The "Unwritten" Last Chapter of the Late Ong Kee Hui's Footsteps in Malaysia: Political Development of Sarawak since 1963 (1)

By Porritt, Vernon L. | Borneo Research Bulletin, Annual 2007 | Go to article overview
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The "Unwritten" Last Chapter of the Late Ong Kee Hui's Footsteps in Malaysia: Political Development of Sarawak since 1963 (1)


Porritt, Vernon L., Borneo Research Bulletin


In the Foreword to Footsteps in Malaysia, Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr. George Chan Hong Nam wrote, "we had intended to include writings on his [Ong Kee Hui] principles in life in this book but unfortunately he passed away before he wrote them." (2) In fact, an outline and part of the "unwritten" chapter, together with an early sequential plan for the entire book had been written prior to his demise. This "unwritten" chapter was extremely important to the late Tan Sri Datuk Amar Ong Kee Hui, who viewed his life as analogous to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, a journey to final enlightenment. This is reflected from time to time in parts of Footsteps in Malaysia that were written prior to his death. Much of the original outline for the "unwritten" chapter is covered in Chapter 15, "Life After Retirement," but there are two sections written over a decade earlier by Ong Kee Hui that do not appear in Footsteps. These sections, intended for the "unwritten" chapter, are recorded in this Brief Communication and are thus made available to the Ong family, his surviving colleagues, researchers, and future historians, instead of remaining locked away in my computer archives. But first, a brief background.

Ong Kee Hui and 1 had collaborated on Footsteps up to about page 62, when we parted company. My role had been that of transcriber, editor, and researcher, similar to that for Volume One of his memoirs, Footprints in Sarawak: Memoirs of Tan Sri (Dr) Ong Kee Hui: 1914 to 1963, as recorded in the Acknowledgements. (3) Seeing his life as a journey to enlightenment, Ong Kee Hui eschewed in his final writings all sensitive subjects relating to politics to which he would have been privy, an issue, among others, over which we parted company. (4) The only insight into the more lugubrious side of Sarawak political life in Footsteps is perhaps a paragraph on page 67 that reads:

   In the mad scramble or bid for concessions of land, forest or other
   natural resources of the state [Sarawak], which occurred soon after
   independence [1963], members of opposition parties had very little
   chance of getting anything from the Government ... (5) So I decided
   that I would have to look elsewhere outside the state for sources
   of wealth.

The two most important aspects of Ong Kee Hui's life (1914 to 2000), other than his family, were his Christian beliefs, culminating in his confirmation in 1987, (6) and politics, through his chairmanship of the Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP). A fourth-generation Sarawak Chinese from a prominent family, Ong Kee Hui, after obtaining a diploma in agriculture, served as an agriculture officer with the Sarawak government from 1936 to 1948 (interrupted only by the Japanese Occupation, 1942-1945). (7) Subsequently, he was active in banking and business until 1970, when as an elected MP, he was appointed a minister in the Malaysian federal government. (8) He retired from the federal government and the SUPP in1982 and from business in 1986 when the Sarawak Emporium of which he was a director was wound up. Later, one of his sons-in-law secured a forestry concession for him to supplement his income.

His political career began with his nomination to the Sarawak Council Negri (Parliament) in 1955 and selection as an unofficial member of the Sarawak Supreme Council (Cabinet), and his election to Chairman of the Kuching Municipal Council in December 1959. Ong Kee Hui is perhaps better known and remembered as a founding member and the Chairman of the Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP) from 1959 to 1982. This party, representing the majority of the Chinese people in Sarawak, gradually evolved from a left-wing, communist-infiltrated, anti-Malaysia opposition party to membership in the conservative, UMNO-underpinned Malaysian and Sarawak alliances of ruling parties. (9) Held in high esteem by his peers and the Sarawak public, in his retirement Ong Kee Hui was the doyen of Sarawak's political elite.

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