MELAKA – Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA), established on March 1, 1966, had always been special to the late Tun Abdul Ghafar Baba who was the sixth deputy prime minister as the agency had served as an important platform to boost economic development of the Malays.
Melaka State Assembly Speaker Datuk Othman Muhamad, who was a close political friend to Abdul Ghafar, said the statesman was willing to give up his chief minister post to become the first MARA chairman in 1967.
He said Abdul Ghafar, who was also Melaka’s second chief minister beginning from June 1, 1959, made the decision to safeguard the welfare of the Malays as he believed MARA was capable of improving their economic situation.
“Che Ghafar chose to step down as chief minister for the MARA chairman post because at that time he saw the Malays were being left behind in the economic field, as compared to other races, to the extent that they had no capital to start a business and no money to acquire knowledge,” he told Bernama.
MARA was established under an Act of Parliament as a statutory and autonomous body, following the restructuring of Rural Industrial Development Authority (RIDA) or Village and Industrial Development Board which was introduced by the British in 1953.
Othman, 65, said Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj who was then the prime minister actually recommended that Abdul Ghafar assumed both positions and proposed that MARA be located in the state to facilitate Abdul Ghafar in carrying out his duties.
“However Che Ghafar declined as it was burdensome but Tunku (Abdul Rahman) thought Che Ghafar had refused the MARA chairmanship so he asked him who he would propose for the post.
“Instead Che Ghafar replied he would be MARA chairman as he knew through MARA he could help the Malays. He was a true leader who was willing to sacrifice in the interests of the people,” he added.
Othman who worked together with Abdul Ghafar in UMNO for 18 years said the first thing Abdul Ghafar did was to set up MARA’s first office in Melaka before building the MARA bazaar in Padang Nyiru here in the same year.
He said Abdul Ghafar had always advised the Malays not to end up as ‘itik kehausan di dalam air’ a Malay proverb which means to suffer despite all the opportunities and resources that were available around them.
“At that time the Malays were not independent, so the government had to assist them through MARA which was a pillar for the Malays and for that Che Ghafar had held dearly to MARA,” he said.
Abdul Ghafar, who was born on Feb 18, 1925 in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan spent 60 years of his life in politics with Melaka UMNO.
He died on April 23, 2006 at the age of 81 years due to heart, lung and kidney complications.