Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The other White Rajahs

Mariam Mokhtar
Tuesday, 15 December 2009 01:29

SARAWAK FOCUS Sarawak’s heir-apparent, Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Taib, may have resigned from his post at the Tourism Ministry, but his eyes could possibly be set on a more lucrative prize. Why be a small fish in a big pond when he can be the great white shark in …?

He may not sport the familiar Ray-Bans of his father on his walkabouts, but then, what need has he of the shades, for what Sulaiman sees is only a rose tinted view of his country.

At 40, he has led an ostentatious and wealthy life. His father is reportedly one of the richest men in the world, with assets and businesses in Malaysia and worldwide.

People may say the White Rajahs of Sarawak, who ruled the state for a hundred years, have gone. Have they, really? Isn’t the Taib Mahmud dynasty a re-incarnation of the original Brookes of England?

In 1841, James Brooke laid the groundwork for ruling Sarawak; Charles, his nephew, was the builder and Vyner, Charles’s son, traded his position as Rajah for a hefty pension and a controversial deal with the British Protectorate then.

History repeating itself

History has repeated itself. Abdul Rahman Yakub (left), chief minister of Sarawak from 1970 to 1981 and Taib’s uncle, was his political mentor who paved the way for the nephew to rule Sarawak like the state was his own.

The rich Borneo state was ripe for the taking – petroleum, gas, timber, land. It now remains for Sulaiman to take over the helm. But time is running out fast. And the plot thickens. Putrajaya is still pulling the strings.

Sulaiman is married to the daughter of Deputy Chief Minister Dr George Chan. Politics in Sarawak is a family affair. But this union has not exactly endeared him to the nation.

The scandal of him assaulting a television personality in a Kuala Lumpur nightspot in 2003 worsened his already tarnished image.

Fortunately, papa controls the media in Sarawak. There was a news blackout. The case was closed for lack of evidence.

Sulaiman’s resignation was mired in controversy. We are told that it had nothing to do with politics, that it was for personal reasons and as he was still grieving over his mother’s death.

Papa to the rescue

Without sounding disrespectful, hundreds, if not thousands of people face the death of a parent or close relative or spouse, but they continue with their responsibilities.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s wife died whilst he was in office but the former prime minister continued his duties admirably, after a respectable period of mourning.

So again, papa has come to the rescue with more explanations.

Then, came the denials. So thick and fast, like a swarm of flies over a rotting carcass. For a year and a half, Sulaiman worked under two ministers – the first was Azalina Othman Said and then Dr Ng Yen Yen (right).

It is alleged that Sulaiman and his lady bosses got on like a marriage made in hell.

Some men abhor working under women. And men with big egos suffer most. It did not help that he had an over-inflated image of ‘who’ he was.

Having been the chairman of Cahaya Mata Sarawak and the RHB Bank, he probably felt entitled to a more deserving role, rather than being made a mere deputy of an even lesser ministry.

Many people, at some point in their lives, have a woman as a boss. If the generalisations are to be believed, woman bosses are more likely to discriminate against female employees with children.

Not a team player

Sadly, we live in a world that believes a ruthless male boss to be assertive, but considers a woman acting in a similar fashion, to be aggressive. Some men cannot handle having a woman as a boss. And Sulaiman may have been one of those.

Things got unpleasant when Idris Jala (left), from the Kelabit community was appointed Minister without Portfolio in the Prime Minister's Department and chief executive officer of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu). Here was someone, who had simply breezed in to assume his role as senator and minister.

Sulaiman's inability to act as a team player and to get the job done is reason enough to go.

Sarawakians ought to take heed. If this man is unable to perform at the federal level and give the people his best, why should he be expected to perform well at the state level?

However, what if this resignation had been planned a long time ago and with the collusion of Putrajaya? Taib needs a successor. And what he wants, he gets or so, it seems.

In March 2008, Sulaiman stood as a candidate in the parliamentary seat previously held by his father. And won. But it is hardly a ringing endorsement for a ruling party candidate with the best-financed campaign and a father who pulls the strings in the state.

He may lack his father’s political guile and experience, and even if he is cut from a different cloth, it may take time for him to emerge as his own man.

Others more qualified to be CM

Hence, the reason for him to return to Kuching, to be groomed for his future role.

There is turbulence ahead with three others who are more qualified to be chief minister. But as he owes his political career to his father, return to Sarawak he must. His survival and that of his father’s dynasty centre on how fences can be mended with the electorate.

Sulaiman will find himself under a lot of pressure if the MACC vigorously pursues the various claims about corruption in Sarawak - "if" being the operative word.

Then, he will have to address the imbalance between progress and conservation. His father has handed out timber concessions and allegedly approved various multi-million projects that have wiped out huge swathes of jungles and the people, flora and fauna it supports.

Someone forgot that what happens in Sarawak has worldwide consequences - global warming, destruction of plant life and animals, the way of life of its indigenous people.

After gobbling up hardwood trees, the same companies are allegedly expanding into oil palm plantations. Without biodiversity, not many species of plant and animal life will survive.

Taib's vision very short-lived

The ancestral lands of the indigenous people have been encroached upon. Lawsuits have been filed. Not just for seeking compensation but also to halt certain projects.

Thousands of people have been displaced. Their rights are taken away, their fruit trees and crops destroyed, their longhouses pulled down and their lands flooded to make way for dams.

Companies operating in the interior have allegedly polluted the rivers and groundwater, destroyed their jungle pathways and raped their women. But still no form of justice is evident. No one has been made accountable.

Taib has forgotten that with his purported political style and management of Sarawak’s resources, he is essentially killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. His vision is very short-lived.

Plantations benefit the owners, and dam construction, the project builders. But for all the development in trading, construction, property and road making, very little money and few benefits have filtered down to the common man. Education, provision of health, law-enforcement, electricity, running water, roads and basic infrastructure are reportedly still lacking in many parts of Sarawak

Resettlement of various people into designated areas has not helped. They are still poverty stricken. Hunting is impossible as the animals have either been killed off by logging or migrated elsewhere.

Their fruit trees have been destroyed. The soil where they have been relocated to may not support the types of agriculture they originally practised. Moreover, the much promised offers of employment have not materialised. Jobs in the plantations sector still go to foreign workers who are paid even lower wages.

As a result, the young migrate to the bigger towns looking for jobs and fall prey to vice, drink, lawlessness and other unhealthy activities. Young girls get sucked into prostitution. In the longhouses, older men are enticed with hard liquor and drugs by the logging companies as an inducement to work.

Lot of bridges to mend

Sulaiman may hear the pleasant tinkling of the ivory from Liberace’s piano which his father had reputedly bought for US$2mil. But all the Sarawak people can hear is the grinding of the chain saws from the logging companies.

Sulaiman may one day drive around in his father’s grand Rolls Royce. But some Sarawak people have difficulty travelling to their school or their smallholdings, traversing bamboo bridges or paths over difficult terrain.

If Sulaiman feels he is cut out for his father’s job, he has a lot of bridges to mend before he can even think about assuming that role.

Is he prepared to engage with the people? Can he incorporate the needs of all of the peoples in Sarawak? Will he see for himself the hardship his father’s tenure has brought them? Is he prepared to listen?

The vulgar display of wealth by Taib and also the lack of concern and respect for the welfare of the people disconnect him from them.

Maybe, it is time the Sarawak people see what is really going on and exercise their right to decide their own future. – Malaysian Mirror

MARIAM MOKHTAR has a passion for people, places and plain speaking. Don't suffer fools gladly.