Ahmad Mattar


Ahmad bin Mohamed Mattar (Dr) (b. 13 August 1940, Singapore–), better known as Ahmad Mattar, is a former academic and People’s Action Party (PAP) politician. As the minister-in-charge of muslim affairs, Ahmad spearheaded the formation of the Mendaki Foundation to look into the educational and welfare needs of the Malay/Muslim community. During his tenure as minister for the environment, he oversaw the passing of stricter environmental laws as well as the setting up of the National Council on the Environment to spread the green message among Singaporeans. Ahmad retired from politics in 1996.

Education
Ahmad received his early education at Geylang English School and Raffles Institution.1 He then enrolled in the Faculty of Science at the University of Singapore (predecessor to the National University of Singapore) in 1959, and graduated in 1963 with a BSc (Honours) degree majoring in physics.2 In 1971, he earned his MA in applied acoustics from the University of Sheffield in the UK while on a Colombo Plan fellowship. In 1977, he completed his PhD at the University of Singapore. His doctoral thesis, A Statistical Study of Traffic Noise in Private Housing Estates in Singapore, was the first large-scale study on traffic noise in Singapore and its results formed the basis for subsequent legislation on traffic noise.3

Early career
Ahmad started his career as an assistant lecturer at the Singapore Polytechnic in 19644 before going to the UK for further studies in 1969.5 After returning from his studies in 1971, he worked as a lecturer in applied acoustics at the University of Singapore’s Department of Building Science.6

While lecturing at Singapore Polytechnic, Ahmad joined the Siglap Citizens’ Consultative Constituency (CCC). He had been invited to join the CCC by his colleague, Lee Chiaw Meng, a former education minister. Ahmad was eventually persuaded to join the PAP by Wee Ghim Siong, one of the party’s grassroots activists. After his return from overseas studies in 1971, Ahmad continued his grassroots work at the CCC.7

During this period in time, Ahmad was also a volunteer for the Majlis Pusat tuition scheme, tutoring students in mathematics.8 Majlis Pusat is an umbrella organisation coordinating sociocultural and educational affairs for the Malay community.9

Entering politics
In 1972, Abdul Rahim Ishak, then member of parliament (MP) for Siglap, put up Ahmad’s name for the general election held that year. Ahmad was subsequently invited to meet then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP central executive committee. Although he did not feel ready to embark on a political career,10 Ahmad nevertheless contested in the election as a PAP candidate at the newly formed Leng Kee constituency and won with a 5,851-vote majority.11 Following his electoral victory, Ahmad was made parliamentary secretary for education while continuing his teaching stint at the university.12

In 1977, Ahmad was appointed first as a minister of state13 and subsequently acting minister for social affairs. That same year, he also took on the portfolio of minister-in-charge of muslim affairs. He was promoted to minister for social affairs in 1984.14


Involvement in Malay/Muslim affairs
Even before his appointment as minister-in-charge of muslim affairs, Ahmad was already concerned about the issues affecting the Malay/Muslim community. He had urged members of the community to modernise and not be bound to age-old customs that were “obsolete, impractical and unscientific”. At a time when urban redevelopment projects were replacing rural kampongs (“villages”) with high-rise public housing, Ahmad encouraged the Malay/Muslim community to integrate and accept change. He gave assurances that resettlement from the traditional kampongs to high-rise flats would not uproot kinship and community ties.15

Ahmad also encouraged the Malay/Muslim community to keep up with the times and not be passive. He urged them not to be constrained by the boundaries of traditional religious education.16

One of Ahmad’s main concerns was the education of Malay/Muslim children. In 1981, Ahmad and a group of Malay MPs formed a task force known as the Council for Education of Muslim Children to look into how the standards of education for Malay/Muslim children could be raised.17 His concerns were prompted by the findings of the 1980 census, which showed that Malays had been underperforming in all areas, especially education.18

Ahmad became the founding president of the council, which was better known by its Malay name, Mendaki.19 In 1989, Mendaki was restructured and incorporated as the Council for the Development of the Muslim Community. It remained known as Mendaki and Ahmad was made chairman of the board. Ahmad held that position until his retirement from the cabinet in 1993, following which he handed the reins over to Abdullah Tarmugi.20

Besides education, Ahmad also encouraged the Malay/Muslim community to be more active in combating the drug problem within the community21 and urged Muslims to pledge their organs for donation in order to save lives.22

Minister for the environment
In 1985, Ahmad was appointed minister for the environment. It was during his tenure as environment minister that Singapore strengthened its environmental laws. These stricter laws included a gradual ban on the sale of aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs),23 the introduction of lead-free petrol and the compulsory fitting of catalytic converters on petrol-driven vehicles to reduce emissions.24

