MIRI: Being the largest political party in Sarawak, Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) is looking to solidify its position and weave itself into the fabric of the community.
Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg who is PBB president is adamant that the party has to look to the future for it to continue to be relevant.
He also reiterated the struggle for PBB members should be to secure a better future for Sarawak and not for personal interests.
Below is an abridged version of the chief minister’s address to more than 900 delegates during the PBB mini convention in Miri last Saturday.
This afternoon I am grateful to be able to sit with PBB members in the northern region PBB convention to reflect on our struggle and also look to the future where we will work with our partners in GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak) to continue charting the development of Sarawak so that its people will be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with others and be proud of themselves.
We have seen what we have achieved in the last three years and many incidents have happened since.
We have seen the change of federal government following the defeat of Barisan Nasional (BN) in 2018 and then Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over before collapsing after 22 months.
When I took over (after Chief Minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem passed away) I was determined to continue the efforts of the leaders before me. Our task is very heavy, but God is with us.
Within three months after I was given the mandate to lead the Sarawak government, we took over the Bakun Dam from the federal government and energy was 100 percent in the hands of Sarawakians.
After that, we looked at our rights within the Federal Constitution. What are extracted from our land including oil and gas are Sarawak’s right. If people want to take them, they have to get permission from Sarawak according to Item 2(c) of the Ninth Schedule.
The Federal (List) states that if they want to take oil and gas or any resource from our state, they have to get permission from Sarawak first under the provision of 8(j) and it is mentioned there as subject to 2(c) of the State List.
Thank God, when the matter was brought to court, the decision was in our favour.
This was not the end. I attended the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) Committee meeting chaired by the former prime minister, the one who resigned. I said there was no compromise on Sarawak’s rights including rights over land, territorial waters, and immigration.
This is our stand which was not resolved because the prime minister resigned suddenly. Our country was chaotic without a government. In the end, the numbers were insufficient (to form a new government) … they looked for support from Sarawak as if they were playing with numbers.
Due to our desire to have a stable government, we supported Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to be the prime minister. Tan Sri (Muhyiddin) asked if we would join Perikatan Nasional. I said no. With that, the PN + GPS was established and some of our people were appointed to the federal cabinet such as Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof, Datuk Alexander Nanta Linggi, Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, and our deputy ministers.
The opposition here asked why we joined Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu). I said we were only setting up the federal government for the sake of the people.
Sarawak has been under my leadership for over three years. Our coffers are big enough to take over big projects. We have alternative financing; we have learned banking theory. We know our finance.
To this day, we have allocated funds to provide the rural folk with water and electricity supplies. The Utilities Minister works hard to implement Sarawak Alternative Water Supply (Sawas) and Sarawak Alternative Rural Electrification Scheme (Sares) so that villagers can have 24-hour water and electricity supplies. By 2025, we want 100 percent of them to have electricity and water.
We have established the Upper Rajang Development Agency URDA) under the Regional Corridor Development Authority (Recoda) chaired by Masing (Deputy Chief Minister) to carry out rural development up to Sungai Mujong area.
Last time, nobody knew about Sungai Mujong but now people know about it because there is a bridge crossing it.
We also built roads directly to Belaga and Bintulu. Then we proposed Batang Lupar Bridge, but it was cancelled. We will build it including bridges over Batang Igan, Batang Lassa, and Batang Paloh.
When Baram people asked for assistance, we established the Highland Development Agency (HDA) to help the Orang Ulu community and the Ibans.
Travellers from Miri heading to Marudi will use a bridge and road till Long Panai, and then on to Mulu.
God willing, the projects will be implemented, that is, if Sarawakians give me the mandate in the next state election.
Then there is the northern part of Sarawak — Limbang and Lawas — which oil and gas industry players believe have lots of oil and gas. This is what we want to develop.
We will leave it to Petroleum Sarawak Berhad (Petros) to study whether or not oil and gas exist there. Due to this potential, there is a proposal to build a refinery in Lawas.
We have established the Northern Region Development Agency (NRDA) under Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan.
