COMMENT | “Orang Sarawak bukan bodoh, kata ketua menterinya” (The people of Sarawak are not fools, says Sarawak chief minister) was the header in many Bahasa Malaysia newspapers and news portals a week ago.
This proud and oft-repeated remark came from Chief Minister Abang Johari Abang Openg at a town hall session with some 5,000 Sarawakian diasporas in the peninsula, as he took a swipe at former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad who is now chairperson of the opposition Pakatan Harapan.
Oh really, Sarawakians are not fools? Well, maybe not most of the time. But I will be honest. As a Sarawakian, I have to admit, almost grudgingly, that I have been a fool at times – made some stupid decisions not beneficial to my home state and fellow Sarawakians and am now living in remorse and regret over them.
Of course, for Abang Jo, who is in power and feeling on top of the world as the state’s chief executive, it would be pretty dumb of him to say that Sarawakians, the people whom he is supposed to lead, are fools.
Abang Jo is such a nice and decent guy, to the extent that many find him boringly nice. He does not beat around the bush and tells you as it is – you already know what his next sentence is even before he says it. In a nutshell – he is very plain. (Think nasi lemak, without the ikan bilis and sambal).
Sarawakians miss Adenan Satem. I do too. He was a breath of fresh air, after 33 years of the “White Hair”. Sadly, he came on board to helm Sarawak too late in his life and didn’t have the time to do more.
So, what did Abang Jo actually say when he met Sarawakians in Kuala Lumpur recently?
According to a Malaysiakini report, the chief minister reminded Mahathir that Sarawakians are not fools who can be lied to.
He cited the Pan Borneo Highway as one example of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's contributions to the state, a request which has been made since the time of Mahathir's 22-year rule.
"Sarawakians are people with principles… We want politics that can deliver," said Abang Johari, who claimed that Mahathir has since sacrificed his own principles by working together with DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang, whom he had demonised in the past.
"Let us determine our own destiny. Orang Sarawak bukan paloi (Sarawakians are no fools)... Don't bluff us," he said in pledging to continue negotiations with Putrajaya to reclaim Sarawak's rights as provided under the Federal Constitution and Malaysia Agreement 1963.
Abang Johari earlier recalled his time serving as a state minister and difficulties to obtain funds for development, while Mahathir was still prime minister.
"At the time I was a minister in the (state) cabinet. We had asked if the (federal government under Mahathir) can build coastal roads," he said, adding that the promises made were never fulfilled due to alleged short of funds.
"But when Najib came (into power), they (promised to) build roads like in the peninsula… So smooth!," he said at the annual event dubbed Lan Berambeh Anak Sarawak, now in its 10th year, held at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
The 2,325km Pan Borneo Highway, across Sarawak and Sabah, was first announced as part of Barisan Nasional’s manifesto during the 13th general election and later formalised in Budget 2015.
When met by reporters later, Abang Johari described the questions asked during the one-hour session as an indication that Sarawakians in the peninsula are happy with his administration of the state.
Among others, he cited questions raised on various state policies, including matters which touch on negotiations with Putrajaya for more rights to royalty from oil and gas activities...