Before you continue reading this interview, we’d like to first and foremost thank Tengku Razaleigh for the opportunity to meet him despite this ongoing Covid-19 season. We were blown away by his gestures and gentleman-like etiquette, and we honour him for his leadership and perseverance for serving our country. We arranged to have this interview with him solely because it made sense if we wanted to know some potentially missing and/or interesting factors of what happened in the formation of Malaysia. We thought of asking people who were present then, and Tengku was one of them.
We also would like to state that we are not in any political brackets of any movement, but we are just curious to question and learn what really went down back then.
For those who may not know, Yang Berhormat Mulia Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh bin Tengku Mohd Hamzah is a Malaysian veteran politician and Member of Parliament (MP) for Gua Musang from the state of Kelantan. He was born on 13 April 1937. He is dubbed the Father of Malaysia's Economy for playing a pivotal role in establishing and implementing key foundations and policies in Malaysia's economy. A descendant of Malay royalty, he is a great-uncle of the current Sultan of Kelantan. "Tengku" is a hereditary royal Malay title, equivalent to "Prince/ss." He was the Minister of Finance (1976–1984), Minister of International Trade and Industry (1984–1987), former chairman of Asian Development Bank, former chairman of Islamic Development Bank, founding Chairman and Chief Executive of Malaysian oil company, PETRONAS, and chairman of the 33rd Board of Governors of the World Bank and IMF. He is now the longest serving member of parliament in Malaysia. His popularity has earned him nicknames such as "The People's Prince" and "Ku Kita" (Our Tengku). He is affectionately known as 'Ku Li', derived from the last syllables of Tengku Razaleigh; a common custom in the Kelantan dialect. Here are some additional information that many may not know about Tengku Razaleigh: (Special thanks to Zima for sending us all this information!)
Born 13th April 1937 who came from a very famous royal family of the 18th century, namely from the descendants of Long Yunus.
1959 (age 22): Bachelor's Degree from Queen's University, Ireland.
1962 (age 25): Became an UMNO member and was appointed as the Ulu Kelantan Division UMNO Chief.
1963 (age 26): Appointed as Kelantan UMNO Liaison Secretary and UMNO Supreme Council.
1965 (age 28): Ku Li started his role as a Malay economic generator when he organized the 1st Bumiputra Economic Congress.
1967 (age 30): Became the Kelantan UMNO Liaison Chief.
1969 (age 32): Contested in the State Legislative Assembly against Dato Asri Muda and became a Member of Parliament.
1972 (age 35): Received the title "Tan Sri".
1974 (age 37): (1) Contest for Parliamentary seats; (2) Became UMNO Vice President in July after the death of Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and retained office for three consecutive terms until 1978.
1976 (age 39): Appointed Minister of Finance on 5 March.
1984 (age 47): Appointed Minister of Trade and Industry in a cabinet reshuffle in July.
1987 (age 50): (1) Challenging Dr. Mahathir and Ghafar Baba's squad together with Dato Musa Hitam in the party's election as President and Vice President of the UMNO party and lost 43 votes in Dr. Mahathir's hands on 24 April; (2) Establish Parti Semangat 46 together with Dato Rais Yatim; (3) Fail in the General Election to form a government.
1996 (age 59): Re-joins UMNO after the dissolution of Semangat 46.
2020 (age 80s): Winning the Gua Musang Parliament. Is the longest-serving member of parliament since 1974.
Former Minister of Finance
Former Minister of International Trade and Industry
Former Founder and Chairman of Bank Bumiputra
Former Founder and Chairman of PETRONAS
Former Founder and Chairman of PERNAS
Used President of Malay Chamber of Commerce Malaysia
Founder and President of Asean Chamber of Commerce
He has held positions in three International Finance institutions simultaneously. Namely the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. A unit that achievement by a young Malay.
