Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Special Interview With Adenan Satem: On his experienace as a reporter,  his relationship with Taib, Sarawak for Sarawakians

Secara Rawak

KUCHING: Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem today spoke of his close shave with death due to a heart ailment three years ago and how he was “ready to go”. He said God had given him a new lease of life to “do what I have to do”. “Three years ago I was very sick. I was at the IJN (National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur) and in Singapore.

And there was a time I thought I was going. I called all my relatives, my children and grandchildren. “They all came and you know when you called all your children and grandchildren, you know what it’s all about. I was ready to go. But God is great and I recovered and I was back to normal”.

In an interview with Bernama at his office here, Adenan said: ” When God gives me a new lease of life, he must be trying to drop a message to give me a hint of what I have to do”.

Adenan, who took over from Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud two years ago, went on to say that he had been very lucky in life and that God had been very kind to him. “I have a very good life and so on, even a successful one, and I owe it (to myself) to help those who are less fortunate than I am,” he said.

And he revealed his philosophy in life and in doing what he did as a leader, he would always ask himself if his late mother would have approved of it or not.

“That is my policy, I would ask myself until today if my mother would give her blessing,” he added.

Following is the interview in Q & A:

Let me begin by asking what not that many people know about you. You were once a reporter with The Sarawak Tribune newspaper before you took up law studies in Australia. Can you tell us what was it like to be a reporter in those days in the late 1960s and what is it if any, that you went through as a reporter that might have contributed to making Adenan Satem the man?

I have always loved writing even in my school days, especially in the subject of essay writing. Looking back I think I did pretty well back then, sometimes my essays were read back to the class on how to write an essay. I have been in my younger days a journalist, a teacher, prosecutor and magistrate. All this gave me a good experience to be in public life.

Fast forward, and finally as one would say, you made it as Chief Minister of Sarawak in 2014 after what seems like a lifetime in politics and a very long time in waiting for aspirants of this coveted post of which you were always among the leading contenders. Can you share with us, were there times when you felt that because your predecessor Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud stayed on for 32 years, the chances for the aspirants in taking over were diminishing?

No, I never felt frustrated because I knew that my predecessor was doing a good job, and my duty was to support him all the way. In fact, at the end of the day, I felt very sick. Three years ago I was very sick and I was in IJN and Singapore. And there was a time I thought I was going. I called all my relatives, my children my grandchildren, all came and you know when you call all your children and grandchildren, you know what it’s all about.

I was ready to go but then God is great. I recovered, I was back to normal. But not as strong as I was like when I was 18 years ago, but I can still go ahead for five more years. I think when God gave me a new lease of life he must be trying to drop a message to give me, a hint of what I have to do.

In the early days of Tun Taib’s tenure as Chief Minister, he did not enjoy a smooth relationship then with the Yang Di-Pertua Negeri (Governor) Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub due to some interference here and there. Now that Tun Taib is himself the Governor, can you tell us about your working relationship with him, especially viewed from the context that you have reversed some of the major policies of the previous administration?

My relationship with him is straightforward. He told me you are now the Chief Minister of Sarawak. ‘Whatever you do, you are responsible for it. If you want some advice , I will give, I will not tell you what to do, what you ought to do and so on, but I will not interfere in your job as Chief Minister, unlike some people I know.’ Maybe he himself had a bad experience with his uncle (Tun Rahman) , and now I suppose now (Prime Minister) Najib has a bad experience with some old gentlemen. But I don’t have that problem.

You have opted for a clean and transparent government. You put a stop to the practice of people related or close to members of the State Administration getting what’s known as sweet deals and, most certainly, timber concessions and the previous policy over awarding such concessions per se. Can you tell us the impact of this change of policy?

Let us be realistic about this. We can never wipe out corruption altogether. Humans being what they are, you can never wipe it out altogether. But you ought to try the best way you can and create a system where it is really difficult to be dishonest. It’s not just a question of morality or what is right or wrong, but a system that makes it very difficult to be corrupt.

And I notice the timber industry, I put a stop to timber concessions, no more. There will be no more commercial timber concessions except for of course for land reclamation for agriculture like Felcra scheme or Felda scheme and so on but commercial timber no more. Because this is the hot-bed for corruption.

Looking back, Sarawak for that matter had not benefited from this kind of timber policy.

We had benefited because the timber industry employs more than 100,000 people directly or indirectly. They are mostly Sarawakians. If the industry were to collapse, there will be massive unemployment. We must be very cautious with this policy but at the same time, the emphasis shall be on downstream value-added activities.

