Veteran politicians Ch'ng Jit Koon and Sidek Saniff receive Distinguished Service Order

Mr Ch'ng (left) and Mr Sidek have a combined 54 years in Parliament under their belts.
Mr Ch'ng (left) and Mr Sidek have a combined 54 years in Parliament under their belts. PHOTOS: THE NEW PAPER FILE, ST FILE

Veteran politicians Ch'ng Jit Koon and Sidek Saniff were two of the six recipients of the Distinguished Service Order at this year's National Day Awards.

The former Senior Ministers of States were honoured for their grassroots work as long-time MPs .

Both Mr Ch'ng, 81, and Mr Sidek, 77, are stalwarts of their respective ethnic communities and have a combined 54 years in Parliament under their belts.

Mr Sidek was conferred the award for his role as a former Adviser to the Aljunied Grassroots Organisations. He served as an MP in Aljunied GRC from 1997-2001 after spending five earlier terms in Kolam Ayer, Jalan Besar GRC and Eunos GRC.

A founding member of the Malay/Muslim self-help group Mendaki, Mr Sidek served in the Environment and Education Ministries as an officeholder.

In his ten-year stint with the latter, he played a key role in narrowing the gap between the academic performance of Malay and non-Malay students.

Mr Ch'ng was conferred the award for his role as a former Advisor to the Tiong Bahru, Bukit Merah and Tanjong Pagar Grassroots Organisations.

He was MP in these constituencies at different points over 28 years in politics, starting in 1968 among the first batches of PAP cadres.

A former Senior Minister of State for Community Development, Mr Ch'ng was entrusted by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew with the task of connecting government leaders to the people, especially the Chinese ground.

To that end, he initiated the practice of ministerial walkabouts, which is still carried out today.

When contacted, both men expressed surprise at the award and said that they felt undeserving.

"I have left political office for nearly 20 years now, and I am really surprised to be given such great honour," said Mr Ch'ng, who retired in 1996. "It is good to be remembered, but I still think I don't deserve it because I was just doing my job, first as an MP and a backbencher in Parliament and later an office holder in government."

Mr Sidek, who retired in 2001, said that he was "thankful and humbled". "Whatever they say I've done, I could not have done it alone," he said.

"My contributions were normal and nothing extraordinary. What I've done with my colleagues is like any other constituency, to look after the residents."

wengkam@sph.com.sg

yuntingc@sph.com.sg