Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli
- Comment -
New Sunday Times – January 11, 2009
MALAYSIANS must surely be proud that when the nation commemorated its 50
years of independence two years ago, the occasion also marked the
establishment of the Merdeka Award to celebrate the true spirit of
independence and the pursuit of excellence.
This is particularly significant because there is now a platform to
recognise individuals for their "outstanding and lasting contributions to
the nation and the people of Malaysia".
In other words, Malaysia can add to its list of national heroes, people who
have made arduous attempts to ensure that the nation's independence is more
meaningful and robust.
Relative to other nations, Malaysia does not have many heroes to count on.
If there are, we hardly talk about them, especially those during the
pre-colonial era, or even during the colonial period itself. This has
created a kind of a vacuum in the understanding of our history.
Depending on who wrote the history, some were labelled as "enemies" or
"terrorists", rather than heroes! Historians, too, can be at odds in
justifying who is who.
Be that as it may, five decades after independence, the traits of the new
heroes are clearer. Their contributions are much better documented and
visible to more people.
And with the Merdeka Award, hopefully, the pinnacle of all similar awards
will help us crystallise who they are.
For 2008, the inaugural winners included three individuals, namely. Royal
Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz Ungku Abdul Hamid (Education and Community
category), Datuk Leslie Davidson(Outstanding Contribution to Malaysians),
and Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Khalid Kadir (Health, Science and
The Nipah Virus Encephalitis Investigation Team was also the joint winner of
the Merdeka Award in the Health, Science and Technology category. The
Malaysian Nature Society won in the Environment category.
All five are the new role models that would be the icons for the younger
generations of Malaysians.
Universiti Sains Malaysia is indeed fortunate to be given the honour to
start the Merdeka Award Lecture Series, aimed at bringing the esteemed
winners closer to the people. The university was most fortunate to host Dr
Khalid's lecture last week.
Described as "an eminent academician, a prolific researcher, a respected
clinician and a dedicated teacher of medicine", Dr Khalid has dedicated more
than 30 years of his life to medical sciences, particularly in the areas of
He undertook various research on diabetes, including reasons why it has
become widespread recently, and the correlations between the ailment and
modern lifestyle. He is also active in epidemiological research on diabetes
and has conducted clinical trials.
Dr Khalid also spearheaded the Young Diabetes Study from 1966 to 1999 and,
more recently, the Metabolic Syndrome in Malaysia study which is in its
In short, Dr Khalid has contributed immensely in the understanding of
endocrinological diseases, allowing many policy decisions to be taken for
the good of Malaysians and the healthcare system.
Among others, USM has benefited directly from his expertise, whether
directly from collaborative research or, more importantly, from the many
talented students of his, who are now holding responsible positions at USM.
People such as Dr Khalid will be the "new" heroes, inspiring the new breed
of Malaysians and the future of Malaysia by pushing the boundaries of
As often quoted, the empire of the future is the empire of the mind. The
Merdeka Award has initiated the crucial process in carving that space in the
future through the likes of Dr Khalid.
In this regard, too, USM is very privileged to be given the honour to house
the newly-created Right Livelihood College in its campus.
The college is the brainchild of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation,
responsible for an annual award, popularly known as the "Alternative Nobel
Established in 1980 by philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, it honours those
"working on practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges
facing the world today".
There are now more than 133 Laureates from 57 countries and a number of them
are Malaysians. They are all heroes in their own right.
At the end of it all, such noble awards will invariably help to raise our
level of commitment to seek a harmonious world through the pursuit of global
But more than just knowledge, it is how they are translated to uplift the
lives of others and humanity as a whole as the final reward in the journey
of excellence. This, in a nutshell, is the
ultimate challenge for a better future for the human ecosystem in the most
The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of
Universiti Sains Malaysia. He can be