PETALING JAYA: Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili could have moved up the government administration ladder 10 years ago had he accepted offers to leave Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and join the Barisan Nasional.
However, unlike many PBS leaders who did so shortly after the 1994 state elections – which resulted in the party’s short-lived victory and rule – and became federal and state ministers, Dr Ongkili decided to stick with PBS.
His perseverance, loyalty and hard work finally paid off.
Yesterday, the PBS deputy president was sworn in as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department with national unity and integration as his portfolio.
“My brother, James (Datuk James Ongkili, the former Tuaran MP who served as federal Justice Minister 30 years ago) told me that in politics you have to be patient,” said Dr Ongkili, who is fondly known as Dr Max.
“I became involved in politics in 1994 and could have changed parties but opted to stay in PBS.
“Many people tried to discourage me and asked why I should hold on to values and principles that cannot feed me,” said the 51-year-old father of two.
During the 1994 political crisis in Sabah, a senior federal minister gave him advice he never forgot.
“He told me that one must have principles, grassroots support and must work hard,” Dr Ongkili said.
He said his decision to stick with PBS was also due to loyalty to his voters who had elected him for three terms as Kota Marudu (previously Bandau) MP and Tandek (previously Langkon) state assemblyman.
“I knew that being loyal to PBS would pay off one day. PBS persisted and moved on,” said Dr Ongkili who was an Internal Security Act detainee for 59 days in 1991.
The PBS rejoined Barisan in 2002 after being an opposition party for 12 years.
Dr Ongkili said it was important to gain the people’ s trust and this could not be done overnight, “so even if the job was small, we did it well.”
“When we were in the opposition, we could hardly participate in government programmes but we gave our input when possible,” he added.
Dr Ongkili represented the PBS as chairman of the National Economic Consultative Council committee on poverty eradication; sat in the public accounts committee in Parliament and was the National Service Council member for two terms.
On his appointment, he said: “I am sure they (federal leadership) have been observing us for a long time and did the necessary checks on us (PBS).
“Now they are confident we can contribute and let us sit in the Cabinet,” he said.
Dr Ongkili said he was happy with the portfolio given to him as the subject was close to his heart.
“I am a nationalist and am happy to play a direct role in promoting national unity and integration,” he said.
He said that national unity and integration programmes should be revived and updated with greater focus on nationhood and patriotism.
Dr Ongkili said that such programmes should also be linked to eradicating poverty and economic disparity besides changing the people’s mindset.
A former lecturer with Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, Dr Ongkili has a PhD in Agricultural Economics from Australia.