30 years of public service

27 Dec 2016 / 14:49 H.

PETALING JAYA: Think community service, think MCA, and the first image that comes to mind is Datuk Seri Michael Chong.
And after three decades in the saddle, the MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head is not showing any signs of slowing down.
“I won’t retire!” he said, as the MCA’s poster boy for community service marks his 30th year with the party and the department.
“But of course, if MCA doesn’t want me anymore, if there is no more support from the authorities, or my health fails … that means it’s time to pack it up,” he told theSun in an interview last week.
It’s not that easy to picture the department without Chong, who has been its first and only head since the department’s inception in 1987.
The 68-year-old, who became an MCA staff back in 1980, said he’d love to continue “helping people with misery”.
“But if they are replacing me, my successor must keep in mind that whatever is done in this department, it is not for personal glory or as a stepping stone for political ambitions.”
Chong, who survived crushing poverty when he was a child, told theSun that, over the years, he was asked by the MCA’s top brass to contest in the general election and by-elections no less than six times.
“But I turned it down,” he exclaimed, recalling that back in 1999 former MCA president, the then Datuk Seri Ling Liong Sik, had wanted to take disciplinary action against him for refusing to contest in the general election.
Why did Chong do that?
“I’m happy to simply help people through this department. It gives me so much pleasure. Besides, I know my limitations … no point torturing myself,” he said, adding that his poor command of Mandarin and other Chinese dialects was also one of the reasons.
“Other than Cantonese and the Kek dialect, I am useless at Mandarin and the rest. Of course I speak English and Malay.”
Where was Chong before his MCA narrative started?
He sold vacuum cleaners and life insurance, but those were part-time jobs. As he was looking for something better and steadier, someone told him about the then-MCA Youth chief and vice-president, (Tan Sri) Lee Kim Sai who had wanted a personal assistant.
“I applied and got an interview. It was at the old party headquarters in Jalan Loke Yew. I lied to him!
“To work in MCA, one must be able to speak Mandarin and the other Chinese dialects. I can’t speak a word of Mandarin, except Cantonese, but I claimed I know everything. I wanted to work so desperately as I had no steady job.
“Thankfully, I was hired. A week later, someone asked Lee, ‘Why did you employ a fool here?’ By then it was too late for him to sack me, as I had managed to find things to do that didn’t require me to speak Mandarin or required me to do things I didn’t know.
“Those things included going to the government agencies’ offices, writing official letters and attending to people who needed help; I learned a lot about public service. They realised I’m useful in those ways, so I stayed on.”
In 1984, Lee was sacked due to a party crisis. That meant Chong had to go too, since he was with “the wrong guy”.
“For three years we were outside the party, in the ‘rebel camp’. I remained with Lee throughout that period. In 1986, I returned, on April Fool’s Day.
“I was appointed as MCA property assistant manager. But it didn’t do well due to the recession then. They put me in general administration, where I took care of the office boys, general workers, janitors and telephone operators. But there’s nothing much to do, and it made me feel redundant and scared.
“However, at the same time I was attending to many people who kept coming to MCA for help.”
In 1987, the party created the Public Services and Complaints Department and put Chong as its head. With just one clerk to assist him, Chong began the long and exciting journey. The rest, they say, is history – especially for those who were oppressed, desperate and “in misery”.
It started with residential matters such as waste collection, floods and clogged drains, other than the odd loan shark-related cases every now and then.
“The very ‘interesting’ cases came a year later, the first was about a missing girl. Thanks to the ‘longkang news’, I was always in the newspaper, and that’s how this department attracted the more serious cases, which included many involving Malaysians who overstayed or stranded in countries like Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, mostly due to misusing their travel visas or got conned into it.”
Between 1992 and 1996, Chong went to Japan 61 times! Once, he went there three times in a month.
Did all those trips end in success?
“Almost all were, as far as my meeting the Malaysians were concerned – I’d be bringing back either the dead or the sick. There were times when I brought back ashes of Malaysians who were cremated in Japan and Taiwan; I carried the urn into the aircraft and put it into the overhead storage. Sometimes, I even slept with the urn on my lap during the flight, when there’s not enough overhead storage space.
“Those I didn’t bring back were the ones imprisoned there. I visited them, with the assistance of the very helpful Malaysian embassies. There were a few who could not be traced. They were probably fed to the sharks, I don’t know.”
Chong pointed out that MCA never financed any of those trips, as all were paid by well-wishers or the family members of the people in the cases.
As word of his work spread, the sick sought help.
“There were a lot of cases of kids with serious illnesses – leukaemia, heart problems, where the parents sought help from us. We’re happy to help and even happier when their lives were saved,” he said, while showing to theSun the hundreds of files and folders at the department’s storage cabinets and room, containing thousands of cases he had handled over three decades.
After 30 years, what are the cases that left and indelible mark on his track record?
There were many but one still sticks at the back of his mind - a Klang boy who went missing in 1995.
“His name was Song Sheng. His case touched the hearts of every citizen in this country. Everyone went all out to search for him, but unfortunately until today he has yet to be found.”
(Seven-year-old Tin Song Sheng went missing while waiting for the bus at his school in 1995. Witnesses said he was last seen being led away by a middle-aged woman. A nationwide search and publicity was spearheaded by Chong, who got help from the media, non-governmental organisations, and even the orang asli to look for Tin in the jungles. Chong got the Thai border authorities to keep an eye out for the boy. Pos Malaysia distributed thousands of posters of Tin to the public.)


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