Abang Johari speaking to SUPP delegates at the conference. Photo: Ramidi Subari

KUCHING: Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said that the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government will continue to focus on developing Sarawak and its people.

He also said that in order for the state to achieve its target of becoming a developed state by 2030, all the component parties of GPS — Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) and Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) — must continue to work together.

The following is an abridged version of Abang Johari’s speech at the closing of the SUPP Annual Delegates’ Conference and Special Convention at its headquarters here last Sunday (Oct 18).

THIS convention amid the Covid-19 pandemic poses a great challenge to us and people all over the world. There is no clear indication of how long we are going to face this threat. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also cannot make any prediction on it.

Although there are indications that a vaccine will be available, it will take time because it is still undergoing various trials. Therefore, we just have to accept the fact that Covid-19 will be with us for quite some time. Now is a challenging time, which is why GPS focuses on development rather than petty politics. We set up the Sarawak Economic Action Plan Committee to find the best way to tackle the post-Covid-19 economy. The approach to the economy has also changed. This is why I feel that Sarawak politicians must find solutions that will benefit the people post-pandemic.

We are in the midst of restructuring our economic approaches because we no longer do businesses as usual. Things have changed; we have changed the way we communicate. We are fortunate that we started our digital economy in 2017, earlier than the rest of Malaysia.

Following the Covid-19 outbreak, Sarawakians quickly shifted to online transactions. Fortunately, we started Sarawak Pay earlier than that. Even for tracing Covid-19 cases, Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian and Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas use digital methods while other states have not even started.

When I attended a national security committee meeting chaired by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, I told them that Sarawak was using digital wristbands, and they emulated us. Due to digitalisation which began in 2017, we are far ahead of others until today.

Besides that, we have our own television channel called TVS. And now I noticed a lot of Sarawakians learning how to speak Iban because the TV programmes are in four languages — Iban, Mandarin, Malay and English. I watched a programme the other day called ‘Borneo From Above’. It showed the transformation of Serian and it looked so beautiful. That should attract tourists.

When Covid-19 hit the country, we have this movement control order (MCO) and everything slowed down. But after the MCO, we immediately restarted our activities because we got a lot of rural projects such as roads and bridges. To do all these projects, we do not rely on Kuala Lumpur. Pakatan Harapan (PH), as you know, cancelled our federal projects including roads and bridges. But we are able to finance them all using our own funds. And we build nine bridges in one go including the longest bridge in Malaysia, Batang Lupar Bridge, followed by Batang Lassa, Batang Krian, Batang Sadong bridges and many more.

Two weeks ago, I rode a motorbike from Sibu to Kapit. It took only an hour 45 minutes. We have access up to Nanga Mujong. What I am saying is our economy is based on our own capability and vast hinterland. We open it up and increase agricultural production. Food security is important now. And we can enrich our biodiversity through reforestation. And our economic approach, as I said before, is based on digital and environmental sustainability.

We are fortunate to have enough sun and rain. When trees are cut, they grow back fast. Therefore, our forestry policy post-pandemic is to replant our forests using drones to drop the seeds. This reforestation will restore and increase our resources and consequentially release more oxygen into the environment which is conducive to healthy living.

When our country was without a prime minister, I was in Belaga. I was told that Istana Negara tried to find me, so I returned to Kuching about 3.30pm. When Istana Negara called me asking for GPS’ decision on the matter I said GPS was on Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s side. At 5pm they announced that Muhyiddin as the PM. They were waiting for the signal from GPS before making the final decision.

Still, even now there are fights over the PM’s post. I don’t know why. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic they are politicking, creating a very chaotic situation. The people must come first. For GPS, the people are first; Sarawak is first. Stability is important for us, and we must have a common platform, a common stand and a common direction in order to develop our state in the midst of uncertainty.

Abang Johari speaking at the SUPP delegates conference. Photo: Ramidi Subari

People ask why have an election? In five to six months’ time our mandate is finished. So, we go back to the people. Some people say Covid-19 is still around; well, of course, and the people’s health is important, but we have the government managing the pandemic. Just because Covid-19 is with us does not mean that we won’t have our election.

I don’t mind if there is no election; GPS can remain as the government. But GPS believes in democracy and in the power of the people. We go back to them. We are not afraid because people can see that our policies are good. Then there are people, including the opposition, who said no to the next election. I was surprised they said that.

The election is our own affair. Sarawakians (not outsiders) will decide who shall govern the state. That’s why we must go back to them and ask for a new mandate. For that, we don’t need outsiders to come here and tell us what to do, right? We don’t need to import people to run Sarawak. Our problems are ours to tackle. Having said that, I don’t know when the election will be held.

