KUALA LUMPUR: Since becoming prime minister in 2009, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s work pace can only be described as punishing because there’s so much on his plate as he goes about tackling the nation’s woes especially during this period of weakening world economy.
Observers can’t help but liken his “workaholic” disposition to that of his father, second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein who died exactly 40 years ago at age 53.
Just on Saturday, Najib underwent a minor surgery for a benign growth on his right hand at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital.
The hospital in a statement said Najib went through the operation as an outpatient and had gone home.
While ordinary Malaysian workers might very well have taken a medical leave or popularly known as MC, Najib did not.
Malaysians and other well-wishers who were anxious to know of his health got this tweet from him: “I’m recovering well, thank you for the kind thoughts”.
His tweet was also directed at his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong for wishing him a speedy recovery.
Singaporeans at large showed concern and they, too, wished him a speedy recovery on Facebook, while describing him as the “friendliest person in Malaysia to Singapore”.
Lee broke the news to his 934,996 Facebook likers of Najib’s operation by saying he was glad that it went well, adding that : “Look forward to seeing him soon”.
Both prime ministers enjoy a relationship unique among current world leaders and the outcome of this has been that bilateral as well as people-to-people ties between the two neighbouring nations are on their strongest footing ever.
It’s unique because both their fathers, Tun Abdul Razak and Lee Kuan Yew were also contemporary prime ministers in the past, something no other current leaders of two countries had gone through.
Singaporeans, in wishing Najib a speedy recovery, also advised him not to worry too much and to concentrate on getting Malaysia onto the right footing while expressing their hopes for relations between the two countries to be strengthened and going forward.
A glowing tribute to Najib came from another Singaporean, Joseph Tan, who wrote: “In my assessment, he is by far the best PM for Malaysia to build on a win-win relationship with her closest neighbour, Singapore.
“May he will be able to manage and overcome the intense challenges of his office in the years ahead”.
These expressions from our neighbours actually are genuine for they have seen how former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s unfriendly posture towards Singapore caused relations to be on a patchy path while the Malaysian leader was not one to give Singapore the credit that it deserved which most other world leaders acknowledged.
Najib’s nose for hard work again showed when on Monday itself, he turned up to address the monthly outdoor morning gathering of ministers, deputy ministers and senior officials of the PM’s Department under a scorching sun.
The message was clear – he wants ministers and civil servants to work harder and be more accountable, as the nation faces some of the most challenging times both economically and well as the security threat posed by the self-styled Daesh militant group.
Najib is also the prime minister who has visited Sabah and Sarawak the most, not only to the state capitals but to the remote longhouses as well.
Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem described Najib as the most caring prime minister to his state, and by the same token to Sabah.
To get a glimpse of the workaholic pace set by Tun Razak that Najib inherits as the nation observes the 40th anniversary of his passing, Bernama spoke to former senior civil servant Tan Sri Arshad Ayub.
Arshad, now 87, who worked for 10 years under Tun Razak both as the pioneer Director of Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM and now renamed Universiti Teknologi Mara or UiTM), and later as Deputy Governor of Bank Negara, began the interview by saying: “To me and fellow senior civil servants then, Tun Razak worked virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year”.
Relevant with Malaysia’s fledgling years, Tun Razak’s priority then was rural development and poverty eradication, punctuated by his brainchild, the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), which has since become the most successful such agency in the Third World and highly credited for breaking the backbone of rural poverty.
Felda has since become the world’s biggest plantation owner with oil palm cultivation and palm oil production as the mainstay providing steady income to tens of thousands of rural folks who would otherwise have to fend for themselves in meagre subsistence.
Against this backdrop, Felda is something closest to Najib’s heart and the welfare of Felda settlers in newly-created towns and growth centres across the country has always been given his personal attention and priority.
Lots of incentives and goodies have come Felda’s way since he took over as PM and many more are in the pipeline in the coming years once the current low price of palm oil recovers.
Arshad, who among a string of degrees also graduated from the then Agriculture College in Serdang said: “Tell me which pond or lake in the country that Tun Razak did not release fish fry into?
“Which oil palm tree that he had not seen, which road that he had never visited or which university that he had not built (during his time)?” he said.
Another of Tun Razak’s forte was to urbanise the rural areas and Arshad mentioned townships carved out of jungles such as Bandar Penawar in Terengganu, Tenggara in Johor, Jengka in Pahang and Bandar Ketengah in Kelantan.
And Tun Razak was a firm believer in giving the Bumiputeras a firm base in education as one sure way to overcome poverty and getting higher income and for this, created ITM which is the only higher learning institution having campuses throughout the country.
“For 10 years that I headed ITM and he was PM, not once did he pass negative remarks about ITM or the way I ran it,” said Arshad, who is credited as the architect of the success story of this institution now known as UiTM.
Arshad said Tun Razak placed a high premium on professional education which saw the focus on accountancy, insurance, marketing among others which other universities did not offer and this enabled the graduates to be highly employable.
But it’s his knack for choosing the right people to execute the tasks he had for them that impressed Arshad the most.
“He picked the right leader to run the various agencies because in this way they would work and go all out to make a success of his programmes, not for Tun Razak but for nation and the rakyat,” said Arshad.
Among the names he mentioned were Raja Tan Sri Alias Muhammad Alias Raja Muhammad Ali, who for 35 years headed Felda and towering personalities like Raja Tun Mohar Badiozaman, Tan Sri Ishak Tadin, Tan Sri Taib Andak and Tan Sri Aziz Yassin.
Non-Malays like Tan Sri Thong Yaw Hong, Tan Sri Chong Hon Nyan, Tan Sri Michael Chen and Tan Sri Rama Iyer also featured prominently in Tun Razak’s team.
“Civil servants entrusted by him were imbued with the absolute sense of responsibility to see through his plans. Our motto then was let’s work for him and let’s make his programmes a success. Perhaps we were prepared to die for it”.
Arshad hoped such spirit would be revived under Najib his son.
“I have very fond memories of Tun Razak. As the Malay proverb says, ‘A tiger dies leaving his stripes, a man dies leaving his name’. This is absolutely true of Tun Razak.
“He made such a great impact on all us and the nation for he which he worked till his last breath”.