Abang Johari is perhaps the most hands-on leader the state has ever seen; taking on a punishing load of additional responsibilities
NEW Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg is wasting little time to put his personal stamp on the state government and its electoral mandate, both of which he inherited following the sudden death in mid-January of his predecessor Tan Sri Adenan Satem.
Following the passing of the 100-day mourning period, Abang Johari announced his own state cabinet line-up on May 6. It has a full complement of 10 state ministers, provided for under the Sarawak Constitution, with an additional 18 state representatives (two newly appointed) as assistant ministers.
Three state assemblymen from the dominant state Barisan Nasional (BN) component party — Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) — earned promotions to the state cabinet.
Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan filled in the third slot of deputy chief minister vacated by Abang Johari himself.
Former assistant ministers Datuk Talib Zulpilip and Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah are newly-appointed ministers.
Thus, apart from personally putting his imprint on the state administration he now heads, Abang Johari unambiguously enhances the unassailable political pre-eminence of PBB, not just in the state, but also within the state ruling coalition composed of four official member-parties and a breakaway party that is a part of, but not formally aligned, to BN.
Of the 10 members of the state cabinet, all come from PBB except for the leaders of three of the parties in government.
No leader from one other party (Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party) is represented in the cabinet.
The new state cabinet also fleshes out the priorities that the chief minister has earlier spelled out. New ministries were created to take charge of e-commerce (something that is expected to be pushed in a big way) and to promote integrity in the state administration. And, to further advance the idea of state autonomy, ministers were formally placed in charge of education and international trade, the first time such portfolios were ever created.
Leaders representing the state’s Chinese community have reacted with disappointment that no political leader from its community made it as a deputy chief minister.
The community had traditionally claimed the position of first deputy chief minister through the president of the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP).
But, SUPP has for some years been convulsed in political infighting, which has led to the setting-up of the splinter United People’s Party, aligned to but not formally in the state BN.
All, however, must recognise that politics is mostly to do with numbers. SUPP used to be accorded due political seniority by virtue of the fact that it had the second highest number of state assemblymen. The SUPP-UPP split put paid to all that.
Now, SUPP has seven assemblymen and UPP five. Combined, both can reclaim the lost status as senior-most party behind PBB.
Which was probably why Abang Johari issued a most telling remark following his cabinet reshuffle in reference to the SUPP-UPP split: “Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian (SUPP president) is a heart specialist. I am sure that if both hearts are beating right, he will get these parties to be reunited one day.”
The position of deputy chief minister confers little beyond political prestige and precedence protocol-wise.
Even so, the chief minister is in all probability right to resist giving in to the clamour for a Chinese deputy chief minister until such time the two Chinese-based parties sorted out their differences and saw fit to reunite. All the same, both the SUPP and UPP ministers now hold significant portfolios that should keep them busy in the service of the state.
Dr Sim, the SUPP leader, gets the additional portfolio of housing to his previous responsibilities as minister for local government.
Datuk Wong Soon Koh is new minister for international trade and e-commerce, in addition to his existing assignment as second finance minister.
The chief minister himself seems to be taking on a punishing personal load of additional specific responsibilities that cut across various ministries.
Aside from being minister of finance and economic planning and minister of urban development and natural resources, he takes on newly created portfolios for energy development, oil and gas, digital economy and telecommunications, Kuching urban public transport and financial modelling.
Abang Johari, thus, looks to be perhaps the most hands-on leader the state has ever seen.
He has the good fortune of coming in right at the beginning of a fresh electoral mandate secured for him by his late predecessor. His government should hit the ground running.
Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg, Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan and other state Barisan Nasional leaders launching their manifesto for the Tanjung Datu by-election in February.