KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian accountant has received a century-old award from Spain for his personal efforts to promote good relations with the country.
Datuk Robert Teo said he was swept up by the Spanish city of Barcelona, founded as a Roman city in the Middle Ages, when he visited it 15 years ago.
“I was impressed by the vibrancy of the city, conservation of the Unesco heritage buildings, architecture, local culinary skills and its huge tourism draw,” he added.
That led him to connect with the Spanish Embassy, and with several others he founded the Malaysian Spanish Chamber of Commerce and Industry (also known as La Camara) in July 2009.
“Our trade with Spain is not as much as that with Germany, France and Italy.
“There is considerable opportunity to increase our bilateral trade,” added the managing partner of RSM Malaysia PLT, a leading provider of audit, assurance, accounting and tax advisory services.
For his efforts, Teo, 72, received the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Civil Merit award which recognises civic virtues and extraordinary service for the benefit of Spain.
The award, established by King Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1926, was bestowed upon him by Spanish Ambassador Jose Luis Pardo Cuerdo during a ceremony at the latter’s residence.
Also present were members of the local diplomatic corps, other dignitaries and officials of La Camara.
Jose Luis commended Teo for his steadfast support and involvement with Spanish culture, gastronomy and values.
“His commitment and appreciation of the needs of Spanish companies amply justify the award granted to him by the Government of Spain,” added the envoy.
Jose Luis, who was posted here last August, said he was focused on taking relations with Malaysia to a higher level.
“The teaching of the Spanish language at universities here is being expanded and we are also working on scholarships for Malaysian students.
“Under the Spanish presidency of the European Union which begins in July, cultural and public diplomacy events will be held.
“I know that there are many who follow the Spanish La Liga (football top division) here!” he added.
Teo is known for his “coconut diplomacy” here, gifting coconut trees to heads of foreign missions which he personally plants in their sprawling lawns.
“Many of the seedlings have since become full-grown trees. The coconut tree is particularly significant as it is called the “Tree of Life” in certain countries,” added Teo, whose residence and office grounds are also lined with coconut trees.