Rangkaian Khidmat Awam Negeri Sarawak

(People, events, activities and programmes which make for a total quality-managed Sarawak Civil Service)

ISSN 1394-5726

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Dato Sri Haji Safri Awang Zaidel
A Full-Fledged Civil Servant With A Volunteer's Heart

Dato Sri Haji Safri Awang Zaidel graciously shares his memorable expe-riences as a civil servant as well as the highlights of his various stints in his only career- the Civil Service.

Those of us who know Dato Safri will agree that he is a gifted man with intelligence and a rich knowledge of history and global events. But as he relays his stories, you will notice that somehow, it's not the intelligence alone that matters. It's neither the experience. It's something else.

While this is certainly not a complete account of the story, RAKAN SARAWAK tries to capture those moments of the past that will make us think and ponder on what makes an ideal CIVIL SERVANT... read on.

First Taste of the Civil Service

Dato Sri Haji Safri Awang Zaidel started his career in the civil service as a secondary school teacher at Maderasah Melayu in January 1954. " I was recruited by the Education Department to teach and I was one of the volunteers who first stepped forward to this call. It was memorable as when I got out from the classroom, suddenly I found myself teaching students some of whom were actually older than myself! Though without experience, I found that I could get along well with my job and that I could learn fast. It gave me a sense of satisfaction realising that we could produce very good results at the end of the year, with our students scoring the best in the whole Sarawak."

The former DSS started as a secondary school teacher at Maderasah Melayu

He went to New Zealand for further studies in 1960 and when he returned at the end of 1962, he was posted to the Batu Lintang Teacher's Training College as a lecturer. From there, he was transferred to the Secretariat. He was given the post of an Assistant Secretary in charge of Protocol. "Part of my job then as a Protocol Officer was to organize the first-ever visit of the King of Malaysia to Sarawak. It was still a semi-colonial period. That was 1964, just a year after Merdeka, and there were still a lot of British officers serving in the Secretariat. Without much experience, we relied so much on common sense and on that Sarawak spirit- to do your best to make people happy. There was only me as the Protocol Officer unlike now that you have the Protocol Department where you have at least six or seven staff. I was by myself so I had to get people from various departments and together we formed a team. Through teamwork, we managed to organize the first-ever visit of the Agong. Of course we made mistakes but it was a good start and it was well-managed. It was the time when communists were lurking their heads and there was heavy security especially in Sibu where insurgency was pretty bad."

Dato Safri recalled that it was exciting and interesting. He said that there were mistakes somehow but the willingness to put up a good show was there. "I realised that the people of Sarawak even before, would always give their best to put up a good show and they go beyond what is expected to impress the visitors."

As District Officer (DO) Miri

From Assistant Secretary in the Secretariat, he rose to the post of a District Officer. It was deemed a great promotion although Dato humbly denied it. " Again, I did not have much experience in the administration aspect so I had to apply lots of common sense".

Dato Sri Haji Safri is married to Datin Liliah Salleh

" I landed at the Lutong Airport; it was just a grass airport and I flew in using a very small airplane. I was also welcomed with a long and thick grass at the District Office and I told myself I had to do something. By the time I left Miri District Office, the grass was very much shorter! "

Being a DO that time had its bitter side as well. "One day I was visiting Sibuti by boat, and I got seasick. Along the way near Sibuti upriver, we found a longhouse on fire. I saw the women wailing and the men looked dejected. On the spot, I had to organise a relief committee. I had to get people to raise funds quickly and to help the victims of the fire at the soonest possible time."

As a DO, he also had to perform the duties of a Magistrate. So one day he had to witness a real post mortem session in full view. " I was there and had to see for myself how the man took out the body organs of the dead man and afterwards, just put back those parts again right before my eyes! I also had to witness the cutting of the man 's head as they were really trying to find out the actual cause of the death."

After that post-mortem, they all had to go back. Dato Safri himself had to go back the same night to his residence "When I returned to my bungalow, it seemed the dead man's face was everywhere!"

Posting in Baram in 1966

He had at least three memorable times in Baram. Firstly, it was the organising of the Baram Regatta." I believe that the Baram Regatta was and is the mother of all regattas! It was fantastic and those days the regatta was just like a Pesta. It was indeed a big celebration wherein all the Orang Ulus would come down in their longboats not only just to participate but also to be present and meet one another. People come from as far as Miri and Brunei. The guest of honour then was Tun Abdul Razak, the then Deputy Chief Minister."

