KUALA LUMPUR — The intense debate and eventual approval of the much criticised and challenged Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement have been the most memorable experience for Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria.
The former International Trade and Industry Ministry secretary-general said winning the three-day debate in Parliament early this year was an achievement for her and her team as they believe 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 in an exclusive interview.
Sta Maria, who retired last Friday, was asked on what would be her most memorable moment working in the civil service since 1981.
Sharing a glimpse of the TPP negotiating process, she said surrounding issues, particularly those related to Bumiputra 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 tensions as well as enthusiasm among the leaders and young officers to get this trade agreement, the world’s largest, done.
“Of course, sleepless nights are never easy and 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.
That the TPP also involved engaging opposition members such as Nurul Izzah Anwar, Charles Santiago and Wong Chen, for discussions and briefing sessions at her office in Jalan Duta, made it memorable.
Prior to her appointment as secretary-general in 2010, Sta Maria was Deputy Secretary-General (Trade). She began her career in the Administrative and Diplomatic Service in 1981 and served in various capacities in the then Ministry of Trade and Industry.
In 1988, she was seconded to the Asean Plant Quarantine and Training Centre as its chief administration and procurement officer and since then has been involved extensively in the regional bloc.
Besides chairing the 2006 Asean Senior Economic Officials Meeting, she was also chair of the Asean High Level Task Force for Economic Integration and vice chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Southeast Asia.
These roles gave her the opportunity to meet with leaders such as Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Justin Trudeau, Lee Hsien Loong, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.
“These kinds of opportunities are so rare and I treasured them. Those were not easy to come by,” she said.
On whether there was an offer for her to extend her service, she said: “My minister (Datuk Seri 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.
Sta Maria was succeeded by Datuk J. Jayasiri, who served as Malaysia’s chief negotiator during TPP talks. — Bernama