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How I started writing many years ago

Book contributors at the soft launch of Regime Change at the Aliran dinner on 8 September.

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Benedict Lopez recounts his journey from working as speechwriter in a government agency to contributor for Aliran.

Back in the middle of 1994, when I was working in the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (Mida), I received a transfer order.

It was to move from the resource-based industries division of Mida to its industrial promotion division, mainly to undertake the unenviable task of writing speeches, articles and papers.

Initially, I thought of protesting and requesting management to rescind the transfer order – like some of my colleagues before me who had requested and succeeded in their appeals.

But my friend, Dr Patrick Pillai, attached to the Institute of Strategic and Industrial Studies, Malaysia, encouraged me to take it as a challenge. So I decided to give it a shot. I am still uncertain whether it was by chance or divine intervention that I ended up spending more than a decade in the job.

To be frank, it was a thankless stint I had to endure but I took it in my stride. It was a job no one wanted but some unfortunate ones had to do it.

In addition to my normal duties, I was also on the editorial board of Mida’s publication, Mida’s Touch, for nearly seven years. I wrote, edited and proof-read articles for this publication.

But I often felt like a fake, waiting to be found out that I had no experience, training and journalistic skills to embark on this difficult task. I still have no idea how I managed writing all those years.

Were it not for the grace of God, which I need by the bucketful, I would not have been able to be writing even after my retirement, including my over 60 articles for Aliran. To me, it is a sign that God wants me to continue writing.

I started writing for Aliran after a chat one night with Aliran treasurer Anil Netto, when I discussed with him how Malaysia could have been like Norway if we had prudently invested our oil wealth. Anil encouraged me to write an article and hence my writing stint with Aliran began.

My article on Norway motivated me to write a follow-up on the food sector in Denmark. This allowed me to impart some of my observations during my stint as director of Stockholm Mida and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there.

If there is one lesson I learned in my 33-year working life, it is that in many organisations there are two types of staff: the blue-eyed boys and the backroom staff. No prizes for correctly guessing who are the apple-polishers and who are the sincere and dedicated staff.

Sadly, many bosses not only favoured the former over the latter but have also, for absolutely no reason, victimised the latter. Among the excuses given were that these staff were not drinkers or golfers or worse, the blatant lie that they had an attitude problem.

I hope bosses everywhere who have treated their good staff unfairly will make amends now before they meet their maker. There will come a point in life when the conscience weighs heavily for past wrongs. When that happens, one will try to find solace through restitution. But restitution is sometimes not possible, and hence the only option available is to offer an apology.

I am fortunate to have been granted the opportunity write for Aliran, which has championed social justice, human rights, civil liberties, labour rights and environmental matters for 41 years. These are values which are in harmony with my beliefs as a human being.

I draw my inspiration to write when I receive feedback from my friends Peter Raiappan, R Ganapathy and S Kukanesan. Blogger Ben Morais also continues to be a source of encouragement to me with his useful comments.

As long as my faculties remain intact, at least for the next few years, I will continue to write as my small contribution to Malaysia and impart my two cents worth of knowledge and ideas.

Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.
Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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