Sarawak needs a Federal Government that understands – Taib
In the last instalment of a candid interview with Sarawak Chief Minister Pehin Seri Abdul Taib Mahmud, he spoke about the political reality in the state and its direction in the future.
“Sarawak is undergoing a very aggressive economic policy. We need a Federal Government that understands our process of development,” Taib said. He also expressed his doubts whether any opposition leaders will have the expertise in bringing the development in Sarawak especially in regards to its economic and social development.
Q: How many parliamentary seats do you think Barisan Nasional can manage to win in the next election?
A: I think the lowest would be 23 and the highest would be 27. We are estimating this based on the political reality today. Maybe in the urban areas it looks like as if the opposition is getting some support but it (support) is not for PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat). PKR is not welcome here. DAP is quite aggressive and they are also trying to make inroads into the Iban community. (Editor’s Note: Sarawak has a total of 31 parliamentary seats)
Q: In the Peninsular, the issue of word “Allah” is a hot issue among Muslims. The impact is quite heavy on Pas. However there are people in the Peninsular who think that this issue will bring negative impact to BN as DAP is trying to make this a religious issue in Sarawak. Is it really happening here?
A: DAP will be wasting their time. There will be no support on this. The Sarawakians have accepted this issue for the past 50 years. There are a lot of Christians in Sarawak who bought bibles from Indonesia and they have used the translation of the word “God” to “Allah” as part of their faith. Muslims in Sarawak do not feel affected by it. I don’t see why anyone would want to create an issue out of this.
If DAP wants to create an issue about it here, I feel DAP is a group of people who simply want to incite hatred among Sarawakians to fight among themselves. To me, this is verging on racial politics. I look upon this kind of politics very, very severely.
Q: In the Sibu by-election there were problems to address the issue of NCR (Native Customary Land) land? What is the update on the NCR land?
A: It is indeed a hot topic before the state election. However it is not a popular issue anymore. This is because we asked for proof of any NCR lands which had been taken away by the government. When we took some of the lands, it was gazzetted for the purpose of building schools, roads and other government projects.
What actually happened was several NGOs had given inaccurate information to the people. This is done to support certain parties who wanted to claim bigger lands than theirs. To me, I can’t make my own decision. It needed to be settled in courts. Most of them today are quite angry when the court decided that their claims were baseless.
Q: In one of (opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) Anwar’s promises if he wins in the next general election, he said 15 per cent oil royalty will be given to the people of Sarawak. What is your take on that?
A: When he was a Cabinet minister in the government, he was singing a different tune.
Anwar’s record with Sarawak is very clear. It tells us on how much regards he had on us. We were given funds by the Federal Government, under his purview (as Finance Minister), to build a university, Unimas. We had to set up a temporary building for more than 10 years because Anwar took the funds and chanelled it elsewhere. To me, I don’t trust a person like this.
Secondly there were a lot of projects which he promised to the people in Kuching but none of it has materialised.
Thirdly, outside Sarawak…on the international scene, he said he disagreed with having oil palm plantations along our coastal swampy areas. If the Malays in Sarawak were to find out that Anwar objected to this, they will be upset with him. This is due to the fact that the coastal populace enjoyed better living due to the existence of oil palm plantations in their area.
If Pakatan wins, together with their promises, this state will be bankrupt. The oil royalty promise is just a sweet promise that doesn’t come from the heart.
Q: Anwar is selling himself as the saviour of the country. Does he have the qualities to provide the leadership?
A: The greatest test for Anwar was during the 1997 financial crisis. We look at his reaction in following standard developing countries’ reaction when we had economic crisis. He called the International Monetary Fund, and the IMF will straight away say: “You pay your debts or the money go to New York or wherever.” If we were to do that, as some of the countries in the region did, we would have lost a lot of employments and our economy would have gone bust.
But as we know, we passed through 1997 without being hurt too much as opposed to some other countries. You ask why? The reason is very simple, the then Prime Minister said, “I don’t want Anwar’s solution. I don’t want IMF to come. I have a Malaysian solution.”
We didn’t want to impoverish our country. What we need to do was to manage our supply of money and our capital flow and that’s what Tun Dr Mahathir did. I think this approach is even endorsed by developed countries. Even in the European crisis today some of them think Tun Dr Mahathir was right.
Anwar never thought what would happen to Malaysia. He’s got good relationships with his friends outside (IMF, World Bank and the rest). His focus was to please them first and not what he can do for the country.
To me a person like this is not immersed in fighting for his own people.
When asked how do we remember Anwar in Sarawak for his tenure as Federal Minister, as Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister? We would reply, “do not ask anything on what he has left for us, I think what we have now will be gone too.” Just use the case of funds meant for Unimas as an example. As far as Sarawak is concerned, Anwar did not look after Sarawak. I hope he does not become the Prime Minister.
Q: What is the progress of Score (Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy) now, after almost five years?
