Thursday 12 July 2018

Sidek Saniff's memoir tells of his path from protester to politician

By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 Jul 2018

Carrying banners and placards screaming "Why the MOE is inefficient", Mr Sidek Saniff led busloads of union members to stage a demonstration outside the premises of the Education Ministry.

Singapore had yet to achieve independence and Mr Sidek, a popular and respected teacher, was a firebrand who would take on the government without hesitation.

So he never expected to find himself on the other side, which he did when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew invited him to join the People's Action Party (PAP) and contest the 1976 elections.

His journey from protester to politician is documented in his memoir, Sidek Saniff: Life Reflections At Eighty, which was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

In his speech, PM Lee said the late Mr Lee "believed that Sidek's opinions were genuine and constructive". He noted that Mr Sidek's eventual decision to join the party cost him his popularity at first, with some former colleagues accusing him of having been "bought" by the PAP.

PM Lee said Mr Sidek pressed on and, with fellow Malay PAP MPs, launched many initiatives to uplift the Malay community, among them, the formation of the self-help group, Mendaki, in 1982.

Mr Sidek, 80, retired in 2001 as Senior Minister of State for the Environment after 25 years in politics. He said he accepted the invitation to join the PAP because of the late Mr Lee's integrity and honesty. "As he (Mr Lee) put it, it is easier to make a difference within Parliament than outside Parliament," he said at the launch yesterday.

Mr Sidek was often tasked with helping to make difficult decisions and explaining them to the ground, such as one, in the 1980s, to break down the PSLE and O-level results by ethnicity. Mr Sidek declined to have the announcement made by a civil servant, and chose to do it himself, said PM Lee.

PM Lee said: "He believed it was the right thing to do, and that it would eventually improve Malay students' academic performance. At first, the Malay community felt awkward about the issue. But bringing the data out into the open enabled the community to acknowledge and tackle the problem, and helped to deliver the steady progress we have seen over the last decades."

As Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Mr Sidek was also given the job in 1989 of convincing the Malay community of the merits of awarding tertiary tuition subsidies based on family per capita income. Prior to that, they had been awarded automatically to any Malay student irrespective of family income.

In his book, Mr Sidek said he faced resistance from the Malay community, some of whom believed their rights were being robbed. Mr Sidek told the media yesterday he believed the policy was fair in channelling more funds to lower-income families.

PM Lee said Mr Sidek was a natural choice to deliver a eulogy of the late Mr Lee's work with the Malay community during his state funeral service in 2015. He said: "Sidek and the other PAP Malay leaders steadfastly stood by Mr Lee and the PAP's ideals. They fought courageously shoulder-to-shoulder for what they believed in - the advancement and well-being of the Malay community, in a multiracial and multi-religious Singapore."

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who entered politics the same year as Mr Sidek, said newer MPs today can learn the values of humility, trust and sincerity from Mr Sidek's book.

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