Once-vital Malay community organisation Majlis Pusat Singapura ordered to wind up

The dissolution of Majlis Pusat Singapura brings to an end a 55-year-old organisation. - ST

SINGAPORE: Majlis Pusat Singapura, a society that was once a leading voice for the Malay/Muslim community here, has been ordered by the courts to shutter and have its assets liquidated after it failed to settle debts of close to S$400,000.

A notice gazetted on June 3 said RSM Corporate Advisory had been appointed as the liquidator, following an order by the High Court for the society to be wound up.

The court issued the order on May 20 in favour of an application filed by Siti Hasmah Adam, the director of Three Aces – a company engaged by Majlis Pusat to operate a childcare centre between 2015 and 2020.

According to court documents, Siti had claimed more than $228,000 for payments owed to her over the contractual period, as well as over $135,000 for fees for legal and arbitral proceedings, among other things.

The dissolution of Majlis Pusat brings to an end a 55-year-old organisation that rallied the Malay/Muslim community in the uncertain years following independence.

Formed in 1969, it was originally an umbrella organisation of more than 30 Malay/Muslim organisations, whose goal was to advocate for the Malay community here.

“It was created against the backdrop of separation from Malaysia in 1965 and the sense of uneasiness among Malay leaders then about the future of our minority community in Singapore,” former minister and MP Yaacob Ibrahim told The Sunday Times.

The society organised the landmark 1970 seminar on Malay participation in national development, and subsequent seminars to tackle other social problems such as participation in the education system. It also organised the Bulan Bahasa, or Malay language month, from 1982.

It became known for its fearlessness in raising tough issues to the Government on behalf of the community, such as why young Malay males were not called up for national service, which affected their employability, and the deeper issue of Malays’ loyalty to Singapore.

After self-help group Mendaki was formed in 1982, the society underwent a period of soul-searching about its role, with its president Zulkifli Mohammed noting in 1992 that some of its leaders saw the expansion of Mendaki’s programmes as a sign that “the writing was on the wall and that we should fold up”.

Instead, it found a new role as the community’s cultural vanguard: Bulan Bahasa became a more or less annual fixture from 1992, alongside dance festivals, dikir barat (choral singing) competitions and other performances.

In 2012, the society announced that it would amend its Constitution so that it could get involved in business to raise more funds for activities.

But a year later, it became embroiled in controversy when the Commercial Affairs Department said it was investigating the organisation for reasons related to its management of the annual Hari Raya Aidilfitri light-up along Geylang Serai.

Three Majlis Pusat officers, including former president Saharudin Kassim, were subsequently found guilty of cheating and were jailed.

After that episode, a group of volunteers took over the organisation in 2019 in an attempt to resuscitate it.

But shortly after the volunteers took the reins, the issues with the childcare centre surfaced, said the society’s last secretary-general, Ms Isiah Majid.

Siti told ST that following an arbitration award in September 2023, she had asked Majlis Pusat for the amounts owed, but her lawyers’ letters to the society “were met with complete silence from the exco” for months until she decided to bring the winding-up application.

She said: “I had a strong desire to find a resolution that would allow Majlis Pusat to continue.”

In April, she had proposed a payment plan that she believed was reasonable and viable given that the society continued to earn an income from the childcare centre it runs in Tampines, called Little Beez Playskool, but received no response.

At the May 20 court hearing, the society’s lawyer did not object to the winding-up application.

The society’s last president, Suri Abu, told Berita Harian on June 4 that the society’s affairs have been handed to the liquidator following the High Court order, and that its executive committee has been dissolved.

The keys to Majlis Pusat’s office in Toa Payoh Central were surrendered on May 23.

Isiah said the court’s decision was disappointing, but the society could not afford to appeal due to legal fees.

Siti’s lawyer, Daniel Soo from Selvam LLC, said the Little Beez Playskool will continue to operate under the supervision of the Early Childhood Development Agency.

The centre currently has 25 teachers and serves 100 children.

“The priority for all parties is to ensure that the children enrolled in the school will not experience any disruption as a result of the winding up,” he said.

The organisation’s demise has shocked and saddened Malay community leaders, such as Majlis Pusat’s former vice-president Abdul Halim Kader and Dr Yaacob.

Dr Yaacob, currently a professor at the Singapore Institute of Technology, said the winding-up order brought home the message of the lack of good leadership within Majlis Pusat, which had once been a platform for Malay leaders to speak with one voice on key issues facing their community.

“I hope my community and its leaders take this moment to reflect not just on the historical implications of this development but on the ways in which, going forward, our institutions can be strengthened and empowered to continue to play a developmental role for my community,” he said.

One of the appointed trustees for Majlis Pusat, former executive director of non-profit AMP Singapore, Anuar Yusop, told ST that while the earlier leaders of the organisation were very focused on Malay culture and issues, its later leaders failed as they made wrong moves trying their hand at business activities to bring in income.

“They were not as passionate towards the core cultural activities, and hence failed miserably,” he added.

Siti said it was bittersweet to see Majlis Pusat wound up, as her family had always been its strong supporters.

“When they were facing bankruptcy in 2014, they approached my family for help. My family and I invested our savings to keep the organisation afloat,” she said.

She added: “Moving ahead, my main concern is for the future of Little Beez, and that the hard work of previous generations does not go to waste.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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