We do not wish to simply export logs and so on which we still do now but eventually our aim is no more logging of natural forest. If logging has to be done, it must be done in planted forest. But we haven’t reached that state yet. But we are on our way now.

I must say that the nation is amazed by the impact and the media hype you have created in the two years you have been CM. Some would say you are everything that Taib is not… Can you describe your style or your way as CM in getting things done for such a huge state like Sarawak with its complexities and some unique problems as well as opportunities?

It is not for me to describe my style. I will do what I think is right, I‘ll do what I think is best and people can give their opinion.

Do you have a team to advise you?

Of course I have a good team. We have a very closely-knit Cabinet.

Lately, there’s this emergence of the “Sarawak for Sarawakians” sentiment that was not that prevalent in all those years after the state together with Malaya and Sabah formed Malaysia. What’s your own take on this phenomenon? Is it okay for state and nation-building and in the long term?

I have made it very clear that there is no talk of cessation from the Federation. We don’t want to leave Malaysia… Malaysia will be forever. But that doesn’t mean we cannot fight for our autonomy which had been agreed on under the Malaysia Agreement and under the Inter-Govermental Committee reports and recommendations, the Cobbold Commission and the Malaysia Act.

We want these rights which we had way back in 1963 to revert back to us. Because over these years there have been an erosion of state rights as far as Sarawak is concerned. For instance, we are not a state within Malaysia, we are a party to the formation of Malaysia. The Malaysia agreement which constitutes Malaysia was signed by the United Kingdom, Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Singapore and Sarawak.

So if you want to deprive some states of their rights under the Malaysia Agreement, then even a constitutional amendment is not enough because that is an international treaty between sovereign states. But talk of cessation is just rubbish.

Your speeches, you are never far from spicing them with caustic jokes and comment, for instance even describing certain old policies as “stupid”...

When I say the word stupid, I’m referring to the policy, not the people who make the policy. And because the consequences of the policy, all this flip-flop about the education policy, downgrading of English (language) and so on, now we are at a disadvantage, but it’s not too late, I want us to be, I want Malaysians to be proficient in their mother tongue, and Bahasa Malaysia, you know our national language, and in English, you know the international language.

But not much effort is being done on this... A: We are trying to now, never too late, we are trying to, I think there are federal and state programmes, they will take some time, yes…

What’s Sarawak’s policy regarding the entry of opposition politicians from the peninsula? What are the reasons for denying them entry for instance, or what conditions are they required to abide by should they want to meet and address their party officials and supporters within the state?

We do not want religious bigots and we don’t want extremists. And that includes from Barisan Nasional people and of course the opposition people.

As we sit here today, we are getting much closer to the 2016 state election. Can you throw more light into this or the latest update? Have there been some changes or amendments to your original schedule as you face your toughest challenge to date?

It’s up to the Election Commission. As for the timing I mentioned earlier, it was just my suggestion, the decision is to be made by the Election Commission. Q: When are you going to dissolve the State Legislative Assembly?

My duty is to advise the Governor when to dissolve it, once it is dissolved, the rest is up to the Election Commission.

You have raised some concern of the voting trends among the Chinese?

There have been a shift back in support to the BN, I notice, because of my policies regarding the Chinese – one is that they are not pendatang (immigrants), recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate, admission of Chinese graduates into state civil service and Yayasan Sarawak (Sarawak Foundation) and so on.

I think they are quite acceptable and I believe there is a change of mind on their part but whether it is enough or not, I don’t know, but definitely there is a change, a shift back to BN.

What can you do to win back their votes.

The difficulty is this. There are two Chinese-based parties, the SUPP and the UPP. Now if there is a shift back to BN, they have to decide which party to vote for, UPP or SUPP, and that will result in dividing them. So the best way is to have a direct BN candidate.

Are they (BN component parties) agreeable to it?

Some agreed reluctantly, they accept the rationale of it .

Has the government done enough for the Chinese?

Up to Chinese to decide because I have done the best for them. One is recognising them. I don’t like to follow some in Peninsular Malaysia calling them pendatang (immigrants). They have been here for generations, you notice in Malaysia, there are Chinese graves all over the place.

Don’t tell me these people died yesterday. These are graves of their ancestors. Why call them pendatang?. They are not from Bangladesh or Myanmar and they are not pendatang tanpa izin (illegals). They (Chinese) regard this as home. They will go to China to visit their long lost relatives. After that they go home. This is their home.

What’s you message to the voters of Sarawak in the run-up to the state election?

Vote wisely. I believe the rakyat of Sarawak are wise on who should form the government … I believe in the wisdom of the people of Sarawak to choose the right path when the time comes. –Bernama

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