P.212 Sibu by-election - Robert Lau Hui Yew for May 16

Behind the success of every politician, there is always a touching story of how he begins his career. It could involve a woman whom he loves, or a guarding hand that cares, but for Robert Lau Hui Yew, he found his political career begin in stinking toilets.

That was about six years ago when his late cousin Datuk Robert Lau Hoi Chew was the chairman of Sibu Municipal Council. Senior Lau knew his younger cousin had a burning desire to bring changes. He brought him into Sibu Municipal Council because his Sibu BN Visionary Development Team was then in the process of transforming Sibu.

Young Lau did not hesitate. He jumped on the opportunity. But after just a month of joining, things changed. The Senior Lau was appointed the Deputy Minister of Local Government and Housing. He had to leave for Kuala Lumpur, leaving the green boy behind.

Not knowing this would become a blessing in disguise, young Lau just went about his business as the head in the council’s Public Health Standing Committee.

Meanwhile, in Kuala Lumpur, the new Deputy Local Government Minister chanced on an agenda on the culture of clean toilet to upgrade the standard of living.

He found this was what Sibu needed and he quickly formed Malaysia Quality Restroom Association. In Sibu, he tasked Hui Yew to form Sibu Toilet Council on Sept 12, 2005 to lead the town in washroom hygiene.

The toilet council was also to promote what was known as the ABC Toilet Concept – Architecture, Behaviors and Cleanliness.

This commitment opened a new page in Hui Yew’s life. Looking back, Junior Lau found it a simple calling – “Do what you can and never look back”. In fact, in his burning desire, he had already told himself then, “I want to build five-star toilets for Sibu.”

Hui Yew remembered how his sons had complained about stinking toilets in schools.

“Just imagine. A child will spend 17 years growing up there, and we are showing him this is what a toilet is – stinking, unhygienic and stuffy.”

Through the channel of his late cousin, Hui Yew exposed himself to toilet innovation in world conventions to understand why he needed to start at such a lowly place in community service. He called his work the toilet revolution.

He attended the World Toilet Summits in India and Singapore, and he found the answer in India, as 60 per cent of the people there did not have access to proper toilets.

Hui Yew gathered a few persons to work on the idea. He was happy with the commitment of the council’s staff members.

Being inexperienced, he said they asked for professional opinions, and from there, they started designing modern public toilets themselves.

“It all boils down to the concept of having a toilet that is hygienic, airy and one where natural light can penetrate.”

Since then, numerous modern public toilets have been built, like the ones at Sibu Town Square Phase II, the SEDC Food Hawker Centre, SMC Central Market and Lake Garden.

Through him, his group built a model toilet for SRK Bandaran Sibu No. 4, he channelled in a RM20,000 federal government grant.

With the experience gained, the ‘toilet architect’ and his group started helping out two schools and a kindergarten.

The commitment of the two Roberts with others had not gone unnoticed. In the closing Ceremony of the World Toilet Summit & Expo 2009 in Singapore, the World Toilet Organisation’s (WTO) Hall of Fame Toilet Award went to the late Datuk Lau for championing clean toilet and its education in Malaysia, particularly Sibu.

Meanwhile, in Sibu, the public toilet at Town Square Phase II was also awarded by the Sarawak Tourism Federation and the State Ministry of Urban Development and Tourism for its outstanding contribution to the Tourism Industry Model Toilet.

For the same town square toilet, Sibu Municipal Council and Sibu Toilet Council also won a Bronze Award in the National Quality Toilet Competition 2008.

The efforts of Hui Yew and his group had become so popular in pushing for hygienic and clean modern toilets that his friends jokingly called him the toilet chairman of Sibu.

Those who knew him had already seen him as a young leader rising from the base of the community – a lowly place where a revolutionary idea rose from stingy toilets.

Upon the invitation of his late cousin, young Lau said he joined SUPP a little earlier, but it was his toilet revolution that made him outstanding.

Young Lau is today SUPP Sibu treasurer and the chairman of SUPP Sibu Town Service Centre.

In the local council, he now heads the traffic standing committee and is currently reviewing the major traffic restructure in Sibu planned by his late cousin in 2000.

“The traffic restructure is 10 years old now. We need to fine-tune it.

“Things have changed in a decade.”

He said there were a few strategic points of the traffic flow under review now by a consultant from Kuala Lumpur. “One is the traffic flow in Sungei Merah and the other outside booming Li Hua Jaya where the bus terminal is.”

Hui Yew comes from a family of 10. He is the number six and the third of four boys. Born in the Teku where the present Ding Lik Kwong Road is, Hui Yew said there was no road to Sibu then.

His family moved out when he was still a toddler, and the boy spent his early childhood at Emplam Lane.

Hui Yew said he still cherished his early childhood memories in the densely populated residential area and he still used to pass by that terraced house and told his children ‘this is where daddy grew up.’

The lawyer-turned-politician began his education at St Elizabeth’s Kindergarden. He studied in Sacred Heart English Primary School and Sacred Heart Secondary School.

As a boy of Emplam Road, Hui Yew grew up quite independently. “It is understandable when there are 10 siblings in a family. My parents were busy and at times we had to work things out ourselves.”

That helped develop his character. Not only he liked to carry out tasks his way, he drew others in for job efficiency too.

His leadership had grown as a boy even before Hui Yew realised it.

He recalled, “I used to volunteer running errands for teachers. When there was a need I would gather classmates for the tasks.”

That continued into his secondary education. The Junior Lau loved sports. “I played basketball, football, rugby, badminton, table tennis and squash.”

Because of his passion in sports, Hui Yew is today the vice-president of Squash Racquet Association Malaysia and the president of its Sarawak branch.

Robert Junior studied law in Hull University, England, after his pre-university studies in Canada. He returned in 1989 before proceeding to Singapore to practise law. He returned in 1991 and stayed put until today.

In politics, he said the late Datuk Lau, whom he referred to as ‘My brother’, had shown him commitment.

“My brother also let me see what service is. I learnt from his philosophy – Never ask too many questions. Just do it.”

He said his elder cousin had known of his chronic disease in 2008, but he kept it to himself.

“He was already preparing me to take over from him then. Each time he met me he asked me to prepare for it. But I did not know he was asking me to prepare to take over from him.”

Hui Yew confirmed the senior Lau had summoned him to his deathbed. “He asked me to carry on. He told me to be brave and have courage.”

Like when his older cousin had called him into the council and left him alone after a month, Hui Yew found elder Lau had left him alone again, and this time, with a bigger task.

On whether he had prepared for it, he said there was no turning back now.

From stinking to five-star toilets and to his political mission, the people of Sibu now see Hui Yew getting onto the political platform.

In the first election ceramah after his nomination, Lau went up the rostrum and told the crowd, “I am Lau Hui Yew. I am your candidate from SUPP-BN. Vote for me on May 16.”

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