At the same time, the central part of Sarawak has agricultural potential. For Sri Aman, we established Sri Aman Development Area (Sada). In Betong, we are coming up with an airport at Spaoh. Some people criticised me claiming that I speak empty words, but they will see the airport. We want to bring products directly to the market and boost tourism in Batang Ai. We will also build an airport in Baleh.
Here in Miri, there are working people living in Permyjaya who need to use two buses to get to their jobs. The bus fare is RM3 and the next bus is also RM3, meaning their daily bus fare to and from work would amount to RM12. So, I decided to help by providing RM1 bus fares all over Sarawak. GPS will pay the balance.
We also provide free school buses for students. We started first in Kuching before expanding to other towns such as Sibu, Miri, and Bintulu where there are many schools.
Next, mothers complained that the expenses for babies are increasing. So, I instructed the Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah to help mothers during their confinement period.
In a situation where the mother is a daily paid worker, she would not be able to earn any income throughout her confinement for three months. So, we help all mothers who have given birth by contributing RM450 to each one regardless of race or religion.
This does not include the RM1,000 given by the state government to newborns. No other state has such a programme.
PBB and GPS are strong because our intention is to help people. That is why in this convention, we look back and reflect on what we have achieved in the last three years. I am confident that the unity and cooperation in GPS is strong, so our future is bright.
I have decided to set up international schools that use the Cambridge syllabus because the education policy in Malaysia is always changing when the minister in charge changes.
I thought Sarawak needs its own education policy, thus I set up these international schools including in Miri for our smart rural children. When our young people are smart, it is not impossible for them to create applications for the digital economy. I introduced the digital economy concept in 2017.
In 1987, when PBB faced a big problem, those who were loyal to the party remained with Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud. I was among them. The late Adenan Satem, Sulaiman, and many others stayed in PBB although many quit.
Why? We love our party. Many of you here have stayed with the party, and we fight and defend PBB. But some left the party. What sort of fight is that? We fight for the future. In the party, there are ups and downs. I too was at the bottom, but I did not leave.
Look at what has happened in Malaya today. Petty matters can turn into big issues. There is disunity, and a new party is formed, and it goes on and on.
They formed Bersatu and then left to form another party. How can a prime minister resign just like that? Who asked him to resign? Definitely not PBB or GPS.
The issues related to the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) are not finished yet. The Federal Constitution (Article 112) states that the federal government must help the state government financially.
Last year, PH gave us RM36 million. I asked them where the money came from. I said I would receive it with conditions because Sarawak wants a formula for the distribution of the country’s income.
If the country’s revenue is high, then there must be a formula to give us the assistance under Article 112. This is not settled yet. We will continue to fight.
It must not be given like how you feed ducks or chickens. We are not ducks or chickens. We want a formula.
I told Fadillah (Senior Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof) that we will continue to make demands on the federal government. I will not stop.
Secondly, in the past Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak had one-third of the parliamentary seats. When Singapore left, all the seats were taken by Malaya.
Therefore, we want more parliamentary seats so that we have that one-third representation again, or they might change the Federal Constitution without us knowing about it. We fight as long as PBB and GPS continue to rule Sarawak.
We (Sarawak) didn’t join Malaysia, we formed Malaysia. Because of that, the ones that can continue this fight are Sarawakians. That is why we decided to leave Barisan Nasional so that we can make independent decisions.
We have learnt from the past. The late Tok Nan said our rights were knowingly or unknowingly eroded. But, thank God, the oil and gas is one hurdle we have solved.
We have some more hurdles, but as long you give us the mandate, GPS will solve them.
We are fair to the different races and religions, and that is why we have Unit for Other Religions (Unifor) that will look after other races. Because of that, Douglas and his partners will look into the needs of other communities.
I am chief minister for all the races in Sarawak. My partners and I will do our best to be fair to all.
There will be three more conventions, one each in Betong, Sibu and Kuching. We wanted to have a big convention, but we must comply with the SOP under the recovery movement control order (RMCO).