Abang Jo — one of the most influential Malaysian politicians


There was a time when he ‘disappeared’ from the house which prompted his security personnel to make several calls to find him.

They later found that their boss, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, was actually surveying the surrounding area on his own or at his favourite outdoor area or dining at Magenta Restaurant or other locations.

This is the unassuming Abang Jo, one of the most influential figures in Malaysian politics.

As of today, it has been five years since Abang Johari became the chief minister, and less than a month on a new mandate.

However, during that period, he came up with various ideas for Sarawak. For those five years, he strived to be himself, coming out of the shadow of Pehin Sri Adenan Satem (Tok Nan) who was chief minister from 2014 to 2017.

Abang Johari came up with his own ideas and initiatives, as he believed to be a successful state, Sarawak needed a
different formula.

Sarawak cannot use the normal route; instead it needs to be faster as it is far behind the more developed states in Malaysia.

To be a developed state by 2030, Sarawak cannot think in the framework of 2023 or 2025. It must place itself at the gates of the times.

That is why Abang Johari tried to bypass the conventional and run away from the norm, despite being heavily criticised.

For example, while the Pan Borneo Highway is not yet ready, he already aspires to develop autonomous rail transit (ART) and light rail transit (LRT). When clean water was still a major problem, he brought in digital agriculture and airports for Kapit and Betong.

However, these do not mean that he does not care about the demands and needs of the people. He knows in which region the people are hungry, in which corner the people are thirsty and which niche is wrapped in poverty.

Water and electricity issues are addressed prudently by successful grid systems in addition to implementing alternative methods. He also built major bridges to bridge the geographical and economic gap between urban and rural areas while continuing the second trunk road and coastal road projects, which were approved in Tok Nan’s era.

All these initiatives, including Internet facilities are expected to be completed by 2025 — a target that is now almost certain to be achieved.

His next idea that really produced magic was the digital economy. Less than four years after mooting the idea, the digital economy has been a reality over the past two years, when the world was rocked by COVID-19.

Once again, Abang Johari was ahead of his time. The quantum shift, which may also be reflected in the economic curve, is now clear in the eyes of the people. They acknowledged the reality of Abang Johari’s idea which was once dubbed ‘angan-angan kosong’ (empty fantasies).

Thus, to show support, during the Sarawak state election on Dec 18, the people gave him a huge victory.

Abang Johari actually does not get his ideas while bathing, running, sleeping or dreaming. He gained it from reading, watching as well as long experience in politics and administration.

Thanks to his love of reading, he discovered the rights of Sarawak hidden in the Federal Constitution and got an idea of ​​the state’s alternative banking and financial system.

It is this financial system that has helped a lot to develop Sarawak in a short period of time, and to succeed in various initiatives for the state.

The funds accrued from various revenues, including petroleum and gas taxes, allow the state to help the people affected by Covid-19, when experiencing ‘stalled moments’.

Apart from that, Abang Johari is also a person who is obsessed with technology. He understands technology and is able to talk at length about it — especially about the Internet, connectivity and 5G.

Not a foreign thing, among the channels he always follows before going to bed include the influential BBC News and Channel News Asia. That is why Abang Johari is always forward-looking.

And if not for COVID-19, surely he would have travelled to many countries to delve into and observe for himself the effects of technology.

Because of that, Sarawak today has elements of Batavia and Estonia’s progress, as well as on the verge of joining the technological prowess of China and Korea.

He also dared to introduce the state to the hydrogen economy as it is the technology of the future which is environmentally friendly and harmless — not to mention Sarawak is rich in resources.

Actually, many of Abang Johari’s dreams have not yet been fully achieved. He has three more years to see and reap the rewards — something that is actually difficult for any leader to do.

But he is confident because he is ahead of his time — something he learned from his mentor Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud.

He will not wait until 2030, because for him, Sarawak needs to move quickly as the world is changing rapidly.

The economy has also changed and the wealth of fossil products as well as agricultural resources, are not a guarantee for success. Because of that, after securing his mandate three weeks ago, he prepared his team — who are clearly the successor leaders for the future of Sarawak.

They just have to read what he intends — think beyond the times, act creatively and be extraordinary leaders.

Surely, the five years that Abang Johari has gone through is too short a time, because he has too much to do. He had to manoeuvre the little space and time he had, and even ‘disappear’ to find his own space.

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