SM Mohamed Idris, the larger-than-life president of the Consumers Association of Penang and Sahabat Alam Malaysia for as long as I can remember, passed away this afternoon at the age of 93. Deepest condolences to the CAP family.
His passing comes just hours after Education Minister Maszlee Malik took up a suggestion to visit the Sungai Ara Tamil Primary School to get a first-hand look at the innovative learning methods and sustainable practices in the school. The minister came away clearly impressed.
At the school this morning, principal Sangga Sinnayah told me that Idris had actually phoned him to touch base and find out more about the school. Little did we know this doyen of the consumer rights movement would pass away just hours later.
What a great loss to the environmental and consumer rights movement. Long before I joined Aliran, my first introduction to an NGO came in secondary school in SXI when a woman from CAP visited our school and gave us a talk on setting up a consumers club. That planted the seeds of awareness of the civil society movement in the country.
CAP under Idris was at the forefront of some major battles such as the struggle against the Asian Rare Earth plant in Bukit Merah in the 1980s. It was also part of the Friends of Penang Hill’s successful campaign to Save Penang Hill in 1990 – a monumental battle which contributed to then Penang Chief Minister Dr Lim Chong Eu’s shock defeat in the general election that year.
In recent times, Idris’ CAP was among the civil society groups that expressed strong opposition first against the Penang Global City Centre project at the Penang Turf Club ground in 2007 under the BN government – and more recently against the “PTMP”, including the massive land reclamation plans off the southern coast of Penang Island.
The last time I saw Idris was some months back, when he was still holding court in CAP to a couple of researchers presenting their findings on the lack of accountability in many government-linked companies.
Idris was due to announce civil society groups’ backing for an online petition against the land reclamation, which has so far gathered over 8,000 signatures. (Please sign if you haven’t already done so.)
SM Idris may have left us – with his boots still on – but he planted many seeds in the consumer rights and environmental scene. Today we have a new generation of young adult activists in the Penang Forum movement. Many environmentally conscious children are also blossoming, thanks to the efforts of folks like Sangga and his team at the Sungai Ara Tamil Primary School. They are the hope for our future.
Here is my write up for Aliran about Maszlee’s visit to the school this morning:
Maszlee high-fives his way into ‘model’ Sungai Ara school that captured public imagination
The Sungai Ara Tamil Primary School in Penang received top-level endorsement for its wholesome all-round approach to education when Education Minister Maszlee Malik praised its efforts this morning.
The place was buzzing with anticipation ahead of his visit at 8.30am today as Maszlee took up the suggestion to visit the school. The school proudly claims it does not give its pupils homework and encourages its pupils to take part in outdoor activities – yet it is one of the top schools in the state with an 86% pass rate at the Primary School Achievement Test (UPSR).
Since the school received a wave of publicity a month ago after its efforts were highlighted here, word has spread on social media and among neighbouring schools, civil society and the larger public.
Education Department officials from the state and the South West Penang Island District turned up in full force at the school this morning. Also present were 10 other principals from neighbouring schools in the district.
Children from the Al Iqtan Secondary School just next door were specially invited to join their counterparts in meeting Maszlee.
“This is the Malaysia baru,” beamed principal Sangga Sinnayah of the coming together. “This is how it should be.” Full article on the Aliran website