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.