GEORGE TOWN: In his fight for a better world, social activist S.M. Mohamed Idris (pic) got his message across loud and clear – even without a mobile phone.
The death of the consumerism icon at the age of 93 yesterday brought a solemn moment to Penang’s civil society, although those close to him knew that his heart was already failing from old age.
In fact, Mohamed Idris last held a press conference in mid-April on the stressful work conditions for bus and lorry drivers.
“He was so healthy – no cancer or anything like that. We asked him to take it easy but he never did.
“He was always ready to help consumers enjoy our right to a better society and environment,” said Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) education officer N.V. Subbarow.
Mohamed Idris died peacefully in Penang Gleneagles Hospital at 4.45pm yesterday after being warded for heart complications.
He was the CAP founding president for 50 years.
CAP headed the pressure group that lobbied for the eventual creation of the Department of Environment in 1975.
Mohamed Idris’ efforts over five decades also led to the banning of toxic drugs, the labelling of expiry dates on all food products, the end of cigarette advertisements, better benefits under the Socso and Employees Provident Fund, and better legal standing for tenants and house buyers.
“We formed CAP in 1969. He became the president and I became the secretary,” recalled local philanthropist Datuk Anwar Fazal.
However, even before CAP, Anwar said his old friend was “already amazing as a municipal councillor” in the 1950s and 1960s.
“He was also the chairman of the former Penang Library, and he made it open on Sundays and until 10pm on weekdays. In the days when the Internet did not exist, that was really vital for Penangites, and our library was packed after working hours.
“He started the Penang Festival and lots of Penangites set up stalls and booths. It was the earliest tourism event I could remember.
“He also led a tree-planting campaign and thanks to him, George Town has so many large roadside trees today,” said Anwar.
He said one of Mohamed Idris’ idiosyncrasies was that he never caught on the mobile phone culture.
“He was a person-to-person guy. He delighted in face-to-face conversations and full-fledged correspondences,” Anwar added.
Another old friend, Third World Network adviser Martin Khor said Mohamed Idris did not like the distraction of having a mobile phone, although he had nothing against it.
“For people like him, having a mobile phone meant always having their harmony disturbed. He was the most special man on Earth to me, my spiritual and intellectual father. Malaysia lost a great man,” Khor said.
Star Media Group adviser Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai, who has known Mohamed Idris for over three decades, described him as a “legend and institution”.
“He was the country’s pioneering consumerism advocate and an environmentalist.
“He was committed to the cause and he never waivered from his belief, in protecting the rights of Malaysian consumers.”
Wong said CAP was well-run and had great links with schools.
“CAP isn’t a one-man show, unlike some NGOs. It’s a professional organisation and really a movement.”
PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim described Mohamed Idris as a close family friend who had dedicated his life to humanity, justice and consumerism.
“An elderly man who could grasp new, challenging ideas on development and distributive justice,” he added.
Mohamed Idris, born in a village in southern India on Dec 6, 1926, had followed his father to Penang as a child.
He went to a Christian missionary school here but did not finish his education because of the war.
He is survived by a son and three daughters.
CAP vice-president and Mohamed Idris’ brother, Mohideen Abdul Kadir, said his brother’s remains would be at No. 2, Rose Avenue, until the funeral at 10am today.
He will be buried at the Masjid Hashim Yahya cemetery in Jalan Perak.