Is the founder of PETRONAS. Ku Li adopted the PERTAMINA method - Indonesian petroleum companies were finally enacted as the National Petroleum Act at the 1974 Parliamentary session. Ku Li managed to take the PERTAMINA recipe as a result of a close relationship with PERTAMINA President, General Ibnu Sotowo who was far older than Ku Li. Ibnu Sotowo was impressed with Ku Li's wisdom even at such a young age, but had great ambitions while Malaysia only had a 'drop' of oil production compared to Indonesia. Today compared to Indonesia PETRONAS is quite famous in oil liquefaction in more than 50 countries. Initially, Sotowo was not confident with Ku Li because building a Petroleum company was not an easy task, let alone at that time the ASEAN region still did not have the expertise and knowledge on oil exploration. Sotowo's 2nd meeting was strange and he felt confident in Ku Li's far-sightedness in casting PETRONAS. Today PETRONAS is able to fly high to compete with oil companies from America, England and the Netherlands.
Was the first Malaysian to meet the Chinese Prime Minister and architect for the pioneering of the Malaysia-China Friendship in 1974 which led to the fall of the Malayan Communist Party.
During Tengku Razaleigh lead the Bank, he invited Wong Pui and General Dato Khoo Kay Peng, Malay train staff to skilled in the management of the bank. At the time it was difficult to find a young Malay who knows the intricacies of managing a bank, of course, it takes time. It turns out that today the Malays not only able to manage the bank has been able to even have a bank like Tan Sri Azman Hashim, Tan Sri Rashid Hussain and others.
Tengku became the longest-serving Minister of Finance from 5 March 1976- July 1984 and every year presented the national budget in Parliament through a live broadcast by RTM. At that time, the country's economic development grew 6-8 percent a year.
The site of the PWTC building originally belonged to Ku Li, but in order to see the UMNO building beautifully and gracefully in the middle of the city center of Kuala Lumpur, Ku Li was willing to hand it over to UMNO.
Wow! It makes us wonder what have we achieved at all, right? Haha! Moving forward, here are our questions (Brace yourselves, It's going to be a long one!)
Q1. Tell us more about your schooling days in Kelantan, how was it for you?
I was affected by the war because the country was invaded by the Japanese in 1939, 1940, 1941, you know. They came across from the South China Sea but they also came down from Thailand and the Thai’s were not disturbed by the Japanese because the Japanese told the Thais that we won’t disturb you if you allow us to walk through to go to Malaya. And they came through.
Some came by bicycle.
These are armies and they came, and of course, we don’t have the kind of army to fight them actually because there were people from India who were used by the British to be our soldiers here. They also have the British army with the brigade in Singapore. So that’s the negligible defense force to protect the country, but I think the British people didn’t attach much importance to us. So the Japanese came in from the sea to Khota Bharu and from the North through, Alor Setar through Padan Besar and Khota Bharu to attack us, and then finally they came to Singapore and caused the downfall of Singapore. And from Singapore they came in by road into Johor and subsequently to other parts like Negeri Sembilan, Selangor and they captured the whole country. They capsulated the whole country in less than a month because the British left and ran, ran away and the people left to fight were the Malay regiment and the Indian soldiers. They were here and there, you know. So that’s how it happened. Then the Japanese occupied the country. Then the Japanese took over Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, Perlis and the whole country, but I can only talk about Kelantan, I was small.
They changed the education system. So they introduced a Japanese schooling system. I had to go to a Japanese School and I was 5 or 6 years old at that time. Still primary. But because of this agreement to allow them to walk through or to come through Thailand without being obstructed or hindered by the Thais, they agreed to give back Northern Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah and Perlis back to the Thais because under the old agreement between the British and the Thais when the British came to occupy our country, there was this tessit understanding that the Northern territories should be under the suzerainty of the Thais. Even before the British came there were the arrangements of the Sultan of this country, of this Northern states with the Thai King, and because of that agreement, the Japanese did honour what they promised when they were allowed to walk through during the time when they wanted to attack us, during the war time. So they handed back the states for the Thais to rule but I think it was under Thai rule for 3 over years until the Japanese capitulated and surrendered to the British and allied forces.
