Time to enjoy life, as MITI boss Rebecca begins retirement

Rebecca-Fatima-Sta-Maria

KUALA LUMPUR: It’s time for family, reading and travelling now for top civil servant Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, who retired on July 1 as the professional head of the ministry of international trade and industry.

“I want to enjoy my life. Now I can look after my family and do anything that I want,” she said in a Bernama interview, looking back on 35 years in the civil service, the last six as secretary-general of MITI.

Her successor is J Jayasiri, Malaysia’s chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

Sta Maria said her most memorable moment was the Dewan Rakyat’s approval of the controversial agreement, and the exchange of smiles after an intense three-day debate earlier this year.

Another high point was “the unbelievable fact” that the TPP also involved the engagement of opposition members such as Nurul Izzah Anwar, Charles Santiago and Wong Chen, for discussions and briefing sessions at her office in Jalan Duta.

She said winning the three-day debate was an achievement for her as well as the negotiating team, believing that they were doing something that was good for the country.

“Finally, it was passed. Everybody just clapped and you know, I almost shouted. We were so happy. It was such a journey that we had been through for so many years. So much pain and challenges that we faced,” she told Bernama.

Sta Maria joined the Administrative and Diplomatic Service in 1981 and has served in various capacities at the trade ministry, and has also been heavily involved in Asean affairs.

One of the high points of her career was to chair an Asean task force for economic integration and vice-chair of the global agenda council for South East Asia at the World Economic Forum.

It offered her “a tremendous and amazing opportunity” to meet and interact with world leaders such as Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Justin Trudeau, Lee Hsien Loong, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.

“That kind of opportunity is so rare and I treasured them. Those were not easy to come by,” she said.

Ask on her retirement plans, she deliberated on the activities that she had in mind, saying: “Whatever I do, will not take my freedom away. I am not looking at anything full time.”

“I want to be able to read more because I have not had enough time to read. I want to travel a little bit more” to places that she had already gone to but did not have the chance to enjoy due to her work commitment.

“I want to enjoy my life. Now I can look after my family and do anything that I want,” she said.

On whether there was an offer for her to extend her service, Sta Maria said: “My minister (Mustapa Mohamed) did ask, but I said I have made up my mind. I have got priorities that I want to focus on, so (it’s) time to go.

“When you have done your best already, it’s good to move on and let others come and take over, so that they can then do what is necessary for the organisation.

“I have given my best to the government and I think the government has been extremely good to me,” she added.

The TPPA negotiations and approval process strengthened her pride in the country.

“You felt so proud to be a Malaysian in the civil service because you’re making such a big contribution and to see everybody working together as a team, that feeling is so difficult to replace,” she said.

She said issues such as those related to the bumiputera policy, state-owned enterprises and government procurement were the most difficult areas to negotiate with the other 11 member countries.

She said the meeting room was clouded with tension as well as enthusiasm among the leaders and young officers to conclude the agreement, which creates the world’s largest free trade area.

“Of course, sleepless night negotiations are never easy, when we do negotiations, you can go right around the clock…(but) it was a fantastic learning experience for all of us.

“You felt so proud to be a Malaysian in the civil service because you’re making such a big contribution and to see everybody working together as a team, that feeling is so difficult to replace,” she said.

Sta Maria has been MITI secretary-general since 2010. Before that she was deputy secretary-general (trade), providing oversight for the formulation and implementation of Malaysia’s international trade policies and positions.