MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Thursday, August 4, 2022

An eulogy to Khalid Ibrahim - a great boss, person and politician

Malaysia has lost a statesperson.

Abdul Khalid Ibrahim passed away peacefully at Cardiac Vascular Sentral Kuala Lumpur (CVSKL) last Sunday, July 31, in the presence of his family members - his wife, four children and two grandsons. He had been hospitalised since April 23 for a viral infection and other complications. He was 75.

By the consent of the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, Abdul Khalid was buried at the Shah Alam Royal Mausoleum near the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque, during which thousands of well-wishers came to pay their last respects to the former Selangor menteri besar.

My deep gratitude to his highness as his consent is akin to the recognition of Abdul Khalid’s service, contribution and hard work for the people of Selangor.

The late Abdul Khalid was a special person to many. More so to those who had worked with him. I was fortunate enough to be part of his team in Selangor between 2008 and 2015. To his staff, he was a principled no-nonsense leader - unpretentious and hardworking.

His favourite word in his speeches and interviews was accountability. It’s not mere lip service but something he practised in all his decisions. Although he was dear to his family and close friends, as the menteri besar, he was very strict, and he always spoke his mind. He never compromised when it came to corruption, and political colleagues who approached him with “business ideas” were always declined.

I remember how I had to deal with a senior official of a state subsidiary who wanted to present him with a list of unsold bungalow lots in Selangor. Attempts for a meeting were denied, and the officer approached me.

These lands have been offered to the board of directors at a special discounted price, and the menteri besar is given a special preview to buy land lots of his choice. So, in one of my daily meetings, I passed him the list.

To cut the story short, I was given a dressing down on corruption, transparency, insider trading and illegal privileges. My defence that I was a mere postman was dismissed, and I was punished and made to draft a letter reprimanding the CEO for allowing dishonest privileges. Thereafter, I have been wary of any letter or proposals.

Abdul Khalid also disliked political gimmicks. When calamities took place, I often requested that he pays the victims a visit with some token or donation. Often, he gave me strange looks.

“Rescue work gets delayed by at least 30 minutes when VIPs come. Officials will be attending to me instead of doing real work,” he said.

In cases involving fatalities, he preferred calling for immediate meetings with senior officials and made his visits a day or two later. He cringed whenever I mentioned spot-checks with media presence.

“Not my style,” he said.

Managing the media

An old-timer, Abdul Khalid preferred “getting his hands dirty” to express his sincerity to the people. During his years as a state assemblyperson in both Ijok and Port Klang, he walked for miles and miles around his constituencies to share mandarin oranges with the rakyat during Chinese New Year.

During Hari Raya celebrations, he would call for kids to form queues and stand for hours giving duit raya. During festivities, he obliged anyone who stopped him for photos. During Christmas, he was more popular than Santa Claus. I learned being simple was his style.

His simple ways also made it easy to manage media relations. He was always friendly with journalists and rarely had qualms answering their questions. We had some tough times with mainstream media then, and there were calls from PKR to ban journalists from Utusan Malaysia and TV3.

I told him about it, and he asked for my opinion. I shared my experience while working with Malaysiakini, whose reporters were once treated like pariahs during Umno events, and I believe no media should face such rude behaviour. He quickly agreed, and that was the end of the discussion.

There was one incident where he fell asleep during a press conference due to low sugar levels, and it appeared on the afternoon news on TV. I was so upset then, but he was the one who calmed me down.

“If they ask me, I will tell them I’m only human. I get sick sometimes. So, it’s okay.”

Great politician

Countless times I hear people say Abdul Khalid ‘is a good man and a great administrator but a lousy politician’. This purportedly sealed his fate of being cast out by his party, PKR. I beg to differ. He was a great politician.

After all, he is the only leader who successfully led the Selangor government consisting of PKR, DAP and PAS state representatives. For six years, the three parties sat as a united coalition and made decisions together without forgoing their respective interests. During that time, Abdul Khalid not only managed and guided them but also listened to their endless complaints and mediated internal conflicts.

