Assalaamu'alaikum Warahmatullaahi Wabarakaatuh and good day to all readers.
As I observed TS Sanusi Junid has had lesser positive exposures of his ideas, even by the UMNO owned media, in his 30 years as an UMNO elected representative, and while in office. Scattered pieces, however, do appear in magazines and periodicals which have limited readers.
It is therefore necessary, for a better and correct understanding of his ideas and activities, that this article is reproduced, as previous articles have been produced and more articles, of this nature, will be produced in the future.
In this way future submissions in this blog by TS Sanusi will be better understood with the right background and in the right perspective.
Fahmi M. Nasir
Penyelidik di Perpustakaan Toeti Juairiah
(MALAYSIAN BUSINESS MARCH 1, 2001)
By Joanna Sze
By Joanna Sze
1. In his 30 years in the national political arena, former Kedah Menteri Besar Tan Sri Sanusi Junid has drawn mixed reactions; from tacit approval to outright admonition. Joanna Sze catches up with him for his side of the story.
2. Tan Sri Sanusi Junid, 58, has been a prominent media figure since entering political playing field more than 30 years ago. And why shouldn’t he be? His radical, albeit controversial, ideas, sense of humour, art of story-telling and no-nonsense approach to work has been a source of endless amusement, criticism and even inspiration.
POLITICAL AND ACADEMIC WORLDS
3. When Malaysian Business caught up with the former Kedah Menteri Besar (MB) at his new office at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Gombak, he seemed more relaxed compared to his days as Minister of National and Rural Development, Minister of Agriculture and MB. This change of pace seems to suit him fine.
4. ‘During the days when I was a minister, I was driven by the activity of the time’, he says. ‘ I had to respond to immediate demands, such as a tree falling across a road and causing massive jam, a villager passing away or a big drug haul just being stopped. Everything becomes your concern.’
5. As a president of IIUM, he says, he has the luxury of planning ahead.
6. ‘In the academic world, there are not many accidents,’ he says. ‘You have time to think. I can decide what I’m interested to look at for the day.’
7. Sanusi stepped out of the political limelight after the 1999 general elections when he was blamed for Umno’s poor performance in the northern state. Majority of Parliamentary seats went to the opposition while Sanusi maintained a two-third majority for the BN to rule the state. Sanusi attributes the election results to the erosion of party loyalty. ‘The result of the election didn’t show the victory of PAS’, he says. ‘It merely showed the defeat of Umno in certain constituencies due to betrayal.’
8. The incident obviously left him deeply disillusioned, being a fervent proponent of Muslim unity. ‘Now, I can fight political force, and I have a lot of experience in it but I cannot live with traitors,’ he says. ‘I cannot sit down and plan with those who defeated their own party to fight the Opposition next time around. So because of that, I decided to leave against the Prime Minister's advice.’
WORLD MUSLIM UNITY
9. Sanusi accepted the position of IIUM’s president to continue his quest of building world Muslim unity. Just 10 months into his tenure and he is already churning out plans for various projects (see story on IIUM).
10. This is hardly surprising though. After all, he is probably best remembered as the man with strange, ridiculous and often kooky ideas (see table on ideas). Critics have labelled him a day-dreamer; impractical and irrational. But Sanusi is far from perturbed. ‘Anything new will be heavily criticized,’ he says nonchalantly.
COCONUT - THE PROMISE IN BACHOK
11. One of his successful campaigns promoted the drinking of coconut water. Sanusi, a natural story-teller, relates the tale behind the campaign with relish. In the mid-1980s, while campaigning as the Minister of Agriculture in Bachok, Kelantan, he was challenged by an elderly farmer to guarantee that by the next election, the price of coconut would have gone up.
12. During the election period, what do you do to guarantee a vote? So, I said I guarantee,’ he says. ‘I was told it was my first big mistake as coconuts were a sunset crop and would never go up in value. ‘He left Bachok with the words ‘If the price of coconuts don’t go up, don’t come back here’ ringing in his ear.
13. In the days that followed, he found out that while old coconuts were sold at 30 sen in the market, young coconuts could fetch a handsome price of RM1. ‘I thought to myself, why wait until the coconuts are old before selling them?’ he recalls. So, he went to town, from stall to stall, hotel to hotel, looking for young coconuts. Only two stalls and one hotel had young coconuts, but even so, the supply was not regular.
