His Excellency, Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, as the fourth Chief Minister of Sarawak had a warm and cordial working relationship with Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, then Dato Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003.
He was the longest serving Prime Minister of Malaysia and still has a sharp mind and sharp tongue in his criticisms of the government’s development policies and programs that he disagrees with.
With this in mind, a team of local writers were dispatched to get his views on the leadership of Pehin Sri Abdul Taib as a politician and leader, who has led the state for 33 years.
The writers met Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed in his office at Yayasan Perdana in Putrajaya last July. Though he was fasting he was gracious enough to grant the interview and gave whatever the writers wanted to know from him. (The edited text of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed’s interview will be published in a coffee table book being published by the State government to depict Pehin Sri Abdul Taib’s 33 years as the Chief Minister of Sarawak. )
Sarawak, with a total land area of 124, 450 Sg. KM, which is almost the size of England, is Malaysia’s largest state by a considerable margin. However, with a population of about 2.5 million, it is also the most sparsely populated state. It is a land of rugged mountains, mighty rivers, mangrove forests, white sandy beaches and pristine islands.
Though, the State has a good network of roads of various grades with a total length of about 30,000 KM, its 66 major rivers and hundreds of tributaries remain important for transport for the people.
Sarawak, as a state in Malaysia, enjoys a measure of political autonomy in the form of self - governing parliamentary democracy, independent legal system, strong institutions and a professional civil service headed by a State Secretary. English is very widely spoken by the people.
The State enjoyed unparallelled racial harmony, political stability and progress and prosperity under Pehin Sri Abdul Abdul Taib. His politics of development as the philosophy of development has helped to chang the midset of the people and transform Sarawak into an open, dynamic and business friendly economy.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed started by saying he first met Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib in New York while attending the UN General Assembly in 1965. Both of them were delegates; usually the government sends Members of Parliament as delegates to UN General Assembly.
He said it was memorable time for them in New York while attending the UN General Assembly. Abdul Taib’s father-in-law was also in New York at that time. They were together quite a lot and got to know each other well. He was with Abdul Taib most of the time.
He met Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib (then young Abdul Taib as a local politician) before the meeting in New York but not so well. His first impression of Abdul Taib was, he was very active and interested in many things. Of course, he was very dedicated to the development of Malaysia, Sarawak in particular.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed said when he became the Prime Minister, Pehin Sri Abdul Taib served briefly in his Cabinet as the Minister of Federal Territories. He had to resign his Federal post, after serving for more than 13 years, to come back to helm the State government .
Before the appointment, Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib (then Datuk Amar Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud) had to contest a by-election and appointed a State Minister before he assumed the appointment of the fourth Chief Minister of Sarawak on March 26, 1981.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed observed that Sarawak under the leadership of Pehin Sri Abdul Taib developed very fast, the whole of Sarawak, not just Kuching, Sibu, Miri, Bintulu and others. He had this scheme of building Dewan Suarah or civic centres, to encourage the people to interact among them, throughout Sarawak.
Generally, there has been a distinct change since Pehin Sri Abdul Taib became the Chief Minister. He was very focused on developing Sarawak. Fortunately, for him, with the oil royalty he had money to do a lot of things in terms of the development of Sarawak.
He had to contruct roads and build bridges, some very long and costly bridges over big rivers like Santubong, Batang Igan, Pakan, Batang Kemena and Kuala Baram bridges in order to make more coastal and remote areas in the hinterlands of Ulu Kapit, Ulu Belaga, Ulu Baram and Ulu Limbang accessible by roads.
He brought a lot of development to Sarawak that some areas, which used to be mushy back in the 70s and early 80s, have been transformed to become built - up areas with settlements.
As the Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed used to come to Sarawak fairly often. No matter which parts of Sarawak he visited, Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib would be there with him. The occasions provided them opportunities to strategize and further plan for the development of Sarawak towards the year 2020 and beyond.
