Wan Junaidi prepared to walk extra mile

Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar

KUCHING: Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives and Santubong MP Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar hopes to continue doing his best for Sarawak.

The Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) supreme council member also believes that there is always the right time for everything.

In this exclusive interview with New Sarawak Tribune, the minister shares his political career and talks about Sarawak under the leadership of Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) led by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg.

New Sarawak Tribune: You are a seven-term MP. Your political journey has been one of success since you first won an MP seat in 1990. At that time, your majority was 2,665 votes. In 1995, you were returned uncontested in 1995 and in 1999, your majority was 5,214 votes. From then on, in the following elections, you won with huge majorities, including in 2018 with an impressive majority of 19,485 votes. Tell us what makes you tick.

Passion in work is important. It does not matter what job you are doing. Sometimes, in life, there is no other choice, so you have to be happy with what you are doing. Most importantly, you must give your best in everything you do. And I am prepared to walk the extra miles and spend extra hours to make myself relevant in whatever I am doing.

I was in the police force and when it was time for me to leave, former Demak Laut assemblyman Datuk Dr Abang Abdul Rauf Abang Zain introduced me to PBB Youth Satok branch and asked me to join him in community work. Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg was also in the branch. I became very active but as an activist and organiser because I loved to organise things. I was also active in scouting, Red Crescent activities and several social clubs. I helped form the Bicycle Club Sarawak. 

When I was Batang Lupar MP, I had to visit villages either on foot or by boat. I learnt to enjoy my work as a politician. In politics, we cannot insist that people follow what we want to do. Instead we must listen to them, find out what they want and try to satisfy them.  

My service centre was established long before many others.

A service centre is very important because there must be someone to manage the documents received and calls.

I started off by giving assistance to mosques and surau, especially during the Ramadan without waiting for them to write in. I also helped the people during Chinese New Year, Gawai Dayak and Christmas. That was why I won uncontested in 1995.

In 2004, Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud asked me whether I was prepared to go to Santubong. I agreed and that was how I was transferred from Batang Lupar parliamentary constituency to Santubong parliamentary constituency. I did my best to meet the respective ministries to ask for money to build water and electricity facilities. I also give education assistance to students who are furthering their studies in universities.  You just give the people what they want. There is no need to tell them who to vote. The people will vote for you.

Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar

You served as a Deputy Speaker at one time. Would you have preferred to have been elevated to Speaker before being assigned to ministries?

I did not choose to be Deputy Speaker. My target was to serve the people. Only by becoming a minister can you really serve the people. When you serve in the Foreign Ministry, you assist the nation. As the Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives, I can assist the people by encouraging them to do business.

It is good to be appointed Speaker or Deputy Speaker because there is plenty of time in between sessions and you can use that time to write. I like writing. So, if I were the Speaker, I can use the time to write articles or books.

You have served in three ministries since 2013 — Home Affairs, Natural Resources and Environment, and now Entrepreneur Development and Co-operatives. Which is most challenging and why? What are the achievements that you would like to share?

My current ministry is most challenging. I am trained in this field and it took me five years to do my Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). I really wanted to practise what I learned. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I cannot really do it.    

During this pandemic, I took the initiative to transform my ministry. Now, my proposal on the transformation of cooperatives has been accepted by the Cabinet. I can make use of cooperatives to transform the livelihood of the B40. It is a very difficult job because you need to train the people, especially the Bumiputeras, because doing business in not in their blood yet. We have been trying since the New Economic Policy was introduced in 1970 but until today, we have not been that successful.

So, how do we change this?  I believe that the basics of Business Education must be there. Bumiputeras must be taught doing business is an alternative to working. We don’t erode the business for the Chinese but we enlarge the number of business people. This is what I dream of achieving. That is why I feel this ministry is more challenging than the other ministries although it is a small ministry. 

In line with the National Cooperative Policy, my ministry targets RM100 billion in revenue for cooperatives by 2030. I am doing everything I can to make it easier for this to be achieved. Now that the transformation of cooperatives has been approved, we are going to implement this immediately after the launch on Nov 11 if the situation permits it.

I am now transforming the farmers and fishermen’s associations to cooperatives. The members will be able to benefit from the distribution of dividends. I am making use of cooperatives to improve the standard of living of the B40.

Judging from the huge majorities that you have garnered in elections; you are a popular figure among your constituents. It’s highly likely that you will be returned once again in the next general election. Have you at any point mulled making way to younger candidates?

I will let the president of PBB decide. I have always been a loyal party member. I have never opposed the president. His decision to me is always final. But of course, I know myself and my capabilities.

If you look at the Santubong parliamentary constituency, it stretches from Telok Melano right up to Kampung Tiang Api in Demak Laut, which is near the border between Samarahan and Kuching. It is a big area to serve. When you reach a certain age, it may not be easy to manage.  I think I can serve better in a state constituency because the area is smaller. 

Having said that, I will leave it to the top leadership to decide.   I will leave it up to the party president to decide whether I should serve a parliamentary or state seat. For me, the important thing is to serve the people. I really enjoy doing it.

If you are being nominated once again to stand in 15th General Election (GE15), what are your plans for your constituents and Sarawak?

