The Star 11.07.2010
Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Chua Tee Yong normally prefers to stay out of the media spotlight. But he is keen to talk about the potential of the agricultural sector, targeting his message to the youth.
HIS boyish looks belie the determination in him to make his mark in politics.
Chua Tee Yong, the second son of MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, says he will not be distracted by talk that described his recent appointment as Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister as nepotism.
Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, he says. “What matters most is whether the criticisms can add value, or if they can make everyone’s lives better.”
At 33, Tee Yong’s rise in MCA over the last two years, described as a “helicopter ride”, has drawn diverse reactions – from admiration to envy and jealousy – but this is part and parcel of politics.
And the first-term Labis MP who is also the youngest deputy minister in the current line-up is taking it in his stride.
“I want to focus on the larger picture – to carry out my duties and responsibilities expected of me,” he stresses.
When asked how he would respond if someone just said point blank to him “You are a deputy minister because of your father”, Tee Yong says he would reply: “I respect your opinion. Thank you.”
There is certainly no reason for him to allow himself to be drawn into the topic, especially when the other party has made up his or her mind, he explains.
In fact, he says, he has been very busy of late, attending one briefing after another with the departments and agencies under his ministry.
One aspect about agriculture that has struck him is the fact that youngsters are not drawn towards this sector.
“Agriculture is not something that is seen as hip, cool or sexy,” he says, but expresses confidence that the youth will be interested in the sector once they see the potential.
“Do you know that you can take a soil sample from your garden and ask the Agriculture Department what can be planted on it?” he quips.
On a more serious note, Tee Yong, a chartered accountant with a Masters in Business Administration, points out that agriculture is a promising sector, and figures speak volumes of its potential.
Malaysia’s birds nest industry, for instance, was worth RM1bil in 2007, and this was only 8% of the world’s production. Another 70% was from Indonesia.
He notes that there is a booming market in China for the product, which is said to be good for health and beauty.
Ornamental fish rearing is also another business worth exploring, says Tee Yong, pointing out that Malaysia only accounts for RM700mil of the world’s RM27bil worth of ornamental fish exports a year.
Other businesses worth exploring include organic vegetable farming, contract farming for fruits like papaya and bananas, and aquaculture, he says, adding that the ministry will also come up with more user-friendly information, especially on the grants available, for those who are interested in venturing into the agriculture business.
On how he is coping with the sudden switch to agriculture, Tee Yong says his past experience as an auditor is helping him in a way.
“I always approach things with an open mind. I do not just focus on the issues. I also do a lot of reading and have dialogues with others at all levels to get a better picture of things.”
On the political front, Tee Yong says the MCA’s approach now is going to the ground to reach out to and interact with the people, especially the young. “We need the people’s feedback to help us serve them better. Our performance will be gauged by the people eventually.”
With three children aged between one and five years old, Tee Yong says he is grateful to his wife for all her support, especially in taking care of their children.
Bonding with the children is very important to him, and he tries to have dinner at home before going for night functions, and has breakfast with them during the weekends before proceeding to his Labis constituency.
Bonding is something he learnt from young, and he probably got himself drawn into politics in the process as he used to follow his father, a doctor-turned-politician from Batu Pahat, Johor, around.
“I remember people coming to our house to discuss politics with my father. As a teenager, I also used to go with my father when he visited his constituency,” recalls Tee Yong, who is the only one among Dr Chua Soi Lek’s three children to follow their father into politics.
His older brother, Tee Joo, 35, did follow in his father’s footsteps in another way, as he became a doctor.
Born and bred in Batu Pahat, Tee Yong, who received his tertiary education in Melbourne, says he does follow his father’s style in politics: having dialogues with the people to get to know them, looking at things from different perspectives, and meeting and interacting with people on the ground.