Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The factors behind the Sarawak state election

Salleh Said Keruak

Normally, a new leader is assessed based on his or her first 100 days in office. Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem has been in office for almost 800 days and even the opposition has grudgingly admitted that he has done a good job. You can see from the Sarawak election campaign that the opposition has nothing much to criticise Adenan about.

Since taking over as Chief Minister on 28th February 2014, Adenan has introduced many new policies, which are considered very important to Sarawak or to Sarawakians. Most notably amongst them is the ‘Anak Sarawak’ policy that declares equality for all Sarawakians irrespective of ethnicity and religion. There is no longer any ‘lain-lain’ while Chinese born in Sarawak are not classified as ‘pendatang’.

This one issue alone has been a bone of contention for many Malaysians for a long time and Adenan in one swoop cleared up the matter. Another bone of contention that Adenan wanted settled was the recognition of Chinese schools and its United Examination Certificate for Sarawak Foundation education loans and entry to the civil service.

Further to that, independent Chinese schools received RM3 million in government aid in 2014 and RM4 million last year. And this has been increased to RM5 million this year. Sarawak reduced electricity tariff and ferry services rates and the Lanang and Baram bridge tolls have also been abolished while there is no Goods and Services Tax (GST) on Municipal Council Services.

Sarawak no longer issues any timber and plantation licences while Half Occupation Ticket licences have been cancelled or are not being renewed. Over 30 sawmills handling illegal logs have been closed down and 10% of forestland will be turned into national parks. This is how serious Adenan is about forest conservation.

One very thorny issue is native land rights. Sarawak is increasing communal land while at the same time recognises Native Customary Rights land. To achieve this Sarawak is conducting perimeter and individual surveys to bring the land onto the register. The state is also opening up opportunities for the natives to develop their land on a commercial basis. The amendment to the Sarawak Land Code enables Sarawak Bumiputeras to acquire NCR land outside of their own community.

These are just some of the many changes in Sarawak over the last two years since Adenan took over as Chief Minister. Sarawakians are by and large very happy with these ‘reforms’ and most are of the opinion that Barisan Nasional should be given another five years to see what more Adenan could do for Sarawak and for Sarawakians.

Most West Malaysians did not really know who Adenan is because he has always maintained a very simple life and a low-profile image his entire political career. Just two years in office and many, even from West Malaysia, now understand why Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak appointed him the Sarawak Chief Minister. Today, many say Najib could not have made a better choice than that.

It is apparent that Najib is giving Adenan full backing and is supporting the Chief Minister in all his endeavours. Adenan is the sounding board for Sarawakians and the most important thing is that the Prime Minister is listening. That is giving the Sarawak voters the confidence that Najib and Adenan make a good team, one in Federal and the other in the State, and that Barisan Nasional will be able to deliver what Sarawakians want.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Sarawak’s untold story of success

Salleh Said Keruak

In November 2015, the DAP-led Penang state government announced a deficit budget for the fifth year running (FMT, 6 Nov 2015). The deficit, said Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, would, however, be covered by the state’s accumulated savings of RM880 million (Mkini, 6 Nov 2015).

The PKR-led Selangor state government, on the other hand, announced reserves of roughly RM3.5 billion. This, the opposition said, is proof that the opposition is a capable government because the latest figures are a slight improvement from what it used to be pre-2008 before the opposition took over the state.

What must also be noted is that Selangor also announced the largest deficit in the state’s history in its RM2.9 billion budget (The Star, 30 Nov 2015).

The main income for both Penang and Selangor are derived from the sale of land, land premiums and property taxes.

What is seldom talked about is that Sarawak has reserves of RM27 billion. When Adenan Satem first took over as Chief Minister in 2014, he announced a surplus budget.

Only about 25% of the Sarawak’s expenditure is for operating costs while the bulk is for development (Mkini, 7 Dec 2015). In comparison, Selangor spends more than 50% of its expenditure on operating costs while Penang spends 75%.

If success is measured in financials, then Sarawak has proven itself, although Sarawak does not shout about it like Penang and Selangor. And under Adenan the focus of Sarawak is development for the good of the people.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The foundation supports the structure: what BN has and Pakatan does not

Salleh Said Keruak

When we talk about an organisation structure, that can also be equated to a building structure and any engineer will tell you that the strength of the structure very much depends on the foundation. A weak foundation would not be able to support the structure as many a building disaster has proven.

Whether we are talking about a political organisation, business organisation, military organisation, government organisation, etc., it is all the same. We need a strong foundation to support an equally strong structure for the whole system to succeed.

