Sarawak’s dilemma

The Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) complex as seen from across the Sarawak River, Kuching. — file pic

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THERE is a joke that goes like this: “If it’s the head, I win; if it’s the tail, you lose”. This means no matter which sides the tossed coin lands, the person who sets that “condition” wins.

Sarawak is precisely in this position ever since Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over Putrajaya after the 14th general election on May 9.

The state was also in the same predicament during the reign of the Alliance and then the Barisan Nasional (BN), to the extent of being downgraded to “one of the 13 states” in Malaysia. It was also “forced” to sign the controversial Petroleum Development Act (PDA) 1974, which allowed Petronas to ‘harvest’ Sarawak’s oil and gas resources any way they like.

Because of the PDA, which never had the State Legislative Assembly’s approval stamp, oil and gas worth billions of Ringgit were pumped out from the state annually and channelled into the federal coffers. This has been going on for 44 years now, and the state only receives a meagre 5 per cent in oil royalty, courtesy of the national oil giant.

In recent years, especially when the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem was chief minister, the spirit of patriotism among Sarawakians was aroused to fight for the state’s rights as enshrined in the Malaysian Agreement 1963 (MA63). The calls were so great that former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak agreed to grant devolution of powers to the state, including the rights over its oil and gas resources.

To be fair to the Najib administration, things were going Sarawak’s way then, but the unexpected Malaysian `tsunami’ swept everything off the table on May 9. Many people were caught unaware, including those so-called political analysts. Virtually no one thought the once impregnable BN would ever collapse and in such a dramatic fashion.

Sarawak in a fix?

As a former ally of the BN, Sarawak found itself in a weird situation. Should it jump ship and join PH or sink with the BN mothership?

In the end, the state BN — which comprises PBB, SUPP, PRS and PDP — took the “middle way” by bidding farewell to BN and formed a local pact called Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) to reposition itself.

It seems GPS, with Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg on the driver’s seat, had emerged from the bunker and is in fighting shape to face all the political challenges that may come its way.

Facing the challenges ahead

Abang Johari, in his session with the media on Tuesday, admitted that the state must now position itself as a strategic partner with the PH federal government. He even allowed time for Putrajaya to adapt itself as the new political master of the country.

But being sympathetic to the PH government doesn’t mean Sarawak should allow itself to be sidelined again. As an “independent” entity now, GPS must flex its muscles when things are not going its way. Things were different previously because it was in the BN coalition; it had to toe the line and be obedient to the BN’s “whip” or risked being chastised or even expelled.

But just like the phoenix that rises from the ashes, GPS must reposition itself and be resolute in reclaiming its rights, especially those under MA63, from Putrajaya.

GPS must be people-centric

As the administrator of Sarawak, which geographically speaking is as large as the whole of Peninsular Malaysia, GPS must know the ‘how’, the ‘what’ and the ‘where’ to bark for better deals with Putrajaya.

Just to recap, Sarawak has been targeting the year 2030 as the benchmark in which it will achieve developed status. This means that in the next 12 years, all basic amenities such as roads, electricity, water and communication (especially internet coverage) must be in place. On top of that, the income of each household must reach the stipulated amount.

For now, let us take stock of what we have. It is a fact that Sarawak will need billions of Ringgit to provide treated water, roads, bridges, electricity and Internet connection to its scattered population. But with healthy state reserves of RM31 billion, the Land of the Hornbills must start using part of its savings to implement strategic projects that will benefit its people. It cannot afford to wait any longer. Almost every day, we hear cries for better roads, treated water and electricity.

To achieve the set target, both state PH and GPS lawmakers must sit down together and chart the course for a better Sarawak. People like PH Sarawak chairman Chong Chieng Jen and GPS spokesman Abdullah Saidol must buck up and start doing the right things for the people instead of pointing fingers at each other.

For the sake of the people, be blind to political differences because the ‘season for politicking’ is over. Let us all move forward as one ‘Bangsa Sarawak’ to ensure that all the cries from the people are pacified by addressing their needs that have long been neglected. Stop giving excuses, because frankly, the people are now sick of taking bulls*** from politicians, especially those who only know how to talk.

Chong, as the Deputy Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, and Baru Bian, as the Minister of Works, are now in a good position to secure better deals and allocations from the Mahathir administration for the state. Channel as much funds as possible to Sarawak. This is, after all, contained in PH’s GE14 manifesto.

As for the GPS government, it is high time to walk the talk. Please stop debating whether or not to use the state reserves. The money belongs to all Sarawakians, full stop. For what good is it to crow about having enormous wealth when the people are miserable? In fact, the people are not asking for the moon and the stars. They are in fact a very reasonable lot, and they will not complain if the issue is minor.

But the people are crying louder now because they have been begging for very basic stuff for the last 55 years. So, for God’s sake, use the reserves. As for the lawmakers, they should go to the ground often to feel the pulse of the people. Their time of sitting in air-conditioned rooms is over. The people expect YBs to deliver on their promises. After all, YB should also mean ‘Yang Bekerja’. — DayakDaily