Despite all the intense criticisms, attacks, and accusations both from the opposition and within PKR, he recorded the highest state reserves in 26 years, attracted record-breaking investments into the state and created 123,000 jobs! He settled development problems, including abandoned public housing projects, improved land ownership transfers, and set up an RM100 million grant for social welfare programmes under the Merakyatan Ekonomi Selangor tagline.

Abdul Khalid worked hard to de-privatise the Selangor water industry, which was previously controlled by concessionaires that made sinful profits at the rakyat’s expense. From zero, he succeeded in reclaiming all water assets belonging to the state, worth RM12.9 billion, which was charged to the National Water Services Commission (Span) to finance the takeover of the concessionaires.

It was a long and tedious process, but he did it. The discussions and meetings at different levels were exhausting, and yet during each meeting that he led, Abdul Khalid was always alert and on top of things. He had a five-stage plan, but he completed only the first stage when he was sacked by PKR. His dream of giving water shares to all households that pay water bills could not be fulfilled.

Just before the 2013 general election, a study on public perception of the state government and his popularity rate was above most Pakatan Rakyat leaders then, including Anwar Ibrahim. Lousy politician? I think not.

‘National service’

I dare say none of the accusations levelled against him was true. His success rate in the defamation suits filed against his accusers is a hundred percent. He won every single one of them. Former youth leader Nazeri Yunus, ex-MACC chief Abu Kassim Mohamed, PKR leader Saifudin Nasution, Malaysian Insider editors Jahabar Sadiq and Amin Iskandar, former Umno leader Khir Toyo - all read out unreserved apologies in court for defamation.

Abdul Khalid’s achievements are well known. He was one of the pioneers who set up Amanah Saham Nasional, and it’s a journey that he passionately talked about.

He was often asked about his reasons for quitting a high-paying job with Baring Brothers, which was one of the respected investment companies back in the 70s to work for PNB. In one of his interviews, he said, “Of course I liked the luxury enjoyed by international bankers - well dressed, very good salary and good dining.

“I dealt with huge million dollar transactions. But I felt I needed to do something for Malaysia. I am very proud of my achievements. I was given scholarships from my school days until wherever I was last studying.

“So, I thought I should go and offer my national service. That’s the reason why I went to PNB,” he said.

I’ve heard him talk about (Guthrie) Dawn Raid so many times to many people. How he was part of the team within PNB that took the world by surprise by taking over Guthrie. All stories would include how hard he and his team worked to prepare for that crucial 10 minutes of stock exchange drama to make it happen. Working hard was always his style.

Abdul Khalid was well-liked by most people, no matter where he went, because of his dedication and hard work. Years ago, I attended a wedding in Bukit Jelutong and chatted with a security guard who used to work at Guthrie.

"Zaman Tan Sri di Guthrie, dia kedekut. Tak boleh belanja senang-senang membazir. Tapi pada zaman dia bonus kami banyak. Dia kerja kuat, jadi kami pun kerja kuat (During Tan Sri's time in Guthrie, he was thrifty. Can't simply spend and waste money. But during his time, we had great bonuses. He worked hard, so we worked hard too)."

Best boss

On a personal level, Abdul Khalid was easygoing. He loved his grandson Ariff to bits, and they spent a lot of time together. He was super proud of all his children, Kak Siti, Iqbal, Wawa and Baby and their achievements. And his wife, Salbiah Tunut, was his benchmark for doing good things.

For his staff, he loved taking us out for makan. After he resigned as menteri besar, he would call out his ex-staff for moreh (supper) during Ramadan to catch up. It was like an annual reunion. He was always sharing Raya treats with us too. He may be stingy with the rakyat’s money but not with his own.

In his last few days before his demise, Abdul Khaild was visited by one of his ex-staff during PNB days, Elias Kadir, who said, “He was one of my best two bosses. He is a boss like no other.”

Indeed he is like no other. Farewell Tan Sri. You will be missed.

Ya Allah, forgive him and elevate his station among those who are guided. Send him along the path of those who came before, and forgive us and him, O Lord of the worlds. Enlarge for him his grave and shed light upon him in it. Amin ya rabbal alamin.  - Mkini

ARFA’EZA AB AZIZ was Abdul Khalid Ibrahim’s press secretary.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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