May 9, 2016
Duty and Responsibility for Adenan Satem: Build an Inclusive Sarawakian Community
In the next five years Adenan Satem must translate promises into action by addressing the socio-economic situation of the bumiputeras, many of whom remain deprived and disadvantaged.
by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar
Adenan Satem’s huge across-the-board electoral mandate enables him to form a truly multi-ethnic government reflective of Sarawak’s rich cultural and religious diversity. In the last two years since becoming Chief Minister many of his policies and pronouncements have borne testimony to his inclusive approach to society. Some of them are a continuation of what his predecessors, especially Abdul Taib Mahmud, had done in their endeavour to preserve inter-ethnic harmony. By giving special emphasis to ‘respect’ among, and ‘equality’ for, all Sarawakians, Adenan has helped create an atmosphere that is conducive for cohesiveness and solidarity within the state.
In the next five years he has to translate this into action programmes. One of his major challenges is to address the socio-economic situation of the large non-Muslim bumiputra population, a significant segment of whom remain deprived and disadvantaged. Raising their standard of living is a vital prerequisite for strengthening inter-ethnic unity. This calls for concrete measures that go beyond educational opportunities and acquisition of skills and target their low incomes and lack of asset ownership.
Adenan, it is hoped, will also attempt to endow greater meaning to Kuching’s status as ‘Bandaraya Perpaduan’, the City of Unity’. It would be wonderful if more public parks, and sports and recreational facilities could be built to enhance interaction among the city’s multi-ethnic inhabitants. Meanwhile, Yayasan 1 Malaysia (Y1M) which had initiated the conferment of the City of Unity title upon Kuching is in the process of seeking global recognition for Kuching’s status as arguably the world’s first City of Unity.
There are other challenges that Adenan faces which are also related indirectly to unity. His pursuit of greater autonomy for Sarawak within the context of the Malaysian Federation which has the overwhelming support of the people of Sarawak will undoubtedly reinforce solidarity among the different communities. The Federal Government has promised to respond positively to the Sarawakian demand. Devolution of power and the decentralisation of authority will not undermine the unity of the Federation.
On the contrary, there are a number of examples which show that devolution and decentralisation properly done within a democratic, constitutional framework will eventually strengthen the bond between Centre and State. Canada is a case in point. It is when the desire for control and dominance expressed through political and bureaucratic centralisation takes precedence over everything else, that a federation ceases to function as it should.
If autonomy and concomitant state rights were crucial in the 11th Sarawak state election, so was another underlying factor which perhaps explains to an extent the entire electoral outcome. Adenan showed how important trust in leadership is in any society – especially in a multi-ethnic society. Because Adenan commanded the trust of each and every cultural and religious community in Sarawak he was able to emerge as a rallying-point for the people as a whole. He was, in other words, the glue that held the different communities together. And what gave that glue that unique power was trust.
Retaining and perhaps increasing the people’s trust in him will be Adenan’s greatest challenge in the coming years. In gaining and sustaining the people’s trust, the Chief Minister and his team should never ever compromise their integrity. It is their integrity, their