There was so much to do then and most of the times, Dato Safri had to think on his toes. "Again, it was my first experience. Duties included looking for accommodation for your guests as those times there were no hotels. I even had to take part in preparing the tuak and at the same time, meet and be with the VIPS. That time, Marudi became very colorful. It was indeed a fantastic experience... during the evening sessions, jars of tuak were just placed around the place for people to drink. There was even a time that someone found a dead mouse in one of the jars! "

"I had to apply lots of common sense"

Secondly, when I was in Bario, I had to stay there for a month to supervise the changing of guards. It was during konfrontasi time (Malaysian conflict). There was confrontation in the jungles and Bario area was greatly attacked. In 1966, it was over. After the confrontation, the British soldiers were no longer required in Malaysia. The British were going home so there was this handing over of duties to our Malaysian officers. It was memorable because Bario then was not accessible at all. Weather conditions would somehow determine whether you could go to Bario or not."

When the British left, they did not bring with them their belongings such as refrigerator, kitchen utensils, mattress- they wanted to give all these to the Bario people. " So I had to arrange for these things to be distributed. These things if not handled properly could go wrong", explained Dato Safri.

Duties Come First

For Dato Safri, his duties as a civil servant have always been a priority, anytime of the day and in any situation.

"Dato Oyong Lawai Jao, who was then the paramount chief of the Orang Ulu in Baram. suddenly rang me up one day and said 'Come to my house in Marudi' so I said 'What's on? And he said, I have my people from the borders here with me. Those times there were a lot of people coming in not only from Kalimantan but from all over... It was konfrontasi time but nevertheless, I had to be there.

From Baram, he was transferred to Simanggang (now it's called Sri Aman). He continued : " The communist uprising was very strong that time. Those days some Chinese were influenced by the communist ideologies. One day a young Chinese boy came to my office and said, 'Tuan I want to go to China' "Why do you want to go to China? I want to be with the Great China, with the Motherland. Can you help me to go to China? So I said 'Maybe China looks rosy from a distance but China is a communist country so think it over and I give you one week to think about it. And remember, once you leave for China you cannot come back here. So I waited for that boy to see me after a week but nothing has been heard of him since then.

After that, I served again as a Special Assistant to the Chief Minister. In one of my trips to Marudi, a young man approached me and said "Sir, it's me who went to your office some eight years ago. I was the boy who wanted to go to China. Thank you for your advice!" Such incident really gave me a sense of satisfaction.

At the Harvard University, USA in 1985

Stint in London, UK with the Malaysian High Commission

Dato Safri worked in London for three years as a Students Welfare Officer attached to the Malaysian High Commission. He met students and dealt with their left-wing organisations, bailed out some naughty students from imprisonment and related situations. "One of the incidents that I would always remember was when I had to arrange for the funeral arrangement of a Malaysian girl who committed suicide. It was a pain to tell her parents about it. At the same time, it was an educational experience ; I was present all throughout the cremation process and that's how I learned a little about Buddhism".

From London ... Back to Sarawak

From London, he came back to Sarawak and assumed the post of a Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Dato Safri again proved his leadership prowess and expertise in handling youth activities. He helped form SABERKAS in 1973 and was its first deputy president. The Chief Minister then, Datuk Patinggi Abdul Rahman was the president. He recalled that it was not easy to get youth leaders to merge their organisations into a single body. "But after a series of dialogues and meetings, the majority agreed to the merger", he said.

Dato Safri was also appointed as the Deputy Director of Education and then as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communications and Works (now Ministry of Infrastructure Development and Communications)

As Deputy State Secretary

The year 1982 marked a milestone in Dato Safri's career in the civil service where he was appointed as the Deputy State Secretary and served the State Civil Service until 1990. This phase of his civil service life had a tremendous impact on him as a volunteer.

During this time, the Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri (Dr) Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud considered it necessary that an NGO be formed to complement the efforts of the various government agencies in development communication. " If I may say so, the formation of Angkatan Zaman Mansang (AZAM) in 1983 was a significant step. AZAM has been an effective tool in bringing the State government closer to the people at the grass-root level.

Being at the helm of AZAM as Chairman from 1983 to 1998, Dato Safri claims that it has been a fruitful experience. " To see it growing from zero to the vibrant organization that it is today gives me a sense of satisfaction".

Apart from this, his involvement in other voluntary organisations also heightened at an impressive momentum. He assumed the post of a Chief Scout Commissioner for the Scouts Association of Sarawak until 1991. "We initiated a lot of community projects. Again, I must say that it's through teamwork that we are able to accomplish things"

Undoubtedly, Dato Safri Awang Zaidell has spent a meaningful life in the Civil Service, touching lives and leaving an impresssion that anyone will not easily forget. He has surpassed the "fear of the unknown" with courage and sincerity to serve the community.

For a truly meaningful career in the civil service, he advises the civil servants:

" Be ready to serve and serve with courage and dedication. Be positive all the time and do your work with a mission and vision. Use your common sense and practise diligence and I am sure you will be all right"

*Dato Sri Safri retired from the Civil Service in 1990 and spent the next five years as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Yayasan Sarawak (Sarawak Foundation)


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