What I'm trying to say is that when the Japanese came in, I can only talk about my experience, they bring in the Japanese schooling system. So I went to a Japanese school. After a while because they handed back these Northern states; Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah and Perlis to the Thais, so the whole schooling system was changed from Japanese to Thai.
So I went to a Thai school.
But before that, before the British came, there was already this Thai influence because of the agreement between the Sultans and the King of Thailand where they allowed Arabic and religious schools to thrive, but they also brought in the Thai schooling system and a lot of the local people went to the Thai schools. I did. Every morning I had to sing and salute to the flag of Thais, previously it was the Kimigayo, the national anthem of Japan. We had to bow to the sun and all that you know?
(Tengku laughing) These are the things you have to do after the war you know? Because they had a military rule so you have to comply with whatever wishes they had. So that’s it and what was interesting is that like Kelantan and Kedah, most of us went to Thai school.
Like my late father, he spoke Thai. He spoke Thai, because he went to a Thai school and wrote Thai, and the relationship was very strong between the Thai and especially the people of my type, royalty you know?
Our relationship was close and so it was at meshed and we were expected to behave like the Thais also. We dress like Thais. We wear those trousers which goes down, you know.
And you see in my office, you will see a picture of my father with the ‘jambul’ you know? Because when he went to school he had to keep that...like when you see the film, ‘The King and I’, and the little children of the King of Thailand, they had to go to school and they had to keep this little bun on their head. So my late father also has that but I didn’t have to do it because by that time the Thai’s school came back, and I had to go back to those schools, it was already during the war, so they were not able to enforce it. But basically the relationship with the Thais were very strong.
Like Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first Prime Minister. His mother of course was Thai, so he not only went to the Thai school in Kedah, but when he was growing up, he was 11 or 12, he was sent to live with the King of Thailand, King Chulalongkorn.
If you see the film, ‘The King and I’, that small boy who was the heir to the throne, he was King Chulalongkorn, he was the famous King of Thailand that modernised Thailand.
That made everybody learn how to speak English. They do not have signboards in Thai alone, they must have it in English. It was very modern and the people were not wearing that kind of attire, they had to wear trousers, coat and tie.. It was very modern. Everybody was made to learn how to dance, ballroom dancing and all this. King Chulalongkorn loved dancing. King Chulalongkorn was a modern Thai King.
But he retained what was Thai. But he wanted everybody to understand that Thailand cannot survive without being good friends of the other countries. He was absorbing this and that’s why he started English schools, he started Universities with English as a medium of instruction, apart from Thai. So like Tunku Abdul Rahman, he was sent to live with King Chulalongkorn and he spoke Thai, the Royal Thai you know. Not the Thai that you hear in the streets. So he was able to converse in very top class Thai lah. It’s called the Royal Thai language, the court Thai.
Like the Malays, there is also the court Malay language that is not spoken outside the Istana.
But anyway… Faye: Can you still remember how to speak in Thai? Oh yeah! I speak Thai all the time when I go home. So anyway, you are exposed to these changes, like me. I went to an Arabic school, then I also went to the Japanese school, and then the Thai school, and when the British came they restarted the English education. There were not many, in Kelantan there were only two English schools. That’s all.
So I went to a school there, and that’s it.
So there were a lot of things that you can learn but the Japanese were very brutal, very brutal. Everybody has to bow. There were many kids everywhere that were made to bow and if you don’t they will slap you or they just take you in the lorry and disappear.
Like I had a governess who looked after me and she had a son who was barely 14 years old or something like that, much older than me at that time. So he was my play mate and he is the son of the governess. She is this lady from the kampung who looked after me.
So one night, the military truck came to our house in Kota Bharu, and my house... (Points to a framed picture on a wall)
That is the picture of my house.. My house has this board put on by the Military Chief of the Japanese after the war that nobody can enter or interfere, in other words we were protected, because my father was somebody, so there was this thing and so the military boys cannot come and disturb us.
