With Enough Optimism, Success Will Come
Having suffered his share, state executive councillor Abdul Malik knows to keep his eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel.
It must be strange for Datuk Abdul Malik Abul Kassim, 62, to tell people about the street where he was born. Originally named Jalan Yahudi, that small throughfare in the centre of George Town is visible from his present office high in the Komtar tower.
It is now called Jalan Zainal Abidin after Abdul Malik’s grand-uncle. S.M. Zainal Abidin was a prominent educator and writer in the early 1900s. After the war, he expanded his role in politics, establishing a state Umno office in Penang together with S.M. Hussein – his brother and Abdul Malik’s grandfather.
Abdul Malik was thus poised to become a strong supporter of Umno, which he did after a rebellious stint against the establishment. “I attended Institut Teknologi MARA (ITM, now Universiti Teknologi MARA) in 1973 and studied Public Administration at the School of Administration and Law. From my second to fifth semesters, I was an exco in the student union, Persatuan Siswa ITM (KSITM), and just after the crackdown on student activists, I was the acting secretary-general for a few months,” he says.
When talking about the famous 1974 ITM long march from its campus in Shah Alam to Parliament to demand for university status, the Baling demonstrations and the Tasek Utara and Kampung Kerinchi protests, Abdul Malik’s eyes light up as he remembers the heyday of the country’s student movement. During his final semester, he was expelled from the institution along with several other student leaders. “Fortunately, I managed to get back in right before the final exams and graduated in 1976,” Abdul Malik says.
Friends, Politics and Turmoil
Things were starting to look up, but unfortunately, it was not to last. Persuaded by his uncles to join Umno in the late 1970s, Abdul Malik decided to run for the Tanjung division youth chief post in 1987 against one of his FAMIQ business partners. His win was bittersweet as politics had turned both friendship and business relationships sour. Abdul Malik was eventually booted from the company.
He went to work as an assistant to former KFC Holdings executive deputy chairman Datuk Ishak Ismail, who later installed Abdul Malik as the managing director of a new electronics company in Prai. “I started up the new company, opened up the factory and did everything from A to Z. Then, because of the 1997 Asian financial crisis I was also the one to close down the factory,” Abdul Malik says ruefully. He went on to hold a senior technical management position in engineering and construction company Christiani & Nielsen UK.
Abdul Malik returned to Penang a year later, jobless and practically homeless, bunking at his mother-in-law’s house. “I was selling things here and there and mostly sitting around in the Keadilan office on Lebuh Gereja. Fortunately, my wife was able to go back to teaching in a kindergarten,” he says. “It was upon my return from Saudi that I set up the Tanjong division of Parti Keadilan Nasional and worked for the party during its maiden contest in the 1999 general election.”
The 2004 general election came around and I was slotted for the Pantai Jerejak state seat. However, my whole family refused to allow me to run. They said I was jobless, we’d already lost everything, where were we going to find the money to campaign?
Life went on and Abdul Malik found short-term work as a project coordinator for a Boskalis International Dutch project laying a gas pipeline from Prai to Gelugor. He started seriously concentrating on organising Umrah travel tours to Mecca, and later dabbled in real estate, marketing Penang properties to Middle Easterners.
“The 2004 general election came around and I was slotted for the Pantai Jerejak state seat. However, my whole family refused to allow me to run. They said I was jobless, we’d already lost everything, where were we going to find the money to campaign? I was really geared up to run but in the end, I decided not to contest,” Abdul Malik says.
It was perhaps a blessing in disguise as apart from party leader and wife of Anwar, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who retained her seat after a recount, every Keadilan candidate lost in their state and parliamentary contests that year.
Being a politician at heart, Abdul Malik began his campaign to convert his biggest critics: his family. “I’m born a political man and I was committed. From 2004 onwards, I started to build up my ‘marketing and promotion’ to my family. It was so successful that in 2007, they were the ones asking me whether or not the party wanted me to contest!” he laughs.
Abdul Malik knew that the coming election was make-or-break for him. He quietly informed party leadership that if he was not successful in winning a seat, he would pack up and leave for Saudi Arabia – this time for good. “During my travels in the Middle East, I met a Saudi family who eventually offered me a contract to build two 200-bed hospitals north of Jeddah. I got contractors and subcontractors to start the construction and I decided that if the 2008 election did not work out, I would move to Saudi Arabia to take over the project management and start to make a life there,” he says.
In what has been popularly termed a “political tsunami”, the ruling BN lost the two-thirds majority it had had in parliament since 1969 and opposition parties swept into power in five states, including Penang. Abdul Malik quickly went from being a greenhorn, first-time assemblyman of Batu Maung to being state executive councillor. (By all accounts he was also among the poorest, listing just one Proton Tiara as his sole financial asset upon taking office.)
Tasked with the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs portfolios (the Religious Affairs portfolio was added a year later), he was soon approached by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng with the idea of starting a halal hub in the state. Lim had attended the Malaysia International Halal Showcase under the invitation of then-Minister in Prime Minister’s Department (now Deputy Prime Minister) Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and was keen to see how the halal industry could grow to benefit Penang.
“He could really see the potential of a halal hub being a new force of the economy. The Penang International Halal Hub (PIHH), also known as Halal Penang, was created in early 2009,” he says. That same year, the Halal Penang launch was officiated by both Lim and Zahid. Malik adds that to date, only Penang and in 2015, Selangor, had separate state agencies in charge of developing halal potential.
Ten clusters (Manufacturing Industries; Logistics; Agro-based Industries; R&D; Tourism and Hospitality; Life Sciences; K-Workers; Financial Services; Entrepreneur and Development; and Marketing and Promotion) were identified to spearhead the state halal industry.
Halal Penang has since then grown to occupy two locations in the Bukit Minyak Industrial Park and established the Penang International Halal Expo & Conference which will hold its eighth instalment next year.
Its growth has been steady – a relief for a man who has had many acute ups and downs in his life. Abdul Malik says he has a lot to be thankful for; from being part of a stable, vibrant state government to the birth of a second son in 2013 – a full 16 years after his firstborn.
“Alhamdulillah, it is going well,” he says.