A: Score started its operations only about two years. Almost 30 big companies have applied to build factories in Samalaju. Five factories have been built and the rest are at different stages including planning and so on.
Based on these applications, it is beyond my expectation. We thought of having only 1000ha of land for these purposes but it is not enough. I have to allocate 6000ha in Samalaju for this. Currently a port has been built and there is one operating factory in the area.
We will see a lot of positive developments and responses for the upcoming years. I was quite worried at first with the global financial crisis but so far everything moving well.
Q: Recently Malaysian Airlines bought a substantial number of aircrafts for Mas Wings service. It shows that demand for rural domestic flight is growing. Having said that, in 2015, Asean open-sky policy will come in. How will Sarawak government react or respond to this policy and new airlines like Malindo Air in the region?
A: Probably the open-sky policy will be a challenge. But liberalising airline policy has its good and bad, but in the end the airlines know how to survive.
In the case of Sarawak, we are looking for more entry from outsiders to Sarawak and it will give greater accessibility to the state. I don’t know what the new policy is…whether we will handle it or Mas will take over, it doesn’t matter to me. What is more important is we take advantage of getting linked with the outside world.
Q: When are you expected to finalise the list of candidates?
A: All of these things are in the PM’s hands. As far as PBB (Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu) is concerned, it’s okay… we have decided since last year. In SDPD (Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party) there’s a lot of movement so PM has got to decide. PRS (Parti Rakyat Sarawak), I think there’s only one problem. SUPP (Sarawak United People’s Party), the list of their candidates is about to be finalised.
Q: Any specific message to the people in Sarawak for the upcoming election?
A: The Opposition tries to sell the idea that there should be change. That they (Opposition) are able to take over the government. It’s a normal line. But the people of Sarawak have got to be convinced whether the change is for the better or not. As far as I’m concerned we cannot afford to have a Federal Government that is led by people who have less than proven ability.
To us, Datuk Pattinggi Najib (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) is the best candidate for PM at the moment. I don’t think we should look beyond that.
If we think he’s the best person to become the Prime Minister, as far as Sarawak is concerned, we’ve got to go give all the best votes for him. He has proved to be much more sympathetic to the problems of Sarawak.
In fact by giving Sarawak and Sabah RM 5 billion to catch up with the demand for rural roads, electricity and water supply, we have more or less covered all the areas in rural Sarawak.
Because of that I think the PM will get a great deal of support among the rural people of Sarawak. He’s very sympathetic to Baram which was an area that suffered some difficulties because of its infrastructure which led to migration of a lot of educated people to Miri.
I think it’s quite natural while we are taking steps to have long-term big development in Baram area, we have to do something within the next 20 years.
By having to develop Baram as one of the areas to produce electricity for Score, we have a big project that can allow us to plan for much bolder steps to change the character of development in Baram.
Today Baram is still dependent on timber and lately palm oil but there’s sufficient development in Baram area to support good employment opportunities. We have identified the area where the first dam will be sited and around the dam I see there’s enough development to support about 3,000 to 4,000 employment opportunities.
If we can build the township (in Baram), instead of tackling Baram’s resettlement problem we build a township like what we did for Bakun. It will be a healthy development.
While we can’t stop the migration of well-educated people completely from Baram like most rural areas, it will create opportunities for the educated people to come back. That to me is very important and that can only be done by having a development that is focused on the creation of the new town.
That’s why in Sarawak, the state government has decided to build a town near the dam. It’s an approach that’s been regarded as exciting by community leaders in Baram itself and they are welcoming it very much. I think this will be a good way to show that BN is always ahead to see what can be done to enhance the development potential of Sarawak itself. With the support of the Federal Government, this will bring about restructuring of basic problems in Sarawak, namely the distribution of the population.
I think the same approach is welcomed in Kapit because we also feel that border areas cannot afford to lose the population too much as we need a secure border for the future.
When we face this election we are going to see more forward thinking in the context of Sarawak because we have a good Prime Minister who can understand this kind of thing. I doubt whether someone in Pakatan Pembangkang will be able to produce that level of vision, expertise in economic and social development.
We know most of the leaders in Opposition, we cannot see anybody from them who can see this level of development for Sarawak even if we can get along with them. That’s the outlook that we have from the Sarawak perspective.
Q: What is your message to the people of Sarawak and the people of Malaysia in general? What are your plans for the state?
A: To the people of Sarawak, Sarawak is undergoing very aggressive economic policy. Score will require a lot of infrastructures. We need quite a lot of development that it will be heavier for Sarawak to shoulder alone. We need a Federal Government that understands our process of development.
I would say let’s elect experienced leaders. At least they have been brought up in the surrounding of development planning and execution as it has been imbued in our system.
It has been adopted by our various leaders and refined from time to time by our Prime Ministers. The best people are the people in Barisan Nasional to do this. I don’t think anybody from the Opposition has that kind of long-term views and practical experience.
This concludes of interview with Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, the Chief Minister of Sarawak.