But because they were building this railway which later became known as the Death Railway in Thailand, have you seen the bridge on the River Kwai, there was this famous film. It was shown recently on HBO. I think you can get it on Youtube. But anyway, it’s called ‘The Bridge over River Kwai ‘. So the Japanese was sent over to build this bridge but they don’t have enough people to build it and they were not allowed to have their own people to build. They can only get the gengineers (A person skilled at engineering; genetic engineering) or people that are seniors to supervise. But all the work, the manual labour are all done by local people. But they were short of these local people. They were getting it from Burma, they were getting it from Thailand and so what they did was to also get from Malaysia or Malaya at that time. So my governess son, who was barely 14 years old, young boy, was taken in the middle of the night. This lorry came and probably somebody must have told them there was a boy in this house and then came the Kempeitai.
The Kempeitai was above everybody and you cannot stop them. Even the General cannot stop the Kempeitai. They came and orderly took this boy and threw him in the lorry and it was the last we heard of him, and we’ve not seen him again, or heard of him again.
We tried to get information from the Japanese military rulers, but they didn’t give any information back to us.
Faye: There was no such thing as justice for the people? Well, it was war.. War you know? It was a military rule. But we presumed that everybody was dead. But you can see the film you know? They kill everybody who didn’t do the things they expect you to do. They just shoot. Because otherwise they don’t have enough food during the war, so the best thing is to just shoot them and throw them into the river. So they were building this railway and now of course this railway is already built, it’s across the river called River Kwai, just outside Bangkok and a lot of people died, thousands died building that railway because it was a big river to have that linked in Thailand. But they were cruel, the Japanese were very cruel back then, very anti-Chinese. If they see any Chinese or anyone who contributes to the Chinese or squeeze the Chinese to give them money, food or cloth… During that time there were no cloth, people wore gunny sacks for shirts. It was very itchy. (Tengku laughing) So they were all wearing gunny sacks and sacks that are used for flour, rice, those were the materials used for making shirts and rice were rationed. You can’t get rice freely. Even my father who was very senior, very high up, they are also subject to rationing.
I have a big garden in my house that was planted with vegetables you know. And all garden has become a farm. We had to plant our own vegetables, our own tapioca, our own chilies and all that.
And you see that a lot of these places or houses which have big farm, like mine is 4 acres of garden, are all converted into a farm. My late father always told everybody, “You want anything, you just come and take”. Take it away. So things were very hard. Rice yang… "Beras yang patah-patah"… You don’t have the whole grain rice. "Yang patah-patah, yang kita selalu buang bagi kat ayam untuk makan." Those were the rice we had during the Japanese time. And there was no flour, gula susah nak dapat. We only relied on gula Melaka which is not the real Gula Melaka which is not the real Gula Melaka because Gula Melaka does not come to all parts of the country… so we relied on palm sugar. And those are done locally by the local people. So if you need sweet, so then you go for the palm sugar.
Well things were difficult.
Q2. But despite the difficulty, what was mixing around like during your time, do people still mix around?
Yes, yes! Among the locals. The Japanese people who are in the army, they don’t mix. They only carried out their job. But the generals and all, they mix around with people like my late father. They don’t mix with others.
I just mix with my school friends who dare come to the house or I go to theirs. That’s all. Very limited. Faye: So would you say that most of your school friends or school mates were Thai, Malay, etc.
No-no-no. Mainly Malay. The Thai school was all for the Malays. Yeah because there was no Thai in Kelantan, but they were ruling in Kelantan, but they were using Thai language and all that.
Q3. What type of games did you play with your friends during your time?
(Tengku laughing) There was no football. There was no badminton. Nothing! We just.. Well, I was very small still, we just played all those things that people play in the kampung, you know? Very difficult to describe. There’s no equivalent in English.
Faye: Do you have to become more innovative to come up with games during your time? You have too! So we used rubber bands (laughing), we used rubber seeds… Faye: And what did you do with the rubber band and rubber seeds? Well rubber band we used to fight with one another. If you lose the rubber bands will be given to the winner you know!
