Former CAP president leaves lasting legacy

20 May 2019 / 22:19 H.

GEORGE TOWN: For someone who had never used a smartphone, much less owned one, S.M. Mohamed Idris is a social media sensation.

Since his passing last Friday, there have been close to a million online searches on him.

Staying clear of cyberspace is just one of his many traits. He never wore suits, nor did he smoke. He was also a strict vegetarian.

But it was his work as an activist for consumerism and environmental causes that he is best known.

Idris was an avid reader, poring over newspapers daily, and was never afraid to express his opinion. Even on the day he was sent to the hospital after complaining of breathlessness, he was quite vocal about the issue of the day.

His public life began with an appointment to the Penang City Council in the 1960s as a representative of the then Alliance government.

But he was also an uncompromising environmentalist and advocate of consumerism, a trait that would lead to him forming the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) with Datuk Anwar Fazal in 1969.

Today, CAP and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) - an environmental NGO that was also headed by Idris, - are the reference point for others fighting for the same causes, but none have been able to muster the media exposure that Idris had in his day.

In Penang, CAP and SAM were in the news at least once a fortnight, highlighting issues that mattered.

He took on every issue - from profiteering and excessive usage of chemicals to pollution and poor enforcement.

Issues that that he had taken up such as disposal of plastic and electronic wastes, soil erosion, flash floods and landslides continue to haunt the government.

Among those who had worked with him at his office behind the state mosque on Jalan Masjid Negri were former MIC president Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, former Penang chief minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon as well as a host of senior newspaper editors.

Idris was also the man behind the formation of the Third World Network, an international research and advocacy organisation that covers third world issues.

The mantle is likely to be passed on to his brother Mohideen Abdul Kadir, who had served as vice-president of CAP for some time.

The challenge for Mohideen is not only to live up to his brother’s reputation but also to deal with the issues that his brother raised but remain unresolved. Those that come to mind are the Penang Transport Master Plan, as well as the handling of plastic and electronic wastes.

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