An A4-size photo print stands out amid the stacks of files and photographs on Datuk Seri Michael Chong’s table. It is a photo of Chong – MCA’s Public Services and Complaints Department chief – with a 20something-year-old woman.
Much respected for his dedication to public service, Chong must have taken thousands of photos with the people whom he has assisted in his 30 years on the job. They come from all walks of life.
But this particular photograph has a special place in Chong’s heart. It shows Rebecca Chun, a person he had helped as a toddler.
“When Rebecca was a baby, her father abandoned her at the babysitter’s home. The elderly babysitter was unsure what to do and sought my help. I held a press conference. It resulted in Rebecca’s grandparents stepping forward to claim her. The little baby is all grown up now and came to thank me,” says Chong, during an interview at his office at Wisma MCA in Kuala Lumpur.
Chong adds that simple expressions of gratitude mean a lot to him, for they show that people appreciate his hard work and dedication to his job.
“Only time will tell if a person is sincere in carrying out their duties. Thankfully, I have the backing of a dedicated team who are on standby 24/7 to assist me. Equally important are MCA leaders who work closely with me to attend to problems. Without their help, I cannot carry out my work smoothly,” says Chong, 69, who joined the MCA in 1980 as executive secretary to former MCA deputy president Tan Sri Lee Kim Sai, then a Selangor state executive councillor.
Chong’s commitment to his job has earned him the reputation of being the go-to guy for help. Throughout his career, he has successfully solved 35,000 cases that included dealing with pimps, loan sharks, girls forced into prostitution and missing persons.
Although his is a challenging job, this father-of-five finds it rewarding to help those in need.
“Public service isn’t about solving cases involving longkang sumbat (clogged drains) or uncollected rubbish. It encompasses a wider scope, sometimes involving terrorists, diplomatic ties and working with our ministers to aid those in need,” says the amicable Chong, who sees between 10 and 20 people each day.
At the time of this interview, Chong had dealt with three cases involving loan sharks. This year alone, he has seen 80 families with money laundering problems.
Joy of reaching out
Chong’s involvement in public service goes back a long way, deeply rooted from his early years of hardship in Batu Arang, Selangor.
“My father died of cancer when I was 17 years old. My mother was a washer woman and had to feed a family of seven. Life was tough... I had to queue up for food rations. There were times where I went to sleep hungry,” recalls Chong, the eldest of six siblings.
Thankfully, neighbours, parishioners from St Michael’s church and teachers from his former school, SMJK Batu Arang, came forward to ensure the family had the means for survival. Through life’s bitter lessons, Chong learnt the motto of “service above self”.
“Many kind people helped my family in times of trouble. It boils down to empathy and putting yourself in other people’s shoes and lending a helping hand,” says Chong.
And true to his calling, he makes it his business to answer each and every call that comes through his mobile phone.
“You never know who needs help. It could be a very serious case of a person requiring assistance for a blood transfusion. Or a family whose child has run away from home.”
Although Chong’s working hours are long, he considers it as part and parcel of the job. The beauty is he willingly assists anyone regardless of ethnicity, religion, age, gender or political belief.
“I will help anyone because they came to me for help. So, I do my part to help. I also have the team behind me to help,” says Chong, who has roped his eldest daughter Marina, 34, to join the department. She has been his personal assistant for eight years now.
Youth, the nation’s future
Besides helming MCA’s Public Services and Complaints Department, Chong extends his assistance to other regulatory bodies. He is deputy commissioner of Rela, adviser for the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation Wilayah Persekutuan, Young Malaysians Movement, and the list goes on.
“It’s good to reach out, especially organisations that benefit society. I am actively involved in youth organisations as I feel this group of individuals has the power to shape the future. They are talented and can share their knowledge for the betterment of the country.”
Despite Chong’s heartfelt dedication towards public service, critics still scrutinise his job.
“Some say I’m an Ah Long while others say I accept sexual favours in exchange for help. The police have their intelligence. If I am really an Ah Long, the cops would have arrested me a long time ago,” says Chong, who was bashed up by a pimp in 1989, which resulted in a broken arm.
Despite the brickbats, Chong always sees the glass as half full. Time is precious and he doesn’t like to waste it on negative thoughts.
“Instead of getting angry, I prefer to spend time with my family, especially my granddaughters, Matilda (two years old) and Mikaila (six months). My grandkids are bundles of joy, and I love them very much. On weekends, I make it a point to catch up with my old kakis (friends).
“You never know who you might meet along the way who needs a helping hand,” says Chong, on a concluding note.