National Day Awards 2019

Changing perceptions, fostering understanding: Yatiman Yusof

Mr Yatiman Yusof
Chairman, Malay Language Council Board of Advisors,
Meritorious Service Medal

Mr Yatiman Yusof, 73, is no stranger to public service. Yet, he is surprised to have won the award, saying: "I have not done much for Singapore that merits this award."

A former editor of Berita Harian and Berita Minggu, he was also an MP and senior parliamentary secretary for more than two decades until his retirement in 2006.

He is Singapore's Non-Resident High Commissioner to Kenya and a board member of the Singapore Press Holdings Foundation. He has also served as Non-Resident High Commissioner to Rwanda and as a board member of SingHealth, among others.

Two experiences stand out in his memory: being part of the effort to change perceptions of the status of the Malay language, and fighting to keep healthcare costs affordable.

"Proponents in Malaysia and Indonesia used to say that the Malay language and culture suffered an unavoidable 'death'," he says.

"But we engaged them and shared the unique nature of multi-racial Singapore and our bilingualism policy, helping them understand the challenges in ensuring our economic growth while preserving the values that formed our distinct identity.

Mr Yatiman Yusof has worked to change perceptions of the Malay language.
Mr Yatiman Yusof has worked to change perceptions of the Malay language. 

"We attended conferences and workshops, and shared with them many books written by Singaporeans in Malay. Thanks to unstinting efforts on our part, especially among our English-educated Malay writers, they began to change their perceptions."

His involvement in the healthcare sector, and as board member and chairman of the volunteer committee at the National Kidney Foundation, meant pushing for better and more affordable healthcare.

"When one loses the effective function of one's kidneys, a person's life changes. It is a painful life that some are unable to endure," he says.

Not all of his efforts have been successful, though.


"A few years ago, I worked with the Singapore Scouts Association to bring the World Jamboree, a gathering of Scouts from all over the world, to Singapore," he recalls.

"We spent three months travelling to most of the Middle Eastern countries and a few African countries to rally support, but we lost to Japan."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2019, with the headline 'Changing perceptions, fostering understanding'. Print Edition | Subscribe