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LETTER | Ramesh Chander’s passing leaves a big void

LETTER | I realised within a few years of knowing Ramesh Chander that he was somewhat of a local deity in the Greater Washington area. For he was already somewhat of a sought-after sage, scholar, soul-force for informed perspectives, generosity, good company and goodwill.

He had that rare kind of unassuming reputation that impressed most Malaysians and quite a few people from other countries. He did not wear his statistical or development economics skills or his high connections on his sleeve.

Rather he kept that at a low-key constantly manifesting a benign countenance of being friendly, effortlessly socialising with all and sundry and came across as a warm, convivial, hospitable and helpful person.

He became the virtual doyen, the eminence grise of Malaysia's well-regarded corps of International Monetary Fund/World Bank specialists decades ago.

From the early 1980s, he had functioned as an undesignated informal emissary of the nation promoting Malaysia’s causes, assisting Malaysians, keeping abreast with old friends, his small family and the many souls who did not get to meet him but sought his counsel and guidance on all kinds of matters.

He had assisted many Malaysians to settle into Washington DC, including some of our senior diplomats and introduced them to the Illuminati of Washington society, especially of the World Bank.

On his regular visits to Malaysia, he kept up with the key players in our economic, financial and statistics institutions and think tanks. One person that he saw without fail was his collegial contemporary, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. They seem to have shared a perception of the decline of the old well-ordered Malaysia when there was much greater perkiness and promise.

That old optimism rested on the solid composition of our public service. In 1980, for instance, the high-minded Hussein Onn was the prime minister, Razaleigh was the finance minister, the central bank governor was Ismail Ali, Thong Yaw Hong was the treasury secretary-general, the ambassador in Washington DC and the World Bank executive director was Zain Azraai Zainal Abidin - impeccable men of integrity and intellect.

Ramesh was of that genre.

Ramesh’s passing leaves a big void, especially for those who have known and interacted with him. He had the rather unique personable capacity of putting at ease anyone he met- the self-effacing civil servant, the bumptious bureaucrat or the serious scholar- and developing friendships with them.

Ramesh had joined the World Bank on invitation at the beginning of 1978 after relinquishing his chief statistician's position in Malaysia, a post that he had held for nearly a dozen years.

With the many specialised assignments that he handled for the World Bank, especially with the modernisation and the digitisation of the economy of the People's Republic of China, Ramesh acquired a reputation as a competent, cerebral and consummate international civil servant.

He was always ahead of the curve being quietly supportive and positive about the emerging economic powerhouses of the People’s Republic of China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

He was highly impressed with the honesty, humaneness and professionalism of the technocrats of the PRC with whom he started working in the 1980s. Initially, it was to build solid data base and later it contributed to the creation of a vibrant digitised economy. He was impressed by the dynamics that powered the stellar economic force of Asia even as early as the late 1980s.

On social and personal levels, he was a good and solicitous host at his well-appointed home at 898, Golden Arrow Street, Great Falls, Virginia, often entertaining with his excellent culinary skills, lively conversations, well-chosen wines and company.

His passing leaves a big void in the lives of many. Undoubtedly his life and work are a source of inspiration for all Malaysians for he was not just an individual but an illustrious institution for his many colleagues, friends and acquaintances.

It was a privilege to have known him.


M SANTHANANABAN is a retired ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience.

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

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