The political turmoil in Selangor soon after the 2013 general election, followed by the break up of Pakatan Rakyat soon after that and the creation of Pakatan Harapan minus PAS, and now the mess in the Sarawak state election, the last two years has shown that the opposition lacks the foundation it needs to succeed and, therefore, it has resulted in such a weak structure that it can never be the alternative government that it claims to be.

When we talk about an alternative, it means an equal and not a lesser choice. Alternatives must be second choices and not second-class choices. In this case Pakatan Harapan is not even a second choice to Barisan Nasional because it lacks what Barisan Nasional has: a strong foundation to support the structure.

The foundation of Barisan Nasional rests on its power-sharing doctrine. In Sarawak, it extends further than that to include allowing the local Sarawakians to decide their own affairs with as little interference from the federal powers.

Pakatan Harapan cannot even decide who calls the shots, those in Kuala Lumpur or those in Sarawak. And this is what has caused the mess in Pakatan Harapan Sarawak. Yes, Pakatan Harapan talks about autonomy when they cannot even give their own party autonomy the way Barisan Nasional does.

Is this the type of government Sarawakians wants to trust their future in? No doubt, as many from both sides of the political divide allege, Sarawak is very important to Barisan Nasional. And, because it is important, Barisan Nasional will treasure Sarawak and will look after it well.

Running a government is not about a game of one-upmanship or, as they say in the west, about who wins the pissing contest. Running a government is serious business. And while Barisan Nasional is very serious, Pakatan Harapan is more concerned about squabbling over seats.

Friday, April 29, 2016

When you look at the other side of the coin

Salleh Said Keruak

The world is such a dynamic place and we keep seeing economies facing challenges from ever changing situations. Today, the global economy impacts all countries and Malaysia is definitely no different. The more a country emerges as a trading nation the more it is exposed to the uncertainties of the global market. For 220 months Malaysia has been enjoying a trade surplus but we still need to have a strategy to ensure that we stay ahead of the curve.

To do that, we need to strengthen our economic fundamentals. Time and time again we have seen that such a strategy will place a country ahead of the pack. As a result of work done since 2009, and led by the Prime Minister, the economic shock that hit us was well withstood and we as Malaysians continue to enjoy a peaceful life and can continue to live as we have since before the economic storm.

Undeniably we have had to make adjustments but it was not that drastic and at national level we continued to see GDP growth and a rise in the Gross National Income per Capita. This was again verified and ranked by international agencies such as the World Bank and World Economic Forum, just to name a few.

For the vulnerable group, the government was still able to provide the right safety net programmes such as BR1M and economic programmes such 1AZAM against a backdrop of a straining budget due to a decline in commodity prices. Malaysia is also now within the top 10 countries in the world for Financial Market Development according to the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Ranking 2015-2016. The ringgit has improved and has not nosedived as many had predicted. The end of the world is not here, as they are suggesting so.

We need to take into consideration these positive developments and not criticise everything that the government does. The opposition paints a gloomy picture of the country and has nothing good to say about the government. But not everything that they say about the country or the government is true and is merely meant to serve their political agenda. We must give credit where credit is due.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Malaysia’s Transformation Programmes: A Success Story

Salleh Said Keruak 

When we speak about development, Malaysia needs to be dissected into urban, semi-urban and rural. And each has its own needs when it comes to planning its development such as in the National Transformation Programme (NTP) and the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) that were launched more then five years ago in October 2010. 

The normal complaint is that while the majority of Malaysians live in the rural areas, the majority of the development is concentrated in the urban areas. Hence the people in the towns and cities receive all the money while the people in the villages receive very little. 

This is not entirely true. The problem is one can see the development in the urban areas while development in the rural areas is not so visible. This is because of the nature of development in the rural areas compared to that in the urban areas. Furthermore, the needs of those living in the rural areas differ from those living in the urban areas. 

For example, in the urban areas, the problem is with traffic congestion and the need to improve public transport. So this is the focus of the government, on how to ease the living in the big and busy towns and cities. And this is being done in the heart of Kuala Lumpur with train services extended to the fringes of Kuala Lumpur in the areas surrounding the Kelang Valley plus with the building of more highways. 

Facilities and services that are taken for granted in the urban areas may not be too available to those living in the rural areas. So while this is of not much concern to those living in the urban areas, those living in the rural areas need the basic amenities such as water and electricity, which those living in the urban areas have been enjoying for decades. And this has been one of the priorities of the government for those living in Sabah and Sarawak in particular. 

