I would like first of all to thank the members of the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for erecting me as the 1987 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Government Service.
The late Ramon Magsaysay is regarded as a defender of the people, a president dedicated to eliminating injustice and exploitation, one who had a vision for a better future for the common man. He cared for all and wanted to ensure that the people were not squeezed or cheated by those with greater power, influence or wealth.
One of the main aims of the Malaysian Pilgrims Management and Fund Board (Tabung Haji) is to prevent the exploitation of ordinary pilgrims by middlemen -- a situation which was rife during the colonial period. Since formation, Tabung Haji has been able to eliminate the middleman at all levels, help make the pilgrimage more orderly and provide better facilities for about 25,000 pilgrims each year.
Before the establishment of Tabung Haji, Muslims in Malaysia, 70 percent of whom live in the rural areas and make up the poorest section of the population, used to save for the haj by keeping their money in pillows, under the bed, in cupboards or in jars buried in the ground. These traditional methods of saving -- designed to avoid having their money tainted by interest which is forbidden by Islam -- were not only detrimental to the rural economy but also to national economic growth.
The government formulated a scheme to invest money put aside for the haj in business activities which are permitted by Islam. From 1,281 depositors with approximately US$20,000 worth of deposits in 1963, Tabung Haji today has over 1,000,000 depositors and assets worth some US$500,000,000.
Tabung Haji's economic activities in oil palm and cocoa plantations, housing and industrial concerns bring benefit not only to the depositors who receive a yearly share of the profits, but also to the economy of the country, creating thousands of jobs for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Tabung Haji is not only an institution serving the needs of Muslims but the population at large.
An important lesson learned from the success of Tabung Haji is the necessity of political support and the avoidance of political interference. The Malaysian government's support for Tabung Haji has been an essential ingredient in its success. But even more important has been its non-interference in the professional and business decisions of the board. There is no dearth of brilliant economists and planners in Asia, but lack of political support, as well as the disease of political interference, corruption and nepotism, have meant that the plans of many organizations have not achieved their target.
Members of Tabung Haji's staff have developed an attitude of genuine respect for the dignity and importance of all who deal with the organization. They are always available to the people. The organization has been able to develop this spirit of service and dedication among its staff as we believe that public service is a trust. Of ricers of Tabung Haji regard themselves as servants of the people who have put their trust in the organization. They have eliminated bureaucratic hurdles and difficulties facing the people and made its services easily accessible to all, with minimum difficulty and cost.
To me this Award is not only an acknowledgment of the innovative and pioneering role of Tabung Haji in serving the needs of Malaysian Muslims -- and of Muslim minorities in other countries in the Pacific region -- in performing their religious obligations, but also of its important role in contributing to the economic and social development of Malaysia. The latter benefits both Muslims and non-Muslims.
I am indeed honored to serve as chief executive of this organization with its dedicated and loyal staff and, as a Malay, I am proud to accept this Award, which is dedicated to the ideals of one of the Malay world's illustrious sons, the late President Magsaysay.