rahim, we soon became part of a think-tank in the youth division at that time. During the period where punch card was unheard of, it was normal at that time for officers to stay back after office hours and remain with him to brainstorm on a project paper. He would listen to every argument and in the end made decision that was to became policy decision of a given projects.
Abdullah at that time was just thirty plus years old and most of us were a bit older then him but it does not make any different to us as we all accepted him as an able leader. As a leader he was always with ideas and also willing to listen to young officers who have ideas, most of the time he would ask those officers to write working papers and this paper would be brainstormed at a session either after office house or at a seminar. As young officers, we soon became workolic-doing work without caring for the numbers of hours we work daily, going home around six in the evening was almost a norm during the time we were working under his leadership. Since we were also extension officer, attending youth meeting and functions in the rural area on Saturday and Sunday as well as after office hours was a normal part of our duties, we work without complain under his leadership. The main reason being that he was also in the forefront in the extension service, working was indeed a pleasure.
When riot broke out at the campus of the University of Malaya in the early seventies, and the students took over the campus for days, it was Abdullah that went to the campus to defused the explosive situation in the campus, The campus problems was settled amicable and the University was returned to normal without the lost of life and damaged to property. The leadership and the skill in negotiation by Abdullah with student’s leader save the day.
Another thing that I should mention that though he was brought up under strict Islamic principal and did Islamic studies while in the University, his understanding of the religion was never narrow, for he was a broad minded person, full of knowledge and wisdom. Despite being younger then us he was always one up, I guessed that what a leader should be. As for the command of language, his English was superb. And because of his good command of both the BM and English, he was able to articulate well locally and at international level. It was because of his able presentation in international forums that Malaysia was given a leadership role in organisations such as the Commonwealth Youth Programme and the Asian Youth Assembly. Both these organisations now have it base in Malaysia.
I should also add that like Dr.Mahathir, Abdullah is a good family man. I guess this is one aspect that makes a leader, great and well respected. To all Malaysian we are once again fortunate to have as our leader an intelligent and a man of wisdom, let us give him our full support. With that, Pak Lah… tahniah, syabas, teruskan perjuangan… I am sure that you would succeed. We are all with you.
Idrus Abu Bakar
[Retired Senior Cultural, Youth & Sports Officer]
Ampang, Selangor, Malaysia [ October 31, 2003 ]