Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bigger say for Sabah, Sarawak

Posted on 20 May 2013 - 06:36pm
FIXED deposits in banks give good returns and for Sabah and Sarawak, their position as the fixed deposit states of the Barisan Nasional has paid off handsomely.
When Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak unveiled his new cabinet last Wednesday, Sarawak ended up with seven ministers, four more than what it had in the previous cabinet, while Sabah got two more with six ministers. In addition, each state was allocated four deputy ministers.
"I call it the East Malaysian assault, the balance of power is shifting," a retired army lieutenant-colonel who served three stints in Sarawak told me.
"Wow, Sarawakians rule," an Umno Supreme Council member texted.
To top it up, prominent academician Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid, who is deputy vice-chancellor of INTI Laureate International University, had this teaser in his newspaper column: "The day will come when someone from Sabah and Sarawak will become the Prime Minister."
The two states' harvest of cabinet posts is the largest ever and they make up more than one-third in the 32-member cabinet. It tallies with them winning 47 parliamentary seats in the general election, which is also more than one-third of the 133 seats that the Barisan won to comfortably return to power with a 44-seat cushion.
It must have been much tougher and a tight balancing act for Najib compared to his predecessors in the making of the cabinet this time.
This has to do with the demands from Barisan's component parties in the two states for increased representation in the cabinet in return for their success in warding off the determined onslaught from Pakatan Rakyat to gain a foothold in East Malaysia like it did on mainland Malaysia.
Following the 2008 general election, then prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi found how difficult it was to accommodate the rising expectations when two of his appointees for deputy minister's post from Sabah, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman and Datuk Ghapur Salleh, rejected the appointments.
It was the first time ever, at least publicly, that such a thing happened.
When Najib took over as prime minister in 2009 following Abdullah's resignation, he brought Anifah into the cabinet by making him foreign minister, a post he was reappointed to in the new cabinet.
This time around, the formation of the cabinet was not without its behind the scenes drama either. Najib was supposed to have announced his new team at a press conference at 4pm but this had to be postponed by an hour.
I was told that this followed a last-minute protest by Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), the main Dayak-based Barisan party which won all the six seats it contested but did not see any of its MPs being made a full minister.
It got to know about this when two of its MPs, Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun and Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum, were told to attend a rehearsal on Wednesday with other deputy ministers-designate for the swearing-in ceremony at Istana Negara the next day.
Both refused to attend the rehearsal. Meantime, PRS president Tan Sri Dr James Masing sent a text message to the prime minister expressing his disappointment at the party not being allocated a single minister's post.
A highly-placed party source said after the announcement was delayed for an hour, Najib called Dr Masing. When the final line-up was revealed, it had Joseph Entulu, the PRS deputy president, as minister in the prime minister's department.
That's not the end of the story as far as PRS was concerned. At around 5pm when Najib was meeting the press, Salang faxed a note to the PM's office to say that he had decided to turn down the deputy minister's appointment and he told some reporters in Sarawak about it later.
"Look, I've been a deputy minister for nine years and I'm pushing 63. At this age, I'm not going to be deputy minister for another five years. I'll make way for a younger person in the party to take up the slot," Salang told me after news about his rejecting the appointment had spread on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony.
Apparently, the PRS had expected to have two ministers but since only one was offered at the last minute after Dr Masing's protest, the younger Joseph Entulu was picked over Salang by virtue of his party position. Salang is PRS vice-president.
The party held a special meeting in Kuching on Friday and the atmosphere, according to Salang, was "fiery".
The remarks Dr Masing made to the media after the meeting were blunt. It was obvious that the party had reluctantly accepted the minister's post for Joseph Entulu because it did not come with a specific portfolio as he is one of eight ministers in the prime minister's department, a record number, too.
The PRS president said as a rural-based party, PRS should have been given posts relevant to the needs of its constituents. He argued that the largely rural areas of Sarawak, being the Barisan's "fixed deposit" should be taken care of properly, otherwise the voters would withdraw their support.
"This is what we are worried about," he said, apparently referring to the Sarawak state election less than three years down the road.
Salang's rejection of the post, he said, reflected the attitude and pride of the new generation of Dayaks, Sarawak's biggest community, who felt that if something was not done properly, they would stand their ground.
It also means that PRS is not interested in tokenism in government posts offered to it but portfolios that are relevant to the people it represents.
"Whatever the position given to PRS must be one which can be of help to the rural people. It's the portfolio that matters most," said Dr Masing, who wants a meeting with Najib to discuss the party's disappointment over the appointment of its MPs as federal ministers. For the record, the six seats PRS represents have a land size bigger than half of Peninsular Malaysia.
Salang was more candid over his snub of the deputy minister's post.
"The least I expect is for the PM not to make the Dayak look like the cosmetic flower. We have to see not just the current situation but also the future. What I see is disconnection in what we aspire to be. We have been misinterpreted or the federal government could have misinterpreted us as well."
We all know that Najib is surrounded by a bevy of political secretaries and special officers, including some dealing with Chinese affairs. Eight of them contested the general election on Umno tickets and six of them lost.
I would suggest that he appoints a political secretary from the Dayak community to better handle its affairs in Putrajaya.
The Salang snub did not, however, deny Sarawak its day of glory in the new cabinet. Both female ministers are from the state. And for the first time ever, Wanita Umno, an important wing of the country's largest and most dominant party, is not represented at the highest level of policymaking.
Nancy Shukri, one of the two ministers, is the most surprising appointment of them all. Outside of Sarawak, this two-term MP is hardly known while the other appointee, Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim was a deputy minister with three ministries before her appointment as women, family and community development minister.
I sent this text message to Wanita Umno leader Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil: "This is the first time since Independence that Wanita Umno is not in the cabinet. The movement is going backward."
Her terse response: "As long as we are strong grassroots, it's hard to topple us."
Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas, one of the seven Sarawak ministers summed it up on the feelings among his state mates now in the cabinet: "The fruits have come forth. Now we have to deliver."
It's a huge challenge, now even bigger for ministers from Sabah and Sarawak, given the instruction from Najib in his cabinet meeting that all ministers have to be seen as ministers for all Malaysians and not moving in their compartments or respective silos.
He also wants them to "add value" to their services by engaging the public in forums, face-to-face sessions and social media.
They are now under greater scrutiny than ever before as shown by the outcome of the general election and with a rapid rise in the number of young voters.
Azman Ujang is a former editor-in-chief of Bernama. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com
~ The Sun Daily

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