14. As he continued his ‘investigation’, Sanusi discovered that the coconut supply was hampered by the unpopularity of coconut climbing, as climbers were often taunted as monkeys. The general perception of coconut-water-drinking was also negative as people believed that it could lead to impotency.
15. Thus, Sanusi launched an all-out campaign to dispel the myth of impotency by highlighting research by different authorities on the benefit of coconut water as a medicinal fluid and relaxant. Sri Lankans, he pointed out, drank coconut water regularly, yet they have one of the highest birth rates. He even had Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his wife appear on television extolling the benefits of coconut water.
16. As the demand for young-coconut water increased, Sanusi worked on improving the image of coconut climbing by organising coconut-climbing competitions, even at the international level. Sanusi even pit the champion against a monkey. The hype helped to raise the popularity of the fruit.
17. ‘More people drank coconut water, the price of coconut went up, and I went back to Bachok before I ended my term as Agriculture Minister,’ Sanusi says gleefully.
18. As Md Rozai Shafian, who has work as political secretary for Sanusi for more than 20 years, points out, ‘People don’t drink coconut water now because it’s more expensive that Coca-Cola.’
19. Sanusi’s ideas were farsighted, but to the layman, they were nothing more than jokes because they could not see what he saw. He points out that Sanusi’s idea of using old tyres to build an artificial reef was similar to the efforts of the United States and Japan, but much cheaper.
20. Those who have worked closely with Sanusi will attest that he wasn’t just a dreamer. ‘He’s a serious worker who moves very fast,’ says Dato Bahador Shah, Sanusi’s former political secretary at the Ministry of National and Rural Development. ‘When he visualises something, he starts doing it first. He believes that if he were to go through all the formalities, it would just take too much time.’
HANDICRAFT CENTRE AND THE AGRICULTURE PARK
21. For example, when Sanusi had an idea for Karyanika, a crafts village, he just started on the projects and completed it within two to three months. When he thought of the Bukit Cahaya Agriculture Park in Shah Alam, he went in and started clearing the area first before starting discussion with the state government.
22. Bahador recalls that Sanusi would immerse himself in whatever project he was working on. He would go straight to his project site right after returning from overseas, says Bahador, and sometimes, even at night. ‘Those were the times I really suffered,’ he continues jokingly.
METICULOUSNESS AND SENSE OF URGENCY
23. Sanusi is known for his meticulous habits. Rozai notes that he used to teach his staff how to punch papers for filling. His sometimes brash way of working and ‘laser tounge’ often rubbed people the wrong way. Just last year, he was fine for slapping two Malaysian Airline System (MAS) customer-service personnel who were slow in bringing a wheelchair for a relative disembarking from a plane.
24. Says Rozai, that incident was probably due to circumstances. ‘If he was temperamental, I would not have worked with him for 20 years,’ he says. ‘At times, he does lose his temper, but he often doesn’t realise it. When I bring it up, he would ask me to call the person and arrange for dinner with him.’
DO NOT SEEK POPULARITY
25. Sanusi’s philosophy, recalls Bahador, was that people only criticise you if you are working. ‘He used to say, if you want things to materialise, step on people’s toes; if you want to be popular, don’t work so hard,’ Bahador says. ‘He never got upset. He had his own way of doing things.’
LOVE OF BOOKS
26. Perhaps one reason why Sanusi’s peers could not see eye to eye with him is that he had a different plane of thought. An intellectual on many counts, Sanusi was exposed to so many other worlds, concepts and philosophies, thanks to his voracious appetite for books.
27. ‘He reads on every subject; he knows the latest film,’ says Rozai. ‘Ten years ago, he was already talking about genomes and nanotechnology.’ Sanusi, he says, would often explain to his staff things he read.
28. ‘I read many books at the same time; some books I haven’t finished in the past 10 years,’ Sanusi says. “I read a book, and it mentions nanotechnology, then my next book would be nanotechnology.’
29. Sanusi has his own personal library, with more than 20,000 books neatly organised, housed just a few doors away from where he lives. He reads in the car, in waiting rooms and airports.
30. It is not surprising then that Sanusi is an active advocate for the reading habit. His previous projects include a citizen’s reading centre, Pubara, at Paya Pahlawan in Jitra and a book village, Kampung Buku Malaysia, in Lubuk Semilang, Langkawi.
LOVE OF LANGUAGES
31. Along with his love for books, comes a flair for languages. Besides Bahasa Malaysia and English, he also speaks German, Tamil and Ducth. ‘I’m also cruising slowly through Arabic and Mandarin, ‘he says, being a fan of the The Romance of the Three Kingdom epic. Linguistic must be in his blood as his father, a lorry driver, was also well-versed in a whole host of languages.
32. He studied German when he was in Form 3 at the Malay College, Kuala Kangsar, Perak. A teacher, wanting to make some extra money, asked him to gather a few students for foreign-language classes at RM20 per person. ‘I asked him whether if I gathered 10 fellows, I could get in free, and he said yes, ’Sanusi recalls.
33. He picked up Tamil in Form 4, when he was sick in an Ipoh hospital for more than two months. At that time, all the doctors, nurses and hospital assistants spoke Tamil. Bored one day, he went with a hospital assistant to watch a Tamil film – Paalum Paghamum (milk and banana). After that, he bought the tape and listened to the song in Tamil. ‘After two days, I memorised the song, ‘Sanusi says. ‘I had first-class food in the third-class ward. Eventually, they shifted me to the second-class, then to the first-class ward.’ Motivated, Sanusi says he started reading children’s books to learn the language.
34. His languages prowess has helped him relate to people of different cultures. Says Rozai, whenever they were in Germany, he would have to accompany Sanusi’s wife on a separate itinerary as Sanusi would be busy chatting with his friends in German. ‘Whenever we’re in an Indian restaurant, he would speak only Tamil. No English, no BM.
35. In his free time, Sanusi exercises on treadmill and swims. Bahador says he used to drag Sanusi to the golf course, but he gave up on the game as he just wasn’t patient enough. ‘I used to have some orchids and fish; now I have time to start again, ‘says Sanusi, who has an orchid, Vanda Sanusi, named after him by the Orchid Society of Malaysia.
TIME WITH FAMILY
36. But most of his time is spent with his family. Married to Puan Sri Nila Inangda Manyam Keumala, Sanusi has seven children, four girls and three boys. The eldest, a 27-year-old chemical engineer, is based in Holland; the youngest is in Form 5. His other children are studying in various fields; religious studies, chemistry, architecture and medicine. The family is reputedly close-knit, religious and, surprise, surprise, bookworms.
37. ‘I keep no secrets from my wife, unless I wink at other women, ’Sanusi says cheekily. ‘Which I don’t,’ he is quick to add.
38. Sanusi, Rozai says, is very involved in his children’s lives. ‘He goes to see his son in school. He handles his children’s matters personally.’ He has meetings with his children every Sunday.
SUPPORT FOR DR. MAHATHIR
39. Sanusi has also been vocal about his admiration and support for Dr. Mahathir. When the Prime Minister is under attack, he is quick to rush to his defense.
UNDERESTIMATION OF THE CAPACITY OF THE YOUNG
40. He likens Dr. Mahathir’s situation to that of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the country’s first Prime Minister. ‘During Tunku’s time we were unhappy with him for building the Subang Airport, Stadium Merdeka and the National Mosque,’ which was right next to the train station,’ he says. ‘When we asked him about it, his answers were even more annoying.’ Says Sanusi, the former Prime Minister trivialised the matter with petty answer. Many years later, though, he realised the foresight of Tunku. When he asked the former Prime Minister about his answer before, Tunku replied that he thought that was the level of answer the students had wasted.
41. ‘Tunku at that time, had underestimated the students’ capacity to grasp the subject,’ he says. ‘Had he gone up to explain, we might have listened, or we might have not.’
42. On the scenario today, ‘I feel communication is not enough,’ he says. ‘If the people want the explanations, then we must meet them, explain to them and not ridicule them.’ Twenty or 30 years later, he says, Malaysians will be angry with Dr. Mahathir for not building a bigger Putrajaya.
IF SOMEBODY WANTS YOUR JOB YOU CANNOT DO ANYTHING RIGHT
43. But communication alone would not work with the Opposition Front, he says. ‘If somebody wants your job, then you cannot do anything right,’ he says. ‘At the moment, the attack on the Prime Minister must be understood as an attack on Umno and Barisan Nasional. People think the attack on the Prime Minister is to remove him, but that just the beginning.’
