26 November, 2013

The Azizan I Knew: Tun Daim Zainuddin

WHEN Pas won the Kedah state election, I wanted to go and pay a courtesy call on the new menteri besar, Ustaz Azizan. I knew that he needed to settle down and so, after a few months, I requested for an appointment to see him. The response was swift. I was invited to dinner at his official residence.

That was the first time I met (Tan Sri) Azizan Abdul Razak. A warm friendly person who charmed you with jokes to make your first meeting comfortable and relaxed. After a few minutes, he invited me to adjourn to the dining room to join him for dinner.

He said he had ordered mee Abu, mee goreng, popiah and, for dessert, durian and dadih. He said he had asked his secretary to ask my secretary what I normally ate and got the list from my secretary. And later, he served hot water. He had done his homework on me. I enjoyed my first meeting with him. I found him to be humble, knowledgeable and humorous.

Since that first meeting, every time I was in Kedah, I would meet him for dinner, where I'd be served my favourite mee Abu and popiah. Soon enough, he started discussing the problems he was facing as an MB. He had kind words for everybody and never ran down anyone. He said it was tough running the state as revenue was low and expenditures kept going up. I told him as long as the country wanted Kedah to be the rice bowl of Malaysia, Kedah would have to continue asking the Federal Government for help and that would have to change.

We are a high-cost producer of rice. When I was in government, I had suggested we import rice and release our padi fields for more productive use. He agreed with me but he said we needed support from the Federal Government to change all that.

We continued to meet regularly, either in Alor Star or Kuala Lumpur. He was at a loss to meet the conflicting demands from many quarters. It was a real headache to him trying to be fair but firm. He made himself unpopular with some people but the rakyat liked his style. He was a man of the people.

Although he was under pressure from his party, he was adamant that he was MB for all Kedahans. He would entertain all. He was privately, and later publicly, attacked by his coalition partners in Pakatan but he stuck to his principles, which, as in politics, he had to toe the party line, provided it did not conflict with his principles which he strongly held on to and at the end, he said he was answerable to Allah. This, he was not prepared to compromise.

When I got news that some in the state assembly wanted to switch camps, I alerted him. I told him after what happened in Perak, I don't think Barisan Nasional is keen to participate in this kind of politics. The rakyat would be angry and all must accept the results of the general election and move on.

(Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim) tried and failed and the rakyat does not trust any government formed this way. His response was: I am here temporarily anyway, let us leave it to God, but we tie our camels first.

Then, later, there were attempts to topple him. He was not worried, he was not overconfident but prepared. He faced these challenges his way, in public, cracking jokes but privately, prepared for the worst. In the end, he triumphed. He asked me to arrange for him to meet former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir (Mohamad), which I did. They got along fine. He got on well with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, too.

He told me he was hauled up by Pas and asked to explain why he was close to the PM, Dr Mahathir and me. He explained to them that he knew Najib's brother, Johari, when they were studying law in London. In the case of Dr M and me, he said he wanted to tap into our experience and he knew that we wanted the best for Kedah and would support him for the greater good of Kedah. They accepted his explanation.

He had good ideas for Kedah. He wanted to reclaim the coastal area of Kuala Kedah and build a new city. He asked me to get developers to do it and now, it is still being studied. He went to Egypt to study how they succeeded in agriculture production on huge desert lands and made them fertile. He wanted to reproduce it in Kedah. He wanted to build a few more housing estates as he wanted to build affordable houses costing below RM200,000.

He had asked his office to conduct a study on the problem and how much the middle class could afford. All these were in the planning. Azizan discussed with me whether to extend the LADA (Langkawi Development Authority Act). I explained to him why Dr Mahathir wanted the act, and since then Langkawi had become well known as a tourist destination. He said he was under pressure not to renew it, but he renewed it.

Azizan had to make difficult decisions but he did what was right for Kedah. He introduced new policies where timber concessions were tendered out and this increased revenue. The value was higher, too, and he could then reduce the size of the concessions because of certain people.

He wanted to bring the Rubber Research Institute (RRI) to Kedah and was prepared to find and give land for such purpose. My suggestion was the state government should exchange land with RRI and the Kedah government develop the RRI land, and keep it as a long-term investment so the government could get income from this.

He wanted to have an oil depot and refinery in Yan. He received many proposals but he got the impression investors might be more keen to have land than the real project. He wanted the train and highway to be continued to Yan to bring development to this coastal town.

On corruption, he was fed up with businessmen, who tried to bribe him. He kept instructing his secretary to return money offered to him. When they failed at the office, they sent money to his house.

He asked me what to do with thick-skinned people like these. My advice was to send the money to orphanages and get receipts for the donations given. He thanked me for the advice.

He told me how he persuaded his son to marry. He was admitted to hospital and was attended by a nurse, who he thought was a suitable wife for his son. Naturally, the son disagreed when he told his wife to tell his son if he continued to reject the nurse, he would marry the nurse who would be able to take care of him the next time he got sick.

Suddenly, after the election, he was admitted to hospital. I visited him many times but he was unconscious most of the time. His death is a great loss to Kedah.

Politicians like him are rare. He was a leader of the people of the highest integrity and completely honest. Malaysia needs politicians like him.