It was quite obvious to Tun Dr. Mahathir that Pehin Sri Abdul Taib wanted Sarawak not only to catch up but move in tandem with the development and progress of Semenajung Malaysia, which started its development six years earlier.
He wanted to make Sarawak as developed as the Peninsular Malaysia in terms of infrastructure development and investments of the revenue from the shares of oil royalty.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed recalled how Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib was concerned with the future development of Sarawak or how Sarawak could sustain its development after attaining the status of high income economy on or before 2020 and beyond.
He had to initiate the industrialisation programme through the development of vast hydro potential, which was of course very expensive. However, it has to be done to sustain the development of Sarawak. That was how they came to agree on the development of Bakun hydroelectricity dam, a mammoth project, as the pre-requisite for industrialisation.
Undoubtedly, the development of Bakun hydro dam, which was badly affected by the 1997/1998 Asian financial crisis, has triggered the development of a much bigger industrialisation program in the form of the development of Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).
It was obvious to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed that Pehin Sri Abdul Taib has laid a strong foundation, in term of direction in particular, for the development and progress of Sarawak much more than any other leaders.
He has spent the the State’s money wisely as evidenced by how he has been developing Sarawak. He has lifted Sarawak from the back water of development to become one of the fastest development states in the country.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed observes that Sarawak has done extremely well in development. At one stage it was way ahead as compared to the other states including Sabah, which under Tan Sri Harris Salleh as the Chief Minister developed very fast. But Sarawak under Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib was able to catch up and moved ahead.
Tun Dr. Mahathir says Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib has remarkable grasp of things like understanding of the workings of the government. His dedication to Sarawak is total. Sometimes, the Federal leadership felt uncomfortable when he appeared to be too much of a Sarawakian and forgot about the country.
However, as a whole he has been very supportive of Malaysia and the Federal leadership most of who are from Peninsular Malaysia.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mahathir said he had no difficulty working with Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib. He worked well with him. During his time, they were very much together and could achieve the objectives both for Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.
Tun Dr. Mahthir said his first visit to Sarawak was shortly after the separation of Singapore from Malaysia. Then there were rumours that Sabah and Sarawak would join Singapore. He came together with Tun Abdul Razak to Sabah and Sarawak because they were worried that Sarawak might secede from Malaysia.
That was the first time he met Sarawak political leaders like Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib, Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’kub, the third Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Dr Sulaiman Haji Daud, a former Federal Minister and others.
He recalled when they were in Miri they had to stay in a number of wooden houses belonging to Shell in Lutong. In Kuching, they were not very well as SUPP then was still in the opposition with a very strong stand against Malaysia.
Generally, the urban Chinese have a mind of their own. In Sarawak, they were with SUPP, which not with the alliance. Tun Abdul Razak, after May 1969 racial disturbances in Peninsular Malaysia, invited all the opposition parties to join the government and run the country together.
SUPP was one of those opposition parties, which responded positively to the invitation and agreed that all must work together to downplay politics and concentrate on development of the country for the benefits of the people, State and country.
Apparently, SUPP, with its long history in the opposition, accepted the leadership of Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib very well. For a long time, SUPP formed a strong unit with PBB as the backbone of the Government and Barisan Nasional.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed observes that Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib has a very strong command of the essentials of politics in Sarawak. He managed to get strong support especially from the natives whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims; whether they’re Ibans, Bidayuhs, Melanaus, Orang Ulu and others.
He says it is worthwhile listening to Pehin Sri Abdul Taib rather than do something else not in accord with his perception of things. He has a complete grasp of the situation.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed says Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib’s greatest contribution to Malaysia, Sarawak in particular, is his ability to get the people, comprising of different tribes and origins, to work together in the common pursuit for progress and development. It is not an easy thing to keep the people, comprising of about 30 ethnic groups together.
Even, the Chinese, who have always been very independent-minded accept his leadership. Although some tried to pull away, they could never make any significant split to withdraw support Barisan Nasional being led by Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib.
August 29, 2014