Santubong parliamentary constituency is no longer considered a rural area. It has become a sub-urban area. Thr Sarawak government has already designated the whole of Santubong area as a tourism area.

Therefore, the only thing that can be done is to attract investors who will set up big tourism companies. If we can bring in big players like big hotels or resort operators to areas like Sempadi, Telok Melano, and if we can build something big there, that will attract not only the locals but also tourists and create business opportunities for the locals.

For instance, if you go fishing in Telok Melano, Sempadi or Sematan areas, you are able to land big catches of fish. We can promote international sport fishing in these areas to attract tourists but the facilities must be there first. First, the international tourists come and then, the high-end tourists, followed by the setting up of shopping malls and many more.

Demak Laut is an agriculture area. The Sarawak government is promoting food-based industries there. The state government’s initiatives are already there. The only thing we need to do is to attract the big players.

Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar

Some incumbents might be seen as clinging on by voters. How are you going to convince your party that people still need them? 

I think Abang Johari is very well informed of the situation. He knows the constituencies which may have minor problems with incumbents. 

It is up to the party president and top leadership to decide whether the incumbents should stay or go. But then again, the incumbents should not overstay their welcome. As a politician, the best way is never to overstay your welcome. I prefer to know the truth. If the people no longer want me to stay, then I will go.

What are the strengths of Abang Johari’s leadership as PBB president and Chief Minister in bringing Sarawak forward?

All the former chief ministers had their own strengths. Abang Johari is more people-centric. He focuses on road connectivity. He develops the coastal areas by building bridges and other networks. Hence, the intense planning for road building in Sarawak under Abang Johari’s leadership. Secondly, he started the water grid system in the state. To me, that was among the far-sighted plans so that the people in the interior can enjoy clean water supply. This is really a fantastic plan.

Besides that, Abang Johari focuses on modern farming in agriculture. Sarawak has huge tracts of land and much of these have not been cultivated. Our chief minister wants Sarawak to be the food bowl of Malaysia as well as the whole region. When he established   the Sarawak Trade and Tourism Office Singapore (Statos), a lot of people criticised the move. But Singapore is now importing our Terung Asam and Tilapia fish and now it also wants our Patin fish. The agriculture is a big industry, and the people in the rural areas will no longer complain about having no jobs. In return, this industry will give them a lucrative income. Furthermore, we will become the main food exporter instead of importing food from outside.  

Then, Abang Johari initiated the digital economy agenda which China had already started sometime back. The roads, water, electricity and digital technology will attract investors and provide locals with the opportunities to do business. With that, the people do not have to go to the main towns to do business anymore.

Many people criticised the chief minister’s hydrogen economy initiatives. I am in a WhatsApp group with professors and lecturers, and they particularly praised Sarawak as the only state that has got the foresight to go into the hydrogen industry. Hydrogen is a green and emission free technology which uses water   to produce energy. Therefore, we are far forward in our policy and implementation. And we are not just doing the talking. Investors are already showing interest and they want to produce hydrogen here. If they sell hydrogen back to their countries, Sarawak will tax them and again, the state makes more money. 

Abang Johari’s plan is encompassing and inclusive. He has over 40 years’ experience in the administration of the state and is forward-thinking. He is the right man for the job. His goal is to stabilise the state, attract investors and implement policies so that Sarawak becomes a developed and high-income state by 2030.

What do you think are the main challenges facing PBB and how should the party address these challenges?

Within the party itself, there are no challenges. Everything is done smoothly. I think the traditions laid by Pehin Sri Abdul Taib really contributed to the party’s strong foundation. Look at the party leadership. We never quarrel among ourselves; we solve any problem internally. Therefore, as long our culture continues   like this, we will be doing alright.

But the challenges, of course, come from the social media. Our leaders must stand up and tell the people that what is posted on the social media may not be true.

If the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) is dissolved tomorrow, how confident are you that GPS will be able to secure a big win?

We are ready. If the people appreciate the development we have implemented, do not make the same mistake of choosing the party that never has the experience. Running a state is not running a company. To me, the people must choose the right team.  There is no alternative.

The Chief Minister has been reminding us to be ready for the election. We have no choice but to hold the election. We are constrained by the constitution. Now the question is when should Sarawak hold the state election. In December we are celebrating Christmas, we cannot afford to have the election on Christmas Day, we cannot hold it during the Chinese New Year, the fasting month in April and during Gawai Dayak. Therefore, Abang Johari must be very careful in choosing the date so that it does not clash with all these important dates. That is why it is not easy for Abang Johari to pick the date. By June, he must dissolve the State Legislative Assembly, otherwise it is dissolved automatically.

GPS is set to be back after the 12th State Election. But political analysts wonder whether the two-thirds majority is achievable this time around. Do you think the coalition will do better?

Yes. That is why GPS leaders have to go the ground to inform the people about the government policies and the development projects that have been implemented. For example, Kapit is now connected by roads. Nobody can say that they do not benefit from the development over the years. Only experienced people are capable of managing the state.

The parties that are linked to parties in Malaya such as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah), Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), Democratic Action Party (DAP) do not know how to run Sarawak.