PETALING JAYA: The son of the illustrious former deputy prime minister Ismail Abdul Rahman has urged critics of Robert Kuok to read the billionaire tycoon’s memoirs, saying he has contributed immensely to Malaysia’s economy.
Tawfik Ismail, a former Barisan Nasional (BN) MP, said he could only attribute the current hostility to Kuok – whom he referred to as Uncle Robert – to either forgetfulness or unfamiliarity over the man’s contributions to the country.
“These few critics would be overwhelmed by the esteem many more Malaysians have for Uncle Robert, a true patriot,” Tawfik told FMT.
Kuok, 94, is one of Asia’s richest men, and is famously known as Malaysia’s “Sugar King”. His memoirs, “Robert Kuok: A Memoir” was released last year.
Tawfik said among Kuok’s contributions was keeping the price of sugar and flour low for Malaysians and reducing the country’s dependency on imports.
He said while Kuok did benefit from government support, the government had relied on his business talents to reduce Malaysia’s dependence on imports.
“Like any good businessman he would avail himself of any opportunity to expand his business, but he would carry with him government entities to ensure the security of the business as well as to fulfill the economic goals of the New Economic Policy (NEP),” said Tawfik, referring to the government’s affirmative action policy.
He said Kuok put into practice the NEP ratio of employment in his companies long before other Chinese family companies.
Tawfik said Kuok was a strong believer in meritocracy, and shared the same ideals of his father Ismail, second prime minister Razak Hussein and his successor Hussein Onn.
“All four were golfers and would have understood ‘handicap’ in the context of golf and not as a medical condition as Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a non-golfer and the least sports minded of all our prime ministers, would have defined it,” said Tawfik, a strong critic of the former prime minister.
Kuok, who is now based in Hong Kong, came under criticism from Umno leaders, after blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin said he had been donating money to DAP, as well as funding a campaign to overthrow the government.
Prime Minister Najib Razak had said Kuok could not have made his fortune without the Malaysian government’s help, while Umno Supreme Council member Nazri Aziz dared Kuok to return to Malaysia to contest in the next general election.
Kuok has since threatened to sue Raja Petra over the false allegations.
Kuok, said Tawfik, is not a racist, and taught all his workers to think as Malaysians first.
He recalled how Kuok offered him a job in Johor Bahru during his political wilderness, after he was not selected to defend his Sungai Benut parliamentary constituency.
“It was while I was in JB that I saw first hand how he treated his employees as family, and was very strict with his managers and drummed into them that while their duty was to make profit, their main responsibility was to the employees below them.
“He was generous to even the lowest rank and during festive occasions, would give flour, rice and sugar for their families. Most importantly, he encouraged his employees to think as Malaysians.”
Tawfik said Kuok would only donate money to a charity or political party of his choice.
“I cannot read his mind on this though, he can make his like or dislike clear through his investments.”
Tawfik said Kuok is loyal to his friends, whether or not they are part of the administration.
“When the late Dato Onn was opposing Umno, Uncle Robert stayed close to him. When Tunku Abdul Rahman and Hussein Onn were out of Umno in 1987, till both passed away, Uncle Robert continued to keep in touch and contribute to any charities they patronised.”
Tawfik makes no secret that Kuok helped him and his family after his father’s death in 1973.
“He has helped many Malays, and I am personally grateful to him for assisting and sustaining my family after the untimely death of my father in August 1973,” he said.
He said Razak’s decision not to channel government funds to help his family “was the proper thing to do”.
“So when the government asked my family to surrender all government property in our care – which at that time was a car – Uncle Robert rose to the occasion and provided my mother with one.
“He went further and supported my siblings and I through school and university, advising us that government scholarships should go to the needy, and that we should not expect to be rewarded for our late father’s public service.
“I also know he helped other children of Malay civil servants by educating and employing and training them in business. ”