KUALA LUMPUR: Having had the privilege of working with Kofi Annan, social activist Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim was almost at a loss for words upon receiving news that the former United Nations (UN) secretary-general had passed away.
The last time they met, according to Tunku Abdul Aziz was when Annan visited Malaysia at the invitation of Khazanah Nasional Bhd to give a speech for the Merdeka series lecture in 2007.
At the time, Annan was no longer UN secretary-general as his term ended in 2006. Because of this, Tunku Abdul Aziz said the Malaysian government could not provide him the usual protocol and courtesies.
"And therefore Khazanah asked me if I would, as a former colleague, receive him at the airport and travel with him to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. We had a good chat in the car, from the airport. That was the last time I was able to meet up with him," Tunku Abdul Aziz told the NSTP when contacted today.
Annan passed away today at the age of 80 after a short illness, as confirmed by his family and the Kofi Annan Foundation in a statement.
"There would only be one Kofi Annan... he was really special, you have to work with him to know where he stood on critical global issues in political, economic and social terms.
"This man is unique in that he listened, he would allow you to have your say before he would give a respond," Tunku Abdul Aziz who once served as a special adviser to Annan in the UN, said.
Expressing his condolences to the Annan family, Tunku Abdul Aziz said he was privileged to have been picked as the Ghanaian's special adviser in 2006 in the setting up of the UN's Ethics Office.
This task, he said, included putting in place a system to deal with the declaration of assets, as well as the protection of whistleblowers.
"In that capacity, I met him on a regular basis to review the UN governance system and the failure to deal with corruption within the UN system, particularly in the Oil For Food programme after the US invasion of Iraq," Tunku Abdul Aziz recalled.
Annan was a great person to work with as he listened more than he talked and was very supportive in putting all available resources towards tackling the problems of corruption and bad governance, the co-founder of Transparency International's (TI) Malaysian chapter said.
Concerned about the future of the UN as well as development of poorer countries in the world, Tunku Abdul Aziz said Annan always hoped developed countries would share knowledge to help the rest of the world.
After stepping down from his UN secretary-general post, Annan worked very hard in his personal capacity in Geneva to carry out charity work and giving advice when asked on world, political and economic issues, according to Tunku Abdul Aziz.
He also shared one of Annan's favourite wisdom: "In a world divided by religion, there is a need to have a dialogue."
Tunku Abdul Aziz said he himself would however say, "In a world dangerously divided by religious faith, there is an urgent need for dialogue."
"We were from the same era, our age difference is not that far. He is four years younger then I am, more or less.
"He (Annan) was really the world's diplomat, not just an ordinary General." © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd