Getting to know Najib – Sarawak’s good friend!

Say what you may about former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, he has a heart for Sarawak.

Despite his problems with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he never let Sarawak down, especially in the last few years he was in office.  

Apart from billons he forked out for developmental goodies, his greatest gift to Sarawak was the RM16.49 billion Pan Borneo Highway.

Turning the clock back, let us consider the facts before we start to strip down Najib and find fault with him as if he never did any good in his life.

When Najib agreed to implement the Pan Borneo Highway, the political pundits would say that this was not because he loved Sarawak more.

It was because the leader of Umno considered Sarawak a staunch coalition member who always did very well in general elections under his watch and thus was BN’s “fixed deposit”.

It was not that Najib loved Sabah less; because the state had embraced Umno a long time ago.

Najib was just trying to cultivate Sarawak’s powerful PBB, which has always toed the line.

But not until the arrival of the “no-nonsense” fifth chief minister in February 2014 – Tan Sri Adnan Satem.

If you can recall, it was Adenan who said even though Sarawak had a good working relationship with Umno, he was not letting the party into Sarawak.

When the ultra faction in Umno felt it was not necessary for Malaysians to master the English language, Najib dithered while Adenan made English Sarawak’s second language

Adenan said: “Whether they agree with me in Semenanjung (Malaya) or not, I don’t care.

“I made English the second language of Sarawak. Of course, Bahasa Malaysia is still the main language. We agree and have no issue with that.

“But what is wrong with us also being proficient in English? It’s the language of science, learning, literature, technology, business, research, communication and international relations.”

When Umno tries to use religion to spread their wings to Sarawak and deemed it illegal for Malaysians to use the word “Allah”, Adenan countered saying that Sarawakians can use the word Allah anytime they wanted.

Adenan who said there were more non-Muslim Bumiputeras in Sarawak than Muslims and it was up to the individual choose how he prays and worships.

“You (Sarawakians) can use ‘Allah’ any time you want. No problem. Just use it with respect. I will not tell you how to practise your religion. I am a Muslim and I try to be a good one.

“But I will not tell my fellow Christian friends how to worship. It is their business,” he added.

Therein, lays the difference Sarawak’s straight-talking politician and a prime minister who prefers to “spare the rod and spoil the child”.

And so he continued to shower and lavish Sarawak with goodies and we wallowed in his generosity thinking we were so powerful that even the prime minister feared Sarawak.

Indeed that most important gift was the long over-due RM16.49 billion Pan Borneo project which was initiated in September 2015 when Adenan arrived in Sematan to announce the start of this massive project.

PBB Youth leader – former works minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof was one of the first to thank the “boss” for this wonderful gift.

Fadillah said the project would ensure that the people of Sabah and Sarawak would have meaningful “economic and social impacts” and also help to increase tourism and investment in both states.

Similarly, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg who succeeded Adenan who passed away on January 11, 2016, said that this was the “biggest infrastructure development project undertaken by the federal government in Sarawak in 54 years, and we believe the highway will push Sarawak to greater heights.”

Najib was proud to have agreed to implement the 2,000km highway project which would become a game changer and stimulate more economic activities in East Malaysia.

As a courtesy to Najib’s generosity, Adenan admitted that with the implementation of the Pan Borneo Highway, Sarawak’s economy could grow and promote tourism.

According to the grapevine, another “big shot” may be coming to Sarawak to officially launch the Pan Borneo’s inaugural 33km Telok Melano-Sematan phase which was completed last month, I thought it would be good to have a “first-hand visit” to Tanjung Datuk, the constituency of the late Adenan.

It’s not that I have never been there; in fact I spent my late teens at Sematan at my parents “longhouse” on the beach after my Form Six examinations in 1969.

I even had a chance to visit Telok Melano – some 50 years ago – which took more than four hours to reach by speedboat, thanks to family friends at Sematan.

Thirty years ago I revisited Telok Melano again to interview a famous Chinese hermit named Sua Tu Hin – the wild boar hunter who lived alone in the jungle using spear and 20 hunting dogs to sustain himself.

I accompanied Adenan to Telok Melano on two more occasions when he went on one of his many excursions to visit the remote villages of Telok Melano and Telok Serabang which have a total population of 400.

On my recent trip to Telok Melano on Monday I sat with the new Sarawak Administrative Officer of Sematan Arshat Ehsan and Penghulu Jumahdi Sabian of Sematan as I was given a guided tour of the area.

It was an honour to be one of the first reporters to drive on this magnificent highway.

And I must thank assemblywoman Datuk Amar Jamilah Anu, the wife of the late Adenan, for organising the trip.

Together with her driver Harris we took the longer route to Sematan by Matang and the ferry at Rambungan on an eight-hour round-trip journey.

 I was surprised to learn that she has been visiting her constituency at least twice a week or maybe every day of the week if invited to attend a function.

The highlight of my Telok Melano excursion was learning a mind-boggling and dark secret which I will reveal in my next excerpt of the Devil’s Advocate.

 Expect to be shocked!