Ahmad also oversaw the implementation of tougher smoking laws such as a smoking ban in public places.25 The Corrective Work Order (CWO) scheme, in which litterbugs are made to clean up public places, was also introduced during his tenure.26

To further inculcate environmental consciousness among Singaporeans, Ahmad announced the establishment of the National Council on the Environment in 1990.27

Retirement
Ahmad retired from the cabinet in 1993, citing personal reasons.28 He had wanted to resign in 1991 but was told by then prime minister Goh Chok Tong that the time was not right; the government needed Ahmad to rally the ground as the PAP had not achieved a sufficiently high percentage of votes in the 1991 election.29

On retiring, Ahmad expressed that leaving the environment ministry was a “most heavy loss” because he “enjoyed every moment of it”.30 After stepping down from his ministerial posts, Ahmad became a backbencher in parliament. He eventually retired from politics in 1996.31

Following his retirement from politics, Ahmad became involved in the private sector, serving as chairman of Mabetex Enviro-World Pte Ltd and IMC Technologies.32



Author

Jaime Koh



References
1. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN -[HIS])

2. National University of Singapore. (2013). Distinguished Science Alumni Awards 2004. Retrieved from National University of Singapore website: http://www.science.nus.edu.sg/science-alumni/194-alumni/dsa-list/460-dsa-2004-ahmad-mattar
3. Ahmad bin Mohamed Mattar. (1977). A statistical study of traffic noise in private housing estates in Singapore. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, National University of Singapore. (Not available in NLB holdings)
4. Low, K. T., & Dunlop, P. (Eds.). (2000). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
5. Lily Zubaidah Rahim. (1998). The Singapore dilemma: The political and educational marginality of the Malay community. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, p. 253. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 LIL)
6. Low, K. T., Dunlop, P. (Eds.). (2000). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
7. Lily Zubaidah Rahim. (1998). The Singapore dilemma: The political and educational marginality of the Malay community. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, p. 253. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 LIL)
8. Lily Zubaidah Rahim. (1998). The Singapore dilemma: The political and educational marginality of the Malay community. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, p. 253. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 LIL)
9. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 319. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN -[HIS])
10. Lily Zubaidah Rahim. (1998). The Singapore dilemma: The political and educational marginality of the Malay community. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, p. 253. (Call no.: RSING 305.8992805957 LIL)
11. Sukmawati Haji Sirat. (1995). Trends in Malay political leadership: The People's Action Party's Malay political leaders and the integration of the Singapore Malays [Microfilm]. Michigan: UMI, p. 280. (Call no.: RCLOS 323.11992805957 SUK)
12. New cabinet will be sworn in tonight at Istana. (1972, September 16). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Mattar made minister of state (1977, August 4). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Second echelon officials have been promoted to full ministers. (1984, May 31). The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Adat that no longer applies. (1973, December 22) The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Muslims, too, can't remain passive: Mattar. (1978, September 4). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Muslims urged to keep up with changing times. (1980, September 7). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Mendaki set up to help boost standards. (1982, January 20). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Zuraidah Ibrahim. Mattar steps down as Mendaki chairman. (1993, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN [HIS])
20. Zuraidah Ibrahim. Mattar steps down as Mendaki chairman. (1993, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Muslims urged to fight drugs more aggressively. (1990, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tan, T. H. More Muslims urged to pledge their kidneys. (1990, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Salim Osman, Persuade kin to agree to kidney pledge, Mattar urges Muslims. (1990, May 27). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. S'pore well on its way to phasing out use of CFCs. (1991, March 15). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Singapore aims to become world environmental leader. (1990, December 28). Agence France-Press. Retrieved from Factiva; Converters for all new cars from July next year. (1993, February 21). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Tougher no-smoking law from Monday. (1992, April 4). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Six MPs criticise way litterbugs were treated. (1993, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Mattar sets up 19-member environment council. (1990, November 7). The Business Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Zuraidah Ibrahim. Mattar stepping down on June 30. (1993, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. PM: Thank you, Dr Mattar. (1993, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Zuraidah Ibrahim. No regrets, but I feel a heavy loss at leaving ministry: Matter. (1993, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN [HIS])
32. National University of Singapore. (2013). Distinguished Science Alumni Awards 2004. Retrieved from National University of Singapore website: http://www.science.nus.edu.sg/science-alumni/194-alumni/dsa-list/460-dsa-2004-ahmad-mattar



Further resource

Mendaki. (1992). Making the difference: Ten years of Mendaki. Singapore: Yayasan Mendaki.
(Call no.: RSING 305.697105957 MAK)



The information in this article is valid as at 19 July 2013 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
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Personalities
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Lecturers
Politics and Government
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Singapore. Ministry of the Environment

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