JOB, AND NOT POSITION
44. For now, Sanusi has no definite plans to re-enter the political arena. ‘All my life, I’ve been a working man,’ he says. ‘Most of the posts I’ve held were at secretary level. I go for the job, not position.’
45. He does have plans, though, to write a book, someday, on the stories behind his ideas. But he laments, ‘Of what value is writing in a society that does not read?’ In the past, he has published three books, mostly compilations of his speeches.
46. Whatever he chooses to do in the future, however, it is certain that Sanusi will continue to be an interesting personality to track.
INSPIRED IDEAS OF AN INTELLECTUAL
BEING A MINISTER AND A MENTERI BESAR
47. Romancing your wife campaign; grey hair plucking competition for couples.
48. Growing vegetables in backyards, roundabouts and homes, via hydroponics.
49. Using lifestock as competition prizes. In a golf tournament organised by the Agriculture Ministry in 1991, the top three prizes included a bull, a sheep and a rabbit. The hole-in-one prize was a horse and a four-wheel drive vehicle. Even the worst golfer got to take home 18 chicken eggs.
50. Simfoni Peladang: a symphony orchestra made up of musically inclined farmers. Along with that, the Agriculture Ministry came up with an album, Balada Taman Pertanian, by its singing group, Kumpulan Senitani. Talks were also held to introduce modern musical instruments to children of farmers and fishermen.
51. The ‘Ideal Village’ concept to mould positive attitude toward cleanliness, and beautification programmes among rural farmers.
52. Eating promotions for ulam, rabbits, sheep and freshwater fish.
53. Coconut-water-drinking campaigns, along with coconut-climbing competitions.
54. Clean toilet competitions for Kedah mosques, schools and petrol stations.
55. Creation of artificial reefs with old tyres.
56. The “Venice of the East’ project: a project to develop a 10 km waterfront along Sungai Kedah as a tourist site.
57. Rooftop padi planting project at the community reading centre in Kedah.
58. Kedai Runcit Masjid: a project to turn Kedah’s mosques into community centres with retail shops.
59. Kampong Buku Malaysia: a book village in Langkawi.
60. Teachers’ diary of teaching experiences, so that they could write books when they retire.
61. What’s in Store for the International Islamic University of Malaysia under the stewardship of Tan Sri Sanusi Junid
62. Since his appointment as president of the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM), Tan Sri Sanusi Junid has been quick to implement different programmes, not unlike those during his political tenure.
63. These include a Student Welfare Brigade; a volunteer movement for welfare work; the Iqra’ Movement; a book village programme, and the World Institute for Property Eradication (WIPER); a programme to provide the poor with marketable products and skills, which Sanusi first proposed at the national level in 1992.
IIUM AS CENTER FOR MUSLIM UNITY MOVEMENT
64. His main mission, however, is to achieve world Muslim unity. With 13,000 students, 1,500 of whom represent 93 countries, Sanusi plans to form the International Institute for Muslim Unity, upon the directive of Dr. Mahathir. ‘In his university, Muslims from more than 90 countries come together and stay for at least three to five years, ‘Sanusi says. ‘If by staying together for so many years you cannot unite, then it is fat hopes for people who meet for a few hours once a year at conferences to unite.’
65. At IIUM, says Sanusi, he encourages the students to mingle and communicate with one another, which remains one of his biggest challenges. ‘People of almost similar religions – Jews, Christians, Muslims – are the least united in the world as they spend their time highlighting their differences, ‘he says. ‘Whereas people of dissimilar religions spend their time looking for similarities. They eat together. They share common values of respect.’
66. The key for unity, he says, is tolerance and acceptance of differences in opinions. That is why at the IIUM, there is an open forum for scholars of different views to share their beliefs and discoveries. ‘There is no necessity for them to raise their own army as they have ready listeners who are acceptable, but critical, to opinion.’
67. Recently, the university has been given doctorate degrees to Middle Eastern leaders and scholars. ‘We’re not just honouring them’ ‘he says. ‘Actually, with their achievements, they are also honouring us by accepting the degrees.’ Because of this, the university has been highlighted in the international media, he says, leading to phone calls and enquiries about the IIUM from the Middle East.