Thursday February 16, 2006

Eager beaver, but first things first

By CHOW HOW BAN

NEWLY appointed Federal Territories Minister Datuk Zulhasnan Rafique does not want to talk about his plans for Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan until he meets the Prime Minister today. Such a calm and cautious person is he.

During an interview at his house in Taman Setiawangsa, Kuala Lumpur, last night, the 51-year-old businessman-turned politician demonstrated his eagerness to start work as a full minister, but at the same time he showed respect for his boss.

“Let me see the Prime Minister first. I want to listen to his advice and what he wants me to concentrate on in the federal territories.

“At the moment, I do not want to talk too much. I have a lot of ideas which hopefully can be applied but I want to reserve these ideas first until I meet the Prime Minister.”

When asked about his capabilities, he said modestly that his comments about the new job would be sufficient for the first interview following the announcement of the new Cabinet by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Tuesday.

Zulhasnan was appointed Deputy Federal Territories Minister in March 2004 before his promotion. He is also Setiawangsa MP, Federal Territory Umno deputy liaison chief and Commonwealth of Parliamentary Association Malaysia deputy chairman.

The KL boy had his early education in La Salle High School in Petaling Jaya, then at theVictoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur. He joined the Royal Malaysian Air Force as a fighter pilot in 1972 and retired in 1985 with the rank of major.

After his retirement from the air force, Zulhasnan ventured into business and served as managing director and executive chairman of Seri Meraga Consolidated Sdn Bhd.

He then joined politics in 1995 and was selected as the candidate for the 1999 general election for the Wangsa Maju constituency. The constituency was then divided into Setiawangsa and Wangsa Maju in 2004 before the last election.

Zulhasnan getting his mother Sabariah Mohd Yusof's blessings when she visited the new FT Minister at his home in Taman Setiawangsa upon receiving the good news.
His wife, Datin Siti Nooriah Ana Razak, has good words of the family man.

“What is most obvious to me is that he is a caring husband and father,” she said. “He is concerned about everything in the family. At work, he is honest and treats his work as a great responsibility.

“He is also very hardworking and I think he has brought his discipline from the air force to his work,” she added.

Siti Nooriah said her husband was a punctual person and he would nag and wait for her when going anywhere.

“If he were to officiate a function, he will wait for others and not the other way round. Say, if a programme starts at 8.30pm, he will wait inside his car by the roadside at 8pm,” she said.

Siti Nooriah said she was initially worried that Zulhasnan would not find time for the family when he joined politics, but his good traits prevented him from drifting from his family.

“Sometimes when he has programmes, he will bring us along,” she said.

Most people are not aware that Zulhasnan, the second of six siblings, is a sportsman who is into rugby, badminton, football, swimming, horse riding and squash.

“I am now active in polo while my children do horse riding and show jumping. Whenever I have free time, I will jog in Setiawangsa every morning and evening.

“If I have functions or meetings in the city, I will change into my sportswear and go jogging at Lake Gardens or work out at a gym in the city,” he said.

His wife said: “Datuk likes polo while my daughter loves show jumping or equestrian and takes part in competitions. I like only casual horse riding.''

The couple have three children – Syazna Leana, 18, Syaira Leena, 15 and Muhammad Suhail, 11 – and they have been living in Taman Setiawangsa since 1991.

When asked about the coincidence of the news of his appointment with Valentine’s Day, Zulhasnan laughed: “This is a good Valentine’s Day gift for my wife, me and my family. Coincidentally, my wife’s birthday is Feb 23 and our wedding anniversary is in March.”

On his fast emergence in the political scene, he laughed again: “Really? I think there are people who emerged faster than I did ? Actually, it was very systematic: I worked in the Backbenchers’ Club for four-and-a-half years and as the deputy chairman of Public Accounts Committee before joining the Government.

“After that, I also went stage by stage and was promoted from Deputy Federal Territories Minister. Maybe there was an opportunity – the seat was left empty – I don’t know.”

Newly appointed Federal Territories Minister Datuk Zulhasnan Rafique (centre) meeting his mother Sabariah Mohd Yusof at his home in Taman Setiawangsa, Kuala Lumpur. With them are his wife Datin Siti Nooriah Ana Razak, children, sisters-in-law, nephews and brothers
He said he would not have problems suiting himself to the post as he had already been addressing issues in the federal territories as a Member of Parliament and deputy minister.

When he saw the announcement on the appointment on television, the first person Zulhasnan called was his mother and he saw her at her house in Taman Tun Dr Ismail.

“My mother was ecstatic and advised me to carry out my duties with integrity and responsibility,'' he said.

Asked about his pairing with his deputy Datuk Wira Abu Seman Yusop, he said he already knew the former Internal Security Ministry parliamentary secretary during their time as backbenchers during the previous term.

“We went to the United Nations for a month and I found him to be a hardworking and dedicated person. In my opinion, we will not have problems working together in the ministry,” he said, adding that he would retain his offices at three of the federal territories to meet people and attend meetings in the respective areas.

Zulhasnan had been waiting for the promotion and there was talk that he would be a possible candidate to replace Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad as the FT Minister last October. But the Prime Minister appointed Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil as acting minister instead.

“At that time, I believed that the Prime Minister had his own reasons to appoint an acting minister. As a party and Cabinet member, I just worked as usual and supported his decision at that time and now.”