Sticking To His Guns
In 1982, I met a young deputy minister at an assignment in Kuala Lumpur. I was with a colleague, Zainah Anwar who was there to talk to him for a political story.
I had just been back a year from my journalism studies in the US to resume work with the NST, and was there to cover the young political leader who was the main guest at the event.
At 31, Shahrir Samad was Deputy Trade and Industry Minister. I took an instant liking to him because he spoke so passionately and articulately when replying to questions.
I liked him also because I found him to be smart and very outspoken.
It was refreshing to listen to this brave and brash young leader.
In my book, Shahrir Samad was a non-conformist. He had gall and gumption. His outspokenness became his trademark notoriety.
Before assuming the trade and industry portfolio, he was Deputy Finance Minister.
I also remember him to have been the youngest Cabinet Minister at 34 when in 1983, he was made Federal Territory Minister.
His last Cabinet post was as Welfare Services Minister. He held the post until 1986, before the infamous 1987 Umno (Team A-Team B) split when Tengku Razaleigh challenged incumbent Dr Mahathir Mohamad for the party presidency.
Dr Mahathir who led the Team A camp, won by just over 40 votes. His candidate for deputy presidency Ghafar Baba also defeated Team B's (incumbent) Musa Hitam.
Dissatisfied, Team B cried foul. This led to Umno being declared unlawful in 1988. A new party, Umno Baru was formed. Shahrir who was in Tengku Razaleigh's camp as were Musa Hitam and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, refused to join the new Umno at first but did so a year later.
Although he was not accepted back into Dr Mahathir's Cabinet, Shahrir remained active in the party, down south in Johor.
We never met after he left Umno until I think, the party general assembly in 2000. He had contested a seat in the supreme council and won more than 1,000 votes to emerge 14th among 63 contenders for the 25 posts.
I invited him over to the media centre and we talked. He was still as outspoken as ever, although a little mellowed.
I had asked him what he had been up to, besides Umno.
"Oh, what else is there to do? I have been running a dry cleaning business."
I told him I had heard about that.
Shahrir was soon back in the fold.
In 2004, he was made Backbenchers Club chairman but resigned last year after he broke ranks with the BN for supporting a DAP motion in the Dewan Rakyat.
Later, he told reporters that his support of the opposition motion which was subsquently rejected, was "a mistake in regards to the parliamentary procedure involved".
He maintained that based on the political model, there was no mistake. It was "wrong in regards to parliamentary procedure but politically no wrong was done."
Shahrir Samad is today the Public Accounts Committee chairman.
Later today at 9.30am (Monday, February 26) the PAC will reconvene at Parliament House where Second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop is scheduled to give testimony over the controversial ECM Libra Bhd-Avenue Capital merger.
The PAC last touched on the issue in August last year. Shahrir had then said that the merger had raised troubling questions.
Will he be satisfied with Nor Mohamed Yakcop's testimony?
What will the outcome be?
Rocky's Bru has a take on the PAC meeting here. Malaysia Today's Ibnu Hakeem has his here. A Voice (of Another Brick In the Wall) has the background to the controversial merger (or was it a takeover?) and a photo of Shahrir chairing this morning's meeting, courtesy AgendaDaily here.