Yaacob lauded by Malay community

Over 200 members of 17 organisations pay tribute to him at thank-you dinner

From providing better education for underprivileged children to reducing the number of marriages involving minors, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim continually worked to uplift the Malay/Muslim community in his 16 years as minister-in-charge.

Last night, he received glowing tributes from more than 200 leaders and volunteers of 17 Malay/Muslim organisations at a thank-you dinner. The veteran politician stepped down from the Cabinet on Monday.

In her speech, Madam Rahayu Buang, chief executive of self-help group Mendaki, emphasised Dr Yaacob's efforts to raise educational standards among less privileged children.

He preferred to "focus on those who needed help the most", she said, noting that he had started a support programme at Mendaki to mentor underachievers even before he became an office-holder.

Dr Yaacob also shaped institutions to ensure strong families, Madam Rahayu said.

This included amending the Administration of Muslim Law Act three times to ensure the law remains relevant to institutions such as the Syariah Court, Registry of Muslim Marriages and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).

Among other things, he made it compulsory for minors to attend marriage preparation courses and obtain parental consent before marrying, and for divorcing couples to attend counselling first. This has significantly brought down the number of minor marriages and reduced divorced rates, Madam Rahayu said.

Under his watch, 24 of the 70 mosques have been upgraded, while zakat fund and Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund contributions are healthy enough to support needy families and fund education programmes, she said.

Thanking him for his sacrifices, she said: "To push for unpopular policies for the long-term good of the community, to remain steadfast in believing in the potential of our community despite naysayers, to break traditions by placing more women in key leadership roles... these were certainly not easy."

Madam Rahayu is the fifth female CEO of Mendaki, with Dr Yaacob appointing the first female CEO - Madam Rashidah Abdul Rasip - in 2005.

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman told reporters that Dr Yaacob's greatest impact on the community was in education, with Malay students improving in mathematics and science under his watch.

Dr Yaacob also consolidated the madrasahs under the Joint Madrasah System in 2009 to offer an integrated curriculum and raise standards - which was met with some resistance, said Dr Maliki.

"The full impact of his legacy will be seen much later, when the first generation of these students graduate in the next five to 10 years, being very versatile... who can do well in academics and religious studies."

In a speech, Dr Yaacob thanked the community and said he would continue to serve it. As to how, he said this will be decided after a two-month break. "Whether you like it or not, I will always be a member of the Malay/Muslim community," he quipped.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2018, with the headline 'Yaacob lauded by Malay community'. Print Edition | Subscribe