Take the example of Bario in Sarawak, which did not have a 24-hour electricity supply until quite recently. Due to the Rural Development NKRA under the Government Transformation Programme, Bario now has proper electricity supply. 

In terms of communications, over the last five years, the government has managed to link three million rural citizens via 5,300 kilometres of roads. These roads have enabled the rural economy to grow and have improved the quality of village life. Medical facilities and markets are also now within a manageable range. 

A further 5.5 million Malaysians living in the outskirts have also benefitted through the transformation programme via provision of clean water and reliable electricity. Through the National Transformation Programme, it has funded the rebuilding and restoration of 80,000 homes for 412,000 rural Malaysians. 

Over the last decade, Malaysia’s growth rate was about 4.7%. Sabah and Sarawak saw a growth rate of 3.0% and 4.2% respectively. According to the 2014 report, Sabah and Sarawak also led in terms of agricultural output at 16.8% and 15.2% respectively. What may be surprising to many is that Sarawak’s GDP per capita (RM41,000) is higher than Penang (RM38,000) and Selangor (RM37,000). So these figures speak for themselves. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Working with Pakatan can never be justified

Salleh Said Keruak

Mukhriz Mahathir must be very naïve not to be able to tell the difference between the implications of working with Umno leaders and the implications of working with Pakatan Harapan leaders.

If you work with Umno leaders, and if it is with the purpose of changing the party leadership, then this is done during the party election. However, if you work with Pakatan leaders, then it is with the purpose of changing the ruling party during the general election.

This action can only be construed as an act of betrayal to the party considering that the general election is going to come before the party election. Mukhriz must surely know the consequences of his action.

No doubt Mukhriz tries to justify his action by raising all sorts of excuses as to why he is doing this. Mukhriz should know that the end can never justify the means and no amount of justification can legitimise the transgressions he has committed.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A new era for Sarawak under Adenan Satem

Salleh Said Keruak

When Abdul Taib Mahmud took over as the Sarawak Chief Minister 35 years ago in 1981, Sarawak’s population was just 1.2 million. Today, it has more than doubled and now stands at 2.6 million. More than half of Sarawak’s citizens grew up with Taib as their leader. Two years ago, Sarawak entered a new era when Adenan Satem took over as Sarawak’s fifth Chief Minister.

They say a leader needs two terms of at least ten years. The first term is to lay the groundwork on which to move forward with. The second term would be to see the result of all this. Adenan has been in office for just two years and he has already not only laid the groundwork but has been able to produce results as well. This is a remarkable achievement by any standards.

There are about 1.1 million registered voters in Sarawak. In the previous Sarawak state election in 2011, there was a 70% voter turnout. It is estimated that more than 100,000 of those who will be voting next month would have not voted in the last state election while more than 500,000 will be voting for the first time under a new Chief Minister.

For all intents and purposes this make the 2016 Sarawak state election quite an historic event. The outcome of this election will all depend on what the voters think of Adenan’s performance over the last two years and whether they have confidence enough in him to give him another term of five years. Feedback from the ground shows that the majority of the people of Sarawak are happy with what they have seen over the last two years.

The opposition is contesting this election with the promise of bringing about change if they win. Adenan is not making promises of change. He has shown that he can bring about change and has, in fact, been introducing change in just the two years that he has been heading the state. Adenan is now known as the man who does not talk but a man who just does. And he has done much in just two years.

At the end of the day we will know in two weeks’ time whether the people are happy with what Adenan has done for Sarawak. One bold move was Adenan’s announcement that the Chinese from Sarawak are not ‘pendatang’ but ‘Anak Sarawak’, a thorny issue in West Malaysian politics. He also announced that he wants to raise the dignity of Sarawakians by classifying each ethnicity according to their native group and not lump everyone under the category of ‘lain-lain’.

Adenan also abolished quit rent and stood up for the equality of women by proposing more women candidates. Adenan gave RM5 million to Chinese schools, which in the past had to depend on generous donors and philanthropists for funding. And to solve the problem of unemployed graduates, Adenan launched the Graduate Enhancement Training Sarawak (GETS) programme.

And all this in just a short space of two years! Sarawakians are asking what more can Adenan do and what more will he do if given another term of five years. This is currently the talk on the ground. And Adenan knows that the route to success is to win the hearts and minds of the people. This is what Adenan has done and is continuing to do, so much so that the opposition is no longer talking about taking over the state but to just try to deny Barisan Nasional its two-thirds majority in the Sarawak State Assembly.