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Sibu loses an illustrious son

by Philip Wong. Posted on April 10, 2010, Saturday

SIBU: Sibu Member of Parliament and Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Robert Lau Hoi Chew passed away at the Selayang Hospital in Kuala Lumpur yesterday morning after a short illness. He was 68.

The casket carrying his body touched down at Sibu airport last night and funeral service will be held at St Mary’s Church on Sunday at 10am.

Lau left behind wife Datin Janet Lau, who is also SUPP Sarawak Central Wanita chief, and three children to mourn his loss.

The demise of the five-term Sibu MP sent shock waves through Sibu community yesterday.

Many of them openly expressed their profound sadness over the demise of Lau, regarded as one of Sibu’s most illustrious sons for his many contributions in developing and upgrading Sibu to a beautiful and vibrant town.

Lau joined SUPP in 1983 after the party’s former president Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr Wong Soon Kai lost the parliamentary election.

He rose up the ranks fast and became SMC councillor from 1985 to 1987.

Lau once said that he had the burning desire to serve the society but that helping the people through social organisations had its limitations, which was why he had chosen to fulfil that desire through politics.

“Participating in politics opened a much wider, yet new, platform and frontier for me to fulfil my mission of helping the less fortunate in our society,” he once told The Borneo Post in a special interview.

Lau always believed in teamwork and counted himself fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a good team of leaders, including the Sibu BN Visionary Team captain Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh, SUPP cadres and members.

In 1990, Lau made his debut in the general election and soundly defeated DAP’s strongman Ling Sie Ming by a majority of 2,008 votes.

Lau garnered 11,914 votes against Ling’s 9906.

Lau was appointed as SMC chairman from April 1999 and held the post until March 29, 2004. Sibu experienced a rapid phase of face-lift under his five-year stint as SMC chairman.

“The SMC chairman portfolio suddenly provided me with a much wider and efficient platform to serve the people,” he once said.

Lau then set up the Sibu Barisan Nasional Visionary Team headed by Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh.

With the help of the BN leaders, Lau went ahead to successfully implement many changes that continue to be enjoyed by the people until today.

His notable achievements included introducing the one-way traffic to reduce traffic jams in the central business district; cleaning up Sibu town; beautifying it; relocating roadside hawkers to a central market with open trading area concept; and building a new multi-storey car park that provides convenient yet sufficient car parking bays, particularly to people who patronise the market.

In addition, he also worked hard to get rid of backyard rearing of poultry, curtailed the number of stray dogs to ensure healthy environment and road safety, initiated community-sponsored gardens to provide convenient neighbourhood recreation, and sports facilities.

Lau was appointed Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government after serving SMC for five fruitful and quality years.

In the 1995 general election, DAP deployed Wong Ho Leng, hoping to beat Lau, who appeared unpopular then due to his several ‘harsh’ decisions to improve Sibu.

Wong, however, proved no match when he lost the election tamely, garnering 10,472 votes against Lau’s 15,317.

Independent candidate Nawawi Harun managed only 937 votes.

Throughout the 90’s, Lau established his name and was very committed to bringing further development to Sibu town.

He always had a vision for success and many described him as a “no-nonsense politician who never deviated, but truly walked his talk”.

What he said he would deliver and that was also his motto and his commitment to serve.

In the 1999 election, Lau took on DAP Wong Sing Nang and it was again a “breezing affair” for Lau.

In fact, of all the elections he contested, the 1999 election easily went into the history book as the one he won with the biggest majority.

He garnered 23,227 votes while Wong took 14,085 votes, winning by a majority of 9,142 votes.

In the 2004 election, Ho Leng took another gamble to take on Lau and again, it was another victory for Lau when he secured 20,689 votes while Ho Leng took 17,334 – a victory by a 3,345 vote majority.

In the March 2008 election, Lau again proved his supremacy when he took 19,295 votes against Ho Leng’s 15,746 votes.

Lau was born into a humble family with a poor background. He lost his mother at the tender age of three, and he was brought up by his elder brothers, Lau Hui Ling, the late Datuk Seri Lau Hui Kang and the late Datuk Lau Hui Siong, and his sisters.

Lau had his early education at Chung Cheng Middle School before he was transferred to SMK Sacred Heart where he was introduced to Catholicism and was a devoted and pious Catholic till his departure.

He continued his pre-university education at St Michael’s College, Adelaide, South Australia before pursuing accountancy course in South Australia Institute of Technology (now University of South Australia).

He finished the three-year course in two years, followed by three years working and studying in a public chartered accountant’s firm and graduated as a chartered accountant in 1970 before he returned to Sibu as a branch manager of an international chartered accountant’s firm in Sibu.

“My father could not afford to send me to Australia. Only with the joint effort of my three elder brothers, who at that time only barely managed to make their own ends meet, was I able to complete my studies in Australia, with shoe-string budget and prudent spending habit,” he once told The Borneo Post in an interview.

As a young man, Lau worked very hard with focused dedication and professionalism before he won the trust of his employer and clients who supported him to set up his professional chartered accountant firm in 1973.

He also participated actively in social work through JCI, Lions, school boards of management, old students’ associations, church parish councils and held many positions such as Past District Governor of Lions Clubs International District 308 (Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei) 1978/1979, Past President of Lions Club of Sibu 1976-1977, Board Member of Lions Club of Sibu Host 1978, Past President of Sacred Heart School Old Students’ Association, Chung Cheng Alumni Association 1979-1980, 1985-1986, Member of School Board of Management, Catholic High School,  Vice-Chairman SMK Sacred Heart, Vice-Chairman SK Sacred Heart (English), Vice-Chairman SJK (C) Sacred Heart Chinese, Vice-Chairman SK St Rita, Vice-Chairman SK St Mary, Vice-Chairman SMK St Elizabeth, Chairman SJK (C) Thian Hua, Chairman SMK Chung Cheng, Vice-Chairman SJK (C) Chung Cheng, Adviser to Board of Management SJK (C) Thiang Chin, among many more.

Lau was very committed to the vision and mission of transforming Sibu from a natural resource-based industry to service and IT intelligence-based industry in line with Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib’s vision of developing Sibu into a Service Industry Centre of Sarawak and the explosive development of IT globally.

Lau was also very concerned about the proposed Riviera City, an effort aimed at getting the full tourism potential of the mighty Rajang River.

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