Taib, Sarawak’s longest-serving Chief Minister and former Governor passes at 87

Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud

KUCHING, Feb 21: Former Head of State Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, who served as Sarawak’s Chief Minister for over three decades, has passed away at the age of 87 this morning at 4.28am at a private hospital in Kuala Lumpur.

According to Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Minister Dato Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, a state funeral will be held for him at the New Sarawak Legislative Complex.

Known as the ‘father of modern Sarawak’, Taib left an indelible mark on the State’s history and development. His leadership turned Sarawak from a humble backwater region in the 1960s into a vibrant, progressive part of Malaysia today.

Born into an aristocratic family in Miri on May 21, 1936, Taib’s journey was one of resilience and dedication. Educated at St Joseph’s School in Miri and later at St Joseph’s Secondary School in Kuching, he went on to study law at the University of Adelaide, Australia, under a prestigious Colombo Plan Scholarship. He then took up postgraduate studies at Harvard in 1964.

He wed the late Puan Sri Datuk Patinggi Laila Taib, a Polish Muslim of Lipka Tatar descent, in 1959. Together, they were blessed with four children: Jamilah Taib Murray, Datuk Seri Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib, Dato Sri Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Taib, and Datuk Hanifah Hajar Taib. In 2009, Laila passed away due to cancer. In 2010, Taib wed Toh Puan Raghad Kurdi Taib.

Returning to Sarawak in 1960, Taib has been involved Sarawak’s political scene since the formation of Malaysia in 1963, an engagement that lasted until his passing.

He is the youngest man ever to be sworn in as a State minister—at the age of 27—in Sarawak’s political history. His tenure as the Chief Minister from 1981 to 2014 starting from the age of 45 stands as the lengthiest in Malaysia, while his 38 years as a Member of Parliament solidified his imprint on the country’s political history.

A life dedicated to service and development

Under his guidance, Sarawak witnessed an unprecedented era of progress. Initially grappling with poverty, lack of infrastructure, and political instability with numerous ethnic groups and political parties, Taib’s leadership brought about a radical transformation to the region.

Upon his return to Sarawak in 1960, Taib worked in the Crown Council from 1962 to 1963. His first duties as part of the executive came when he was appointed Minister of Communications and Works in the Cabinet of the first Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Datuk Amar Stephen Kalong Ningkan.

Over the next 50 years, he dedicated and devoted his life to the development and welfare of the nation and the State of Sarawak. He served as a federal minister in various ministries for a total of 13 years since 1968, including Minister of General Planning and Socio-Economic Research, Minister of Primary Industries, Minister of Defence, and ultimately, Minister of Federal Territories.

Subsequently, on March 26, 1981, he was appointed as the fourth Chief Minister of Sarawak and served for 33 years, steering Sarawak through an era of unparalleled development.

At the core of Taib’s leadership philosophy was the introduction of the ‘Politics of Development’, a policy rooted in the principles of COME—change, opportunity, mobility, and equality for all Sarawakians.

This innovative policy heralded a new era, where economic progress eclipsed political wrangling. His focus on economic growth, rural development, and infrastructure overhaul shaped a new narrative for Sarawak’s future.

Sarawak, emerging from the grip of British colonialism, was an economic backwater. Its longest road consisted of little more than a dirt stretch leading outward from Kuching. The capital lacked any notable hotels worth mentioning.

At that time, the incidence of poverty soared to over 70 per cent, and Sarawak’s national income couldn’t sustain even a small Western city for a mere week. Schools were dilapidated, and children attended barefoot. With approximately 5,000 villages and longhouses scattered across the State, the lack of infrastructure presented a monumental challenge in developing Sarawak. Despite over a century of rule under the Brookes and British, the region remained underdeveloped.

However, with Taib assuming the mantle of the Chief Minister of Sarawak, significant transformation unfolded and Sarawak underwent a radical change. The remarkable surge in development wasn’t incidental or coincidental but the result of astute policies and their meticulous execution.

Taib was not only a lawyer but also held a strong foundation in economics, having pursued studies in economics at Harvard. Economics and finance were his forte, an attestation of former Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Wong Soon Kai, that planning was Taib’s strong point.

