COMMENT | “Communist, conspiring with foreign countries and defiler of Malay rights.” This whole sentence sounds like a work of fiction - the ultimate boogeyman for Malays.

This was a tale passed down from one generation to one generation, and I was one of those who was captivated by such a story at a young age. A story about a politician from the Democratic Action Party. A story about Lim Guan Eng.

When I first started working with the then government led by Najib Abdul Razak, I viewed Lim Guan Eng, who is popularly known as LGE, from across the aisle as someone I should be wary of, someone who, if the Malays are not careful, will bite their Malay rights in their back, chew it off and spit on it.

I was not alone, for many Malays felt the same way. LGE was effectively the ultimate boogeyman. Someone power-hungry that wants to get the throne to step on the Malays.

Thanks to a twist of fate, I ended up on the opposite side of the aisle, not just fighting against the same cause but working together to ensure our country’s future remains a hopeful one. In those moments, I realised that the guy that was constantly branded as a boogeyman didn't really care about power. He is just a statesman - set on a single goal, a goal that drove him to enter politics in the 1980s, a goal to build a better Malaysia.

That is when I started to know him better, and those who support and follow closely LGE’s political career would know that the man is a fighter and was willing to go all out to ensure justice is not only heard as a slogan but seen to work. He was once thrown in jail because he was hell-bent to ensure a minor that was a victim of statutory rape sees the light of justice.

Even in jail, LGE didn’t give up the fight. He could simply remain quiet and enjoy his power as an assemblyman like many others, but he chose to fight the good fight. The sad thing is not many Malaysians, especially the Malays, know about this, especially the fact that the minor was a Malay and a Chinese man was willing to fight for her cause and ended up in jail for that.

Moments and stories like these are the ones that should be told openly to show what true Malaysians do. These are the kinds of stories needed to be told to debunk the myth of LGE as a boogeyman.

Fast forward to the historic moment of May 2018, LGE was made the minister of finance. Again, he was berated as the boogeyman that will curtail Malay rights and the position of finance minister should not be given to a Chinese person. Again, another racist concoction made to spur unnecessary hatred. This wasn’t new. It has happened before when the late Tan Siew Sin served as finance minister under the first and second prime ministers.

I am not going to lie. Working with LGE is not a walk in the park. Not that he outrightly rejected your policy ideas but because he was (and I believe still is) very rigid in ensuring every single cent in the nation’s coffer will be spent wisely and responsibly. He’s a very detailed person that went through the policy paper together with the minister who proposed it and worked diligently to make it better.

He was one of the great architects behind the now abandoned [email protected]. It was an RM6.5 billion grand masterplan to ensure 350,000 jobs are created within five years. The scheme was set to ensure employers will have the incentive to hire, and employees to get higher pay if they are qualified within the scheme. It is a well-structured social well-being project ensuring youth’s investment in education will not be wasted. It is sad such a huge project combining multiple ministries’ efforts will be put to waste.

Personally, I had faced a constant battle with LGE to ensure a greater budget for my then ministry, Youth and Sports. But having him as a finance minister kept me on my toes and challenged me to try to come up with creative solutions to ensure a greater budget.

His motto was, “there is no point in going big if the plan will not last long.” So, we came up with a greater sports budget via a cut from the sugar tax and a bigger cut from Sports Toto. This level of assurance will create a more robust sports ecosystem that gives confidence to current and future athletes. Prime examples of this will be the increased budget for NFDP and aggressive plans to recruit more female athletes via Women in Sports.

I understand the duty of the MACC, I plead for Malaysians to not be quick to judge. While this case against LGE will be tried in court, I want all Malaysians to give him room to clean his name. Penang’s well-polished competency, accountability and transparency is a groundbreaking principle to limit and reduce the element of corruption in the state.

I believe in the Lim Guan Eng I know. A principled man true and through.

SYED SADDIQ SYED ABDUL RAHMAN is the MP for Muar and was the youth and sports minister under the former Pakatan Harapan government.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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