The same thing with the cigarette boxes, when you flick it open, it expands like that. If the thing doesn’t fall on a surface, you lose! (More laughter) I mean it was simple, simple games that you have to devise in order to keep yourself occupied. We don’t have toys or anything like that.
Faye: Did you play with kites? Oh we have kites! We made ourselves. Not difficult to make but the trouble was to find the strings. So how do you fly the kites? Very difficult to get all those things.
Q4. When you all went out to lepak, where did you normally go? Do you guys have a favourite food spot to ‘makan’ together?
Like my house, there’s a big field which has now become part of a roundabout just next to my house. There’s a big ground there where we go and do all kinds of things. Sometimes we just sit down and talk. There were no cars or anything like that, I think the cars only belong to the Sultan. We had two cars, that’s about all at that time. The rest had had bicycles, not many bicycles even.
Faye: But do you have a favourite food spot to makan together?
We all eat at home. We all eat at home. There’s no restaurants or anything like that.
Faye: Hawkers? Oh, our time is hawkers but back then?
Back then it was different. There was none.
Q5. Was food sharing (or gastro diplomacy) a common experience back then as it is today?
Yeah of course. Faye: Do you have moments for an example like the Chinese family inviting Indian family over to try their food?
Well, that is normal, you know. But I find in places like in Kota Bharu where I come from, we welcome people from outside of our family more than family members, and we always host all these people that come to visit us. We used to have feast and such like. And we always enjoy entertaining people like that who come to visit us. Faye: Not because of Hari Raya?. Hari Raya is a new thing you know, this celebrations like open houses. It started from Tunku Abdul Rahman. It was Tunku who started the open house.
In those days, there was no such thing as an open house. You only visit the family, family members and close friends.
Faye: So that was a new culture? Oh yes, it was Tunku who wanted... He used to send his own car to the people who stayed in the hotel, people who came from abroad, to go and have lunch or dinner with him during Hari Raya. That was the open house. Tunku didn't give any money. He just invited people and got some local musicians to play music for people to enjoy. For all those visitors you know.
Q. Do you have a favourite Kelantanese food? Can you describe it for us?
So many! There’s Nasi Dagang, there’s Nasi Kerabu, there’s nasi of all kinds! Faye: So which is your moooost favourite, like mooooost favourite you know? (Tengku laughing) I don’t have any favourite, I don’t know if you have tried Nasi Tumpang. Nasi Tumpang is like a long cone with layers of lauk you know. And you have serunding, egg and sambal and all kinds. But of course when you break open you mix them up but only when the presentation when it is wrapped up in a cone. Have you seen it? Faye: Oh, I've seen it. I’ve tried it in Kelantan and it’s really good but do you why must it be in that shape? Because this is meant for farmers and fishermen. They normally go out to the seas or the paddy fields and they bring this for their lunch. Or their late breakfast and they get into their place. They either eat during lunch time when they break. That’s why it’s called Nasi Tumpang. You tumpang you know? You have everything there. It’s all in the cone and you have all the lauk together you know.
Faye: Do you have a favourite Kelantanese kuih? Are you a kuih kind of person? Yeah I am but there’s no favourite… Hehehehe (laughing). I eat everything! Hahaha! (More laughter) I like everything. There’s Jala Emas… Would you like to try some in fact? Ambai-Ambai! Ohhh Ambai. (Tengku calling his butler)
Faye: Omgosh are you making Jala Emas? I can give you Jala Emas. Mamat… Oh Mamat.. He’s there in a minute
(Ambai comes in) Ada Jala Emas? Buat Jala Emas. (All of us were giggling)
We have the Kelantan sweets, we have.
