Desmond Tan is arguably the only Malaysian residing in land-locked Swaziland, and his presence here happened by chance.
Having arrived here on March 19, 2000, Tan, now 27, is counting his blessings as he is on his way to earning his first million.
He drives a Mercedes Benz, one of the few luxury cars in this kingdom which is suffering from a food crisis brought about by three years of drought.
Swaziland, whose king – King Mswati III – has 10 official wives, has two casinos and a currency called emalangeni, which is equivalent in value to the South African Rand.
After graduating with a degree in Business Administration from the University of Newcastle, England, Tan found himself without a job and sitting at home for months during the economic slowdown.
Not wanting his son to laze around at home, Tan’s father, Tan Geok Lin who is Kahang MCA division chief, prodded him to apply for jobs overseas.
Tan took up a job with a textile garment factory in Singapore, and that was his stepping board to Swaziland.
A few months into the job, he was on his way to his Taiwanese company’s subsidiary in Swaziland, a country he knew nothing about.
Through perseverance, he stayed on and worked his way up to take charge as the logistics control supervisor of the company, Tuntex Textile Co, which employs over 2,000 workers and is one of 33 Taiwanese garment factories providing jobs to 22,000 Swazis.
The garments made here are all exported to the United States.
The textile industry has become one of the largest employers in Swaziland as it enjoys preferential treatment under the US’ Africa Growth Opportunity Act.
At Ezulwini (Heaven in Siswati, Swazi’s national language), where the recently concluded Global 2003 Smart Partnership International Dialogue was held, Tan paid a courtesy call on MCA president and Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting.
“My dad told me that I must call on Datuk Seri Ong when he arrives in Swaziland,” he said.
Ong was part of the 80-member Malaysian delegation led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad that participated in the dialogue, which is a sequel to the Langkawi International Dialogue.
Tan is married to Taiwanese Sylvia Kuo, 23, who works as a fashion designer in the same factory. Both plan to start their own business using seed capital that his wife is eligible to obtain from the Taiwanese government.
Before his arrival, he said, containers would take two weeks to reach South Africa’s city of Durban on the coast of the Indian Ocean.
He reduced red tape and motivated his staff to cut delivery time down dramatically to only two days. “You know, you can save on holding cost if materials can arrive promptly,” he said.
But the pace of life in this kingdom where 80% of its economic activities is farming and self-subsistence is difficult to change.
When Malaysian journalists covering the dialogue complained that coffee took almost 30 minutes to be served, he quipped: “In Swaziland, you must remember, there is no hurry.”
He said that as soon as he got news that the dialogue would be held in the kingdom, he contacted the Malaysian ambassador to South Africa, who is also in charge of embassy matters in Swaziland, and offered to help.
Throughout the dialogue, he was not only the point man for the media, but also the officials in the Malaysian delegation as well.
Even Sufi Yusni Md Yusoff, assistant press secretary to the Prime Minister, was impressed with Tan’s contacts as seen in the way the Malaysian delegates including the PM’s security details with their weapons were waved briskly through immigration and customs.
On one occasion, ambassador Datuk Zainal Azman Zainal Abidin, when passing by, told Tan gratefully: “So you are taking good care of them, huh?”
Tan smiled and bowed with respect.
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