By M Santhananaban
I realised within a few years of knowing him that Ramesh Chander was something of a local ‘deity’ in the Greater Washington area.
He was already a sought-after sage, scholar and soul-force for informed perspectives, generosity, good company and goodwill.
He had that rare unassuming reputation that impressed most Malaysians and quite a few people from other countries. He did not wear his statistical or development economics skills or his high connections on his sleeve. Rather, he kept that at a low key, constantly manifesting a benign countenance of being friendly. He effortlessly socialised with all and sundry and came across as a warm, convivial and helpful person.
He became the doyen, an eminence grise of Malaysia’s well-regarded corps of International Monetary Fund and World Bank specialists, decades ago. From the early 1980s, he functioned as an undesignated informal emissary of the nation, promoting Malaysia’s causes and assisting Malaysians.
All this while keeping abreast with old friends, his small family and the many souls who did not get to meet him but sought his counsel and guidance.
He assisted many Malaysians, including several senior diplomats, in settling in at Washington DC, and introduced them to the key figures of Washington society, especially from the World Bank.
- Sign up for Aliran's free daily email updates or weekly newsletters or both
- Make a one-off donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB a/c 8004240948
- Make a regular pledge or periodic auto-donation to Aliran
- Become an Aliran member
On his regular visits to Malaysia, he kept up with key players in our economic, financial and statistics institutions and think tanks.
One person he saw without fail was his collegial contemporary, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. They seem to have shared a perception of the decline of the old well-ordered Malaysia, when there was much greater perkiness and promise.
That old optimism rested on the solid composition of our public service. In 1980, Hussein Onn was Prime Minister, Razaleigh was finance minister, Ismail Ali was Central Bank governor, and Thong Yaw Hong was treasury secretary general. The ambassador in Washington DC and World Bank executive director for Southeast Asia was Zain Azraai Zainal Abidin. These were impeccable men of integrity and intellect.
Ramesh was of that genre.
Ramesh’s passing leaves a big void, especially for those who had known and interacted with him. He had the unique ability of putting at ease anyone he met – the self-effacing civil servant, the bumptious bureaucrat or the serious scholar – and developing friendships with them.
Ramesh had joined the World Bank on invitation at the beginning of 1978, after relinquishing his chief statistician’s position in Malaysia, a post he had held for almost a dozen years.
With the many specialised assignments that he handled for the World Bank especially with the modernisation and the digitisation of the economy of the People’s Republic of China, Ramesh acquired a reputation as a competent, cerebral and consummate international civil servant.
He was always ahead of the curve, being quietly supportive and positive about the emerging economic powerhouses of China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
He was highly impressed with the honesty, humaneness and professionalism of the technocrats from China with whom he started working in the 1980s.
Initially, it was to build a solid database and later it contributed to the creation of a vibrant digitised economy. He was impressed by the dynamics that powered the stellar economic force of Asia even as early as the late 1980s.
On a social and personal level, he was a good and solicitous host at his well-appointed home at 898, Golden Arrow Street, Great Falls, Virginia, often entertaining with his excellent culinary skills, lively conversations, well-chosen wines and company.
His passing leaves a big void in the lives of many. Undoubtedly, his life and work is a source of inspiration to many in Malaysia, for he was not just an individual but an illustrious institution for his many colleagues, friends and acquaintances.
It was a privilege to have known him.
Dato’ M Santhananaban is a retired ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience