KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) — The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) must intensify efforts to raise public awareness on the creation of the Asean Community (AC) by end-2015, said former Asean secretary-general Ong Keng Yong.

The outgoing Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia said the people of Asean had to be given sufficient information and exposure on the role of the bloc, as well as a deeper understanding of the establishment of the regional body.

“The critical dimension is how the people understand Asean and what more we need to do. I think awareness (among the people) is not very strong. We should continue to promote awareness and, along the way, get people to appreciate what Asean is doing, especially if it’s a practical project (and outcome) so that they can feel Asean is important to them,” he said.

Such efforts played a highly important role in embedding Asean in the population in every member country, he told Bernama in an interview.

Malaysia is to take over from Myanmar as the chairman of Asean next year.

As for the role of the Asean Secretariat in promoting the AC, Ong said engaging more ‘Asean-oriented’ staff could help create a good and supportive team of ‘Asean officials’ to enhance the effectiveness of the secretariat, including in the promotion of the AC.

He said those who had the talent and shared the Asean perspective were needed to make the organisation operational, based on what had been agreed to among the Asean leaders.

Ong said it was not easy to get fresh graduates or those from the private sector or even former officials to join the secretariat.

“We have look at the issue before us as an Asean civil servant because, as civil servants of our own countries, we tend to look at the issue in the perspective of a Malaysian or a Singaporean, for example,” he said.

On the performance of the secretariat, he said it was doing its best, but added that there remained areas which could be improved with more leeway.

Asked about his experience as the Asean secretary-general, Ong described the period when he held the post, from 2003 to 2008, as vibrant and “the high point of my career”.

During that time, Asean became quite well-known outside the region, he said.

“Because of the work that we did at that time, community building and economic integration, we were courted by many big countries such as China, Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

Ong said the relationship and cooperation among the Asean member countries strengthened with the understanding of the importance of staying together as 10 countries instead of being on their own.

Asean was founded on Aug 8, 1967, with five countries as members, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Subsequently, the membership expanded to encompass Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.