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Mar 19, 2008

Sain! Sain! Tak payah baca, ini orang saya.

ZAKARIA DEROS the untold stories by Terence Fernandez


WHENI was woken up at 4.30am last Tuesday by an SMS from Norafiza Mahfuz,the public relations officer of the Klang Municipal Council (MPK), itwas immediately apparent that this newspaper and I personally had anobligation to produce this article. But it took a few days. Although itwas necessary to record our "debt" to a man whose misdeeds hadironically contributed to our claim to fame and solidified ourreputation for "telling it as it is", this column had to be temperedwith compassion and good taste.
It was not going to be an easy assignment, because while one cannot escape the truth, you never "diss" the dead.

But my better and brainier half has aknack for putting things into perspective: "all babies are cute and alldead people are good".

Yes, Datuk Zakaria Md Deros is gone.He of the Istana Idaman fame; he who purchased low- cost land worthRM1.3 million for RM180,000 under his wife’s name; he who proposed thathis son and daughter-in-law join him as councillors at MPK; he whooperated an illegal satay house and toredown a business rival’s shed; he who owed RM22,000 in assessment forover 12 years; he who served as a senator while a bankrupt; he who ranan alleged illegal sand-mining business; he who faced over 30 chargesfrom the Companies Commission.

The former Port Klang Assemblymanwhose proxy in the recent general election was his daughter-in-lawRoselinda Abdul Jamil (who lost to the PKR candidate) was defiant tillthe last.
His last days were filled with miseryas he tried to come to terms with the fact that a state considered tobe an Umno stronghold and to a larger extent Port Klang, to which, inhis opinion, he had given his all, could be wrested by the opposition.

Traumatised by the loss of the state government to the PKR-DAP-PAS coalition, he lamented "Negri kita diambil alih oleh orang asing" (ourstate has been taken over by outsiders). These were to be among hislast words before collapsing and succumbing to a heart attack.

What was unfortunately lost onZakaria was that the loss of Selangor was partly due to him, as he wasafter all, the poster boy for the excesses and abuses of those inpower. Many called it defiance and sheer arrogance, but hissympathisers say he was just oblivious.

"In his mind, he was doing the rightthing and he could not understand what all the fuss over his mansionwas about," said Faizal Abdullah, who quit as an MPK councillor afterit was revealed that he too built a bungalow without approval.

Zakaria appeared bewildered as hetearfully thanked the press during a news conference at his homefollowing reports of his unrestrained conduct for "educating me onright and wrong".

But these, say critics were the wordsof a seasoned politician who knew exactly what he was doing. Thissecond school of thought was probably a more accurate version of theman.

"I prefer to be called Abang Z,"he told reporters after an audience with the Sultan where he received aroyal rebuke and risked being stripped of his Datukship.

Zakaria also evoked fear in almostall who he came in contact with. It was difficult to dig up dirt on hisabuses, as many were terrified of co-operating.

When we front-paged a report on himdefaulting on his assessment rates, Zakaria paid a visit to MPK andscreamed at the staff, assuming that they had leaked the information.

Once, standing on top of the desk of a district officer, Zakaria shouted at the trembling man and forced him to approve a land transfer.

At the MPK, the man was king,dominating council meetings with even council heads cowering inapprehension. He controlled Umno councillors and even told them to walkout of committee meetings if the outcome was not to his liking."Buat apa lagi duduk dalam? Keluar semua!"(What more are you sitting in there for? Everyone get out!), hebellowed at one session, before all Umno councillors trotted out.

The only person who stood up to himwas Datuk Teh Kim Poo, the Pandamaran assemblyman who also lost in theelection. The two would go head-on with Teh challenging projectsendorsed by Zakaria.

At the height of the Istana Idamancontroversy, of which Teh had been a vocal critic, Klang police quicklytook down banners carrying words bordering on racial incitementattacking Teh, the MCA and even the journalists who exposed it –Citizen Nades and yours truly.

It is understood that there is nolove lost between Zakaria and Teh, but the two last met three weeksago, photographed shaking hands at a pre-election function, provingthat in politics there are no permanent friends or foes.

But one character who remained anadversary is Sungai Pinang assemblyman Teng Chang Khim of the DAP, whoZakaria slapped in 2000 during a break at the State Assembly, followinga heated argument when Zakaria took offence to Teng’s use of the word "haram" when referring to illegal factories.

But whatever one says about Zakaria, for the many whom he had helped, Abang Z was Godsend.

From getting job and universityplacements, housing, land grants and even financing his constituents’children’s schooling, weddings and paying for funerals, Zakaria was theman who could get things done.

Just one phone call and the entire MPK team was at his doorstep to patch a pothole or tear down his rival’s satay stall.

And he is not one to take "no" for an answer.

"He would thrust the pen into thehand of an officer or minister, push the recommendation letter in theirface and to the point of intimidation, would force them to sign it,"said Faizal.

"Sain! Sain! Tak payah baca, ini orang saya, you sain aje! Sain! Aku cakap sain!"

(Sign! Sign! No need to read, this is my man, you just sign it! Sign! I said sign!)

Even Zakaria was aware of his lack ofgrace and had confided in a friend: "I am not an educated man. This isthe only way I know how to do things".

But in spite of these so-calledlimitations, the former railway gatekeeper was considered the mostpowerful man in Selangor – at one time even tipped to be mentri besarhimself.

But he was more effective as "kingmaker" and contributed – in cash, kind and delegates to ensure his"men" sat in the State Exco and municipal council.

Klang was his own little kingdom withhim as Umno chief, his wife Zizah Ngah Wanita Umno head, his sonZainuri Umno Youth chief and Roselinda heading the Puteri wing.

When his excesses came to light, evenPrime Minster Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Mentri Besar DatukSeri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo were reluctant to remove Zakaria, with the PMlabelling him "a good leader".
To those who knew him personally,Zakaria was the jovial, simple Abang Z. A joker, who was the life ofthe party – generous to his friends, family, constituents, and thosewho did his bidding.

And he was a die-hard Umno loyalist, even threatening bodily harm to those who wanted to leave the party.
However, to the masses, Zakariarepresented all that was wrong with Umno and the previous stategovernment where there were different sets of laws for thewell-connected and the ordinary man. And this is where Zakaria unwittingly provided the people with the reasons for bringing him andthe state government down.

One must remember that Zakaria wasnot the only rogue politician. There were many more like him or worse,but the revelations of Zakaria’s misdeeds had inadvertently focused therakyat’s lenses on those inpublic office and raised the benchmark on how these officials shouldconduct themselves; and at the same time compelling their leaders torein them in.

The sad part ofZakaria’s story is that had he played his cards well and done things bythe book, his would have been an inspirational rags-to-riches story.

It is unfortunate thathis legacy will be that of the man whose unrestrained behaviour, abuseof the government machinery and exploitation of his positioncontributed to the fall of Umno in Selangor – the party and state heloved so dearly.

Terence prays that Zakaria hasfinally found peace and clarity. He is deputy news editor (specialreports & investigations) and is reachable atterence@thesundaily.com


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