Abang Jo­hari is per­haps the most hands-on leader the state has ever seen; tak­ing on a pun­ish­ing load of ad­di­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties

New Straits Times - - News - The writer views de­vel­op­ments in the na­tion, the re­gion and the wider world from his van­tage point in Kuch­ing, Sarawak

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.

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