Introducing Executive Director Mervin Singham

Mervin Singham

The Royal Commission’s Executive Director Mervin Singham shares some insights on his life and explains why he is driven by a strong sense of social justice. 

“I grew up in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. It was a culturally vibrant and diverse environment.  We had Muslim people, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist people as part of the fabric of Malaysian society.  Our family spoke three languages at home and I was exposed to delicious food from around the world. Consequently I love cooking and enjoy inviting people to our home to share a meal with us. 

“I quickly realised when I arrived in New Zealand that some elements of Māori culture and ways of behaving were very like those in Malaysia.  The concept of whanau is very strong. When I was growing up cousins, aunts, uncles and second cousins were all part of my life. It was a highly collective way of thinking and doing things together. 

“There is something special about New Zealand. I thought of going back to Malaysia after my law degree but there was something about New Zealand that I loved. I was able to be myself. I liked the people. I liked the culture. I liked the sense of fair play”

Mervin isn’t surprised that the majority of children put into care are Māori or Pasifika.

“As a brown man living in Aotearoa I have experienced racism.  That created a sense of injustice and some anger in me. But I decided many years ago to channel my entire energy into doing something that helps improve people’s lives, otherwise those things just eat at you. That’s why most of my career has been about supporting disadvantaged people “

During his time at the Human Rights Commission Mervin experienced what it was like to be in a war zone. 

“On my first night on a project with the United Nations in the Middle East, I found myself walking in the desert when I suddenly saw a big tank coming down the road. Luckily my instincts saved me and I dived into the bushes to avoid being shot at for breaking curfew.  Working in conflict zones teaches you to value the type of society we have in New Zealand. The respect we have for each other, our freedom and basic human rights.” 

Mervin says what has happened to people in State care is a Human Rights issue.

 “A successful Royal Commission will provide recommendations to Government on how we can ensure institutions providing care never subject people to abuse of any kind. I hope we bring a sense of atonement to survivors who for have many decades asked for a spotlight to be put on their plight. Many survivors have raised this not because they just want to let go of the past but because it’s had an impact on their lives on an ongoing basis and they don’t want it to happen to other people in the future.  I hope that survivors feel heard respected and the solutions we recommend for the future are ones that they would support.”