Regarding the economy, our direction is clear. By 2030, our state must be the most developed state in Malaysia. Hence, we must prepare our economic policy with that in mind. Number one, we must have financial strength. Thank God, we fought Petronas, we won. Number two, we want to exercise our rights over our land, which include minerals in it. Number three, we must diversify our income. Your former president, George Chan, introduced a Bill in the State Legislative Assembly on our sales tax (SST). I don’t know why nothing came off it, but in my term, I enforced the law to get additional revenue. Believe me we are going to get some more, but let us win the coming election first. Number four, we must unearth and develop the talents that we have. Sarawakians have talents in all fields.

When we set up our TV station, we feel that Sarawakians have performing art talents. If Malaysia looks for national-level singers, Sarawakians can sing; even beauty queens, we have them. There are Chinese actors who became popular in Hong Kong. Some local Chinese are there. They should be popular through TVS too. I mean the potential is there.

We have many Sarawakians working in Singapore. I remember a Sarawak delegation going to Singapore to find out about building a barrage. An expert who gave us a briefing said he was from Bintulu and he was involved in setting up a barrage in Marina Bay. Why is a Sarawakian working in Singapore? The opportunity is not in Sarawak. Our economy is still small, but if we improve and enlarge our economy, we need experts and experienced people.

Some people asked why we go for a digital economy. They said people are not ready, but we did it anyway. We spent a lot of money, did a lot of research, and upgraded our infrastructure. Then when the Covid-19 pandemic came, many Sarawakians (businesses and individuals) went online. There is this fishermen’s association in Buntal; you can order fish from them online. Taking businesses online, that is Sarawak standard. The only thing for us to do is groom them. That is talent development. It is important.

We are also putting emphasis on education. We have also decided to have Chinese schools. In West Malaysia it is a problem. Sarawak? No problem. You want UEC to be recognised? Adenan (former CM) recognised it. You want money for your school, we give it to you. There is already a mechanism for all applications to go through a committee headed by Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian. We will have a budget for it. You know, your school in Bako, everything is digital. This is a new approach to education.

We maintain that English is important to Sarawak. Yet there is a professor who said that Sarawak using English is going against the law. He did not study the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) report. IGC said the present system of education will go on unless decided otherwise by the state legislature. That is IGC, and we have not changed that.

English is a language that we have to promote without disregarding Bahasa Malaysia. That is why I will build five international schools for students from the B40 and M40 groups. Those who have good results but are from poor families, they can study at the schools using Cambridge syllabus. The schools will provide free tuition. The brightest can go to international universities such as Stanford and London School of Economics … among the top universities of the world. They gain the latest knowledge. For all you know, we might have Sarawakians who are like Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. After they go to a university like that, they will help to raise our economy.

And we have resources. Our biodiversity is one of the richest in the world. We’ll produce hydrogen. Now people are talking about hydrogen economy and in that Sarawak is far ahead of others in Malaysia. When I started it, a Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) lecturer came to see me because they started their research on it five years ago. In less than a year we have a prototype plant to produce hydrogen. 

Sarawak has lots of water resources. You just wait … this month there is something on hydrogen that we will announce. There is someone who wants to invest in Sarawak hydrogen. And we have requested the federal government to reduce import tax on hydrogen to promote green energy so that we can claim the carbon credits. That is our economy in the run up to 2030. We do it through education and strengthening our resources, and we will be a very developed state by that year.

Let us work together — SUPP, PBB, PRS, and PDP — as a team. No country can be successful if the people are split, if they don’t have a clear-cut direction. But thank God, I’ve got cooperation from all the component parties. The population of Sarawak is only 2.8 million to 2.9 million. It is too small. Hopefully, the younger ones can add more to our population. Currently, we give each newborn RM1,000, Kenyalang Gold Card (KGC) to senior citizens, and RM3,000 for funeral assistance. Why? We can do it. We have additional income.

I support your (SUPP) call for a sovereign fund. Actually, I have requested our side to learn from Norway. Singapore is different because its economy is different from ours. But Norway, yes, it is based on resources. Hopefully, by the middle of 2024 or 2025, our revenue would increase. So, we invest in this sovereign fund to make our financials strong.

I must congratulate SUPP for having recovered its strength. I am sure that with our close cooperation we can embark on our journey towards 2030 in a peaceful manner with more emphasis on the people.

That is why I tell you; our main thrust is our economy policy, social policy and environmental sustainability. That is why we are changing our forest policy to emphasise replanting of trees.

For other industries, just watch out between now and next month for our new policy on oil and gas to give us new input for our economic development.

Thank you very much, and I wish SUPP all the best!