During his tenure as a federal minister, Taib gained a significant advantage over other Borneo leaders in navigating relations with the central government. Using his skills of persuasion, he effectively brought about development in Sarawak, spearheading initiatives that encompassed crucial infrastructural improvements such as roads, bridges, electricity, water supply, and more.

Taib’s enduring legacy is clear in the substantial changes he instigated across diverse sectors. He spearheaded a revolution in infrastructure, education, and industries, fundamentally reshaping Sarawak’s economy from an agrarian foundation into a thriving industrial powerhouse.

He was the Chief Minister who set the tradition of a large rural development budget where 60 per cent of Sarawak’s annual budget is allocated to rural areas and 40 per cent for recurrent expenditure.

During the British colonial rule in 1954, Sarawak’s imports totalled $130 million whilst exports were worth $125 million, resulting in an adverse trade balance of $5 million. Taib’s strategic budget allocations propelled economic growth, leading to an exponential rise in Sarawak’s budget to RM4.9 billion in 2013, alongside a debt-free status.

Architect of Sarawak’s transformation

Taib also spearheaded the establishment of educational institutions such as Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) in Kota Samarahan, signalling an era of educational advancement and enhancing opportunities for Sarawak’s residents.

His former constituency of Kota Samarahan was converted into the educational hub of Sarawak. Additionally, he facilitated the set-up of numerous training institutes and colleges to equip Sarawakians with diverse skills, not only to advance Sarawak’s development but also to enhance the people’s standard of living.

These include Laila Taib College and University of Technology Sarawak (UTS) in Sibu, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus in Kuching, and Curtin University Malaysia in Miri.

To catalyse rural development, he identified trigger points and assembled those in geographical proximity into a critical mass so that basic facilities and infrastructure could be set up.

His achievements span a wide range, and some of his notable contributions include the establishment of Bintulu Development Authority (BDA) to harness Sarawak’s abundant oil and gas resources; the creation of new administrative divisions such as Mukah, Betong, and Samarahan; and the elevation of Kuching and Miri into cities.

Furthermore, Taib also was the driving force behind the development of numerous industrial parks, including Samajaya Industrial Park, Demak Jaya Industrial Park, Samalaju Industrial Park, and Tanjung Manis Industrial Park. These parks have generated abundant job opportunities, particularly benefiting the local population and rural job seekers.

Beyond the advancements in the oil and gas industry, Taib played a pivotal role in transforming primary resource sectors such as timber, oil palm, and forest plantations. These industries have provided substantial employment and wealth for Sarawakians throughout the years.

Additionally, he also created several statutory bodies such as Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA), Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC), and Sacofa Sdn Bhd, and enlarged the roles and functions of the established ones like Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) and Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra).

He successfully elevated Sarawak to new heights, aligning the region with the national agenda and setting the foundation to elevate the people’s income from medium to high.

On the political front, despite the presence of parties representing diverse races and ideologies, Taib demonstrated astute and tactful handling that prevented any incidents of bloodshed or hostile uprisings. Throughout his three-decade leadership in Sarawak, he effectively maintained the region’s political stability.

The successful evolution of Sarawak into its current state owes much to the ‘Politics of Development,’ a strategy made feasible by the sustained political stability of Sarawak, with Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) serving as the backbone of the Sarawak government.

Under the umbrella of PBB, a resilient and enduring government was formed, operating in cooperation and harmony with other component parties such as the Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).

International accolades and enduring legacy

In recognition of his immense contributions to the development of both the State and the nation, Taib was honoured with Sarawak’s highest award, the Satria Bintang Sarawak (SBS), bestowing upon him the esteemed title ‘Pehin Sri’.

Additionally, he was bestowed with the nation’s highest honour, the Darjah Kebesaran Seri Maharaja Mangku Negara (SSM), carrying the title ‘Tun’.

Furthermore, Taib has received special awards from various countries, including Australia, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, and Brunei. These awards reflect the international acknowledgement and appreciation for his exceptional achievements and dedication.

Taib’s legacy stands as a testament to a life dedicated to the betterment of Sarawak. His visionary leadership and commitment to progress reshaped the region and laid the foundation for its continued growth and prosperity. His passing marks the end of an era but leaves an enduring legacy that will continue to shape the future of Sarawak. — DayakDaily