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I remember you!!

When I attended Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik’s funeral recently, I thought back to the time when I first sat in the front row seats of a palm oil press conference hosted by him many, many years ago.
He pointed at me and smiled at other senior reporters who were standing behind me and said, “This reporter is new, ah?” I turned around wide-eyed and saw many reporters laughing along with the Minister of Primary Industries. I was puzzled but thought nothing of it.
Soon, I experienced firsthand and finally understood why many experienced journalists stood far, far away when the minister spoke.
My notebook and spectacles were splattered with his saliva as he spoke out with passion against anti-palm oil campaigns funded by soyabean farmers in the US. As the press conference came to a close, I moved aside to wipe my glasses.
A few months later, at the next press conference I knew better to stand behind other journalists and shout my questions from afar to Dr Lim.

He craned his neck and swayed from side-to-side to figure out who was asking the question. “I cannot see you, come nearer la.”

I reluctantly waved my right hand in the air and peeked from behind this big and burly cameraman from TV3. Dr Lim grinned and wagged his pointer finger. “I remember you… the new girl!”

Jokes aside, Dr Lim took on his ministerial tasks seriously. He would always go to the ground whenever there were issues with the commodity sector, especially when prices start to slide.

In 1999, Dr Lim was instrumental in propping up plunging rubber prices by rallying the top three rubber producers, namely; Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia to stock up and release the supply to the market gradually.

Dr Lim was a super-salesman as he helped popularise palm oil all over the world. He introduced a credit scheme to exchange palm oil for Cuban sugar and Russian jets and spare parts. When times were tough, Lim made sure palm oil was burnt at power stations. As stock levels came down, palm oil prices would rise again and oil palm planters get to earn a decent living.

Dignatories at his funeral, including the King, noted Dr Lim has served the country well. Indeed, many tree planters have immense respect for him as he showed unwavering courage and wit in challenging critics of the oil palm and timber industries at international debates. I, for one, will remember Dr Lim as a minister who’s very clever at driving poignant messages across, in good humour.

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