Faye: Wow! Sweets like… Well, basically it’s made of eggs, duck's eggs. The Jala Emas is made of duck eggs, that’s why it’s made of strings you know, because chicken eggs, they don’t go in strings. You try and do that, it gets broken. Faye: Tengku, I noticed they like to use eggs but when it comes to one kuih in particular, there’s this kuih called kuih ‘Tahi Itik’, why does it call kuih tahi itik? Because it looks like it! It looks like the droppings of a duck. (All of us were laughing) (Tengku laughing) Yea yea… Come you better eat. (Concerns over the fact that we’re listening and not tasting the food). Jagjeet! You have to try that, if you don’t like it, you can spit it out.
(All of us were laughing even more)
Q6. Why did you go into politics?
Hmm.. simple, number one I love people. Number two, I see that my own people, particular in Kelantan, are very poor, and they don’t have savings. Most of them don’t even have jobs. But basically because they don’t have education, and therefore those days people who have access to education were only people, or children of people who were lucky, because their parents were in the civil service, or they were already having jobs, or people having businesses which then are able to send their children to schools, and these people with education are of used to other people, and they were able to get jobs.
But those who didn’t have education, they don’t have access to work even. So they become manual labourers.
So I thought, something is wrong somewhere. But this was the fault of the British, not the fault of anybody, and of course British denied that, similarly today also, we have problems.
In fact, the Malays are supposed to be the people of this country, but they have no land. But they applied for land with the British administrators, they didn't get the land. They don’t get the sit of it, their application was just ignored.
But the Chinese who were giving them (the British) the services that they want, because they import things, and sell things to them, they were given land, that’s why in town you don’t see Malays owning land. There is no land in towns owned by Malays. Only recently people get to buy but with fantastic prices, you know.
So even in the rural areas, they were given only a quarter acre, less than a quarter of an acre to farm, and the Malays because they are not all that educated, they don’t know what family planning is, they breed a lot of children, they have a lot of children, and when you’ve got a quarter acre, when the person dies, you try and split that between 10 children or 8 children, it becomes much smaller you know?
And when it has no value, you sell also, you divide the property, it’s not sufficient to keep them going. You understand?
So, they are forever in poverty, and they don’t have access to good paying jobs you know? Most of those days, they were working in the kampungs, or in small villages, or small towns like Kota Bharu and all that, it does not open up opportunities, they have to come to Kuala Lumpur, but with no education, no skill, what job can they do? Except minior jobs as labourers and all that. But the labouring class was open only to the Indians.
The Indians were brought in by the British to work as labourers; building roads, working on the rubber estates as rubber tappers, collectors of rubber milk and all that.
So it depends on how you are structured, you know. So if they Malays are not given a chance to go to school, therefore they have no education to go and work. If there is no education, they can’t work and sometimes labour. How many labour can you employ? Except in the big industrial companies, but there were no industries those days. The only industries you find are the rubber smoke houses. Again owned by the British or Chinese people from Singapore, not even from Malaysia. It’s Lee Rubber and all that, and they already have people. Faye: Singapore Lee Rubber, yeah I remember that. Yeah, they own OCBC. So there’s not much opportunity or avenue for them to get jobs. So when I saw all this, I said there must be some change. So that’s why I decided not to work anywhere. I just wanted to devote myself to seeing how best I can help improve people’s lives. Not just for the Malays, everybody.
So you will see there is this imbalance and that’s why the income of people earned by Malays are particularly very low, because what kind of income they get? Like rubber, tapping of rubber... Now there’s no value to rubber. On rainy days, you can’t tap rubber. There’s no latex. So the whole day you have no income. And they tap enough to sell whatever they tap. Maybe they earn RM20 a day and if the next day it rains, or if it rains for two days or one week, there is no tapping. There is no income. They can’t sell anything and that’s the only job they know what to do, you see. If there are no other opportunities, they earn no money and because they earn so little, they have no time to save. They can’t save whatever they earned. It’s just to put food on the table. So they are in real dire straits, very poor.
And back to rubber again, sometimes the price goes up and sometimes the price can go down, unlike branded things you know. You see this (hold an object), this can be 3 dollars today and 3 dollars tomorrow. You cannot cut and change the price.
But rubber depends on the supply and demand. If the world market says tomorrow it’s only 10 cents, it’s 10 cents. If a day after it goes up to 5 dollars, it’s 5 dollars.
So you see the income is so elastic, and it’s very difficult even for them to plan, and now with modernization it’s worse, Faye. Before they get water from the river or from a well they dig, free water in a sense. And with light, they don’t depend on electricity because they don’t have electricity in the villages. So they depend on kerosene oil. Kerosene oil they put in this lamp.So depending on the week and it can be very cheap, one can of kerosene oil may cost RM2 in those days which can last for 2 months. It’s very cheap. They can have 3 lamps in the house or 4 lamps in the house so they can light up a house.
That’s about all. If it rains very heavily with strong wind, there is no lamp. Hehehe.. (Tengku laughing a little) Faye: Oh nooo! Yeah and you can’t read anything, you can’t see anything at night. Just like having a candle, when there’s a strong gust of wind, it is gone. Faye: This was all of Malaya back then? Yeah, it’s like that. It’s like that. I’m talking about the rural areas. There’s no electricity. Only in towns you have electricity.
So that is the hardship. Water, like I said just now, they get from the well or from the river. But now with modern gadgets, modern equipments, you see things are different, in a sense that, when have power, you have electricity, you have to have television, you have to have ironing board to iron your clothes, and everytime you use the iron, you have to pay for the electricity you use, and the more you use, the more you pay. And that depends on income. Whereas before, they can use light, they can light the whole house but they can’t iron the clothes because there was no electricity to push the iron. That’s why during the Korean boom years, when the rubber price was rising, you see people carrying refrigerators back into the kampung’s. So you ask, “What are you doing to use it for?” “To put shoes inside” Faye: Ohhh nooooo! (Everyone was laughing) Because there is no power, Faye.
Faye: I hope Malaysia was not like that. It was like that. Faye: Ohhh nooooo! (Everyone laughing again) Yes… People put shoes, handbags because there was no plug, no power, no electricity. So they use all that to put shoes, handbags, and clothes in the fridge. Those days, they don’t have money. But now, those days although there was no power, you save money. But now, you want to have a video, you have a TV, you have an ironing board, you use more power. So you pay more.
But whether you can afford that depends on how much you earn if you get the job, a good paying job. So it is a question of how do you budget yourself between food and all these amenities, and it’s very difficult for people who don't get a very big income. How do you budget, how do you pay for all that? It’s nice to have lights. You switch on and there are lights, and you plug anything you can use, the power plug, but it’s not going to be that easy. So in those days, they didn't have anything and their income is so small. Sometimes no income.
But the wonderful thing about Asia or Asian life, where there are the Malay, Chinese, Indian. You help one another, and that’s why we have this extended family system which is very good, which is now breaking down because of modernisation, because of this life of you travel here, you travel there. You lose touch even with your relatives or close friends.
Because if you are short of sugar, you can go to your neighbour and get, “Come lah, let me borrow one catty of sugar or some coffee powder”, and normally you go to your relatives; your aunty or uncle who would just lend it to you. So you are not short of money in that sense. But you are short of things that you need. But it’s all because you don’t have the money. Either you have the money, so you more so you don’t need to go and borrow from others, right? But now with the modernization, more power coming in, you pay for everything. You pay for your water bill, you pay for your electricity bill, you pay for everything.
So if you don’t earn, how do you pay for all these things? And if you don’t earn good income, how do you pay for all these things? You can’t pay.
And a lot of these people, you have come from these rural areas to the urban areas and the cost of living here is higher than rural areas. A lot of the rural areas are free more or less. Like me, I am quite lucky, my cheque is quite industrious. I don’t buy my chili, we plant our own chili. Not everything you know, but you still have to buy.
(We all thanked him) And I'm trying to tell you why I got into politics because I pity these people. I pity these people. How they live and if you want a country to progress that means you have to bring in a lot of inputs. Make the country grow. But you have to spend money to make it grow. How do you get the money? Either you borrow or you tax people.
And when you tax people, can people pay the taxes. That depends if the standard of living has gone up or not. Whether the income is commensurate with the kind of things you want to give them. You can have everything, but you have to pay. You have to pay and somebody has to pay.
So mostly it comes from your own pocket. So this depends on what the politician thinks. The politician must think very carefully of what they do. I have some experience, I was Minister of Finance for nearly 10 years, so I know how to see so that it doesn’t hurt the people when I tax them or when new things are being introduced to society so that it doesn’t burden the people you know, like you have to pay more for example. Everything you have to pay. Unlike what you use the pelita ayam with kerosene, that is different you know. Now you switch on the electricity, it means money.
At the end of the month, you have to pay the bill. Maybe not much. Like for me, I have to pay RM17,000 a month for this house. Just this house. Electricity alone is RM17,000, sometimes RM15,000 because of air conditioning and all that. But it depends on how much you earn. If you don’t earn, you can’t have all this. But even here, if I come here (in this room), I will switch off the lights and air conditioning in the other room otherwise it’s a waste.
Faye: So you mentioned that even though there was a difficulty, there was a lot of caring for one another and people were showing a lot of unity. Oh yea yeah. This is the shared value. This is what you have in the Asian society. Asian family. You don’t find that in Europe. You-you-I-I. For example, sometimes I live in this flat, my brother on the next flat and I’m short of milk, he won’t give you the milk. You must go to the supermarket and buy your own milk and not borrow from your own brother. That's the kind of relationship they have. But we still have that (asian family values) in Malaysia. We still have that.
Abang tolong adik, adik tolong Mak, Mak tolong Mak Saudara… We still have that and that’s very good. Friend help friend.
But in more advanced countries, they live in a small room. Small room only. Enough to put a bed for two people to sleep and probably to hang clothes. That’s about all and they say that's a high standard of living when they can’t even move, hehehe…
No honestly, what standard of living is that?
So you need to improve and improvise. In order to improve people’s lives, you see, I hate to see our people suffering.
Q7. Who did you look up to as a leader in Malaysia back then? Why?
(Tengku happily laughing)
Well of course, Tunku Abdul Rahman was my father’s very good friend. I knew him before he got involved in politics, before he became Prime Minister.
As a small boy, I would always follow him as an uncle you know.
So I thought he was a very good icon for me to follow. He’s very kind, he’s very caring, although he was a politician, he’s not brutal, he’s not crude.
I’m sorry to say that Mahathir is more of a politician. He brooks no nonsense, but Tunku is more caring and he was more gentlemanly, and he does a lot of things, and that’s why people love him. People remember him, even people who have never seen him or worked with him or know him still talk about him or endear to him.
I know, I worked with him. I knew him when I was a small boy.
Then I worked for him, I became his secretary and all that.
Faye: Wow… wow…
Q8. Can you tell us, what was the atmosphere like during Merdeka?
I was not here. During Merdeka I was in Britain, I was studying. I went to do my university course in 1957. I went in 1954.
Faye: Even being abroad, do you still remember?
Yeah! I participated in the celebration, in the discussion group and all that. Well, it was a very happy moment that we finally are able to determine the destiny of our country.
For ourselves, not having to depend on others, and for once we have to take care of ourselves. We don’t have to depend on other people to feed us or to protect us, now we have to look after ourselves.
But in order to look after ourselves, we have to behave so that we live together. Because if we start quarreling with each other, other people will come and take the country away from you.
So when you know how to live with one another, and behave to take care of what we think are valuable to us, then I think it will last and it will be good.
Friction will be there. Brothers and sisters quarrel. Husband and wife quarrel. We can’t avoid that. There is friction always.
So Independence means you are free, but free with certain limitations.
You cannot expect to be free and do what you like, as you like because you have to live with others. All these things that you have are on loan to you by God and you are not supposed to destroy because in the end, time will come when you have to go, and you will have to leave all these things. It’s not yours.
It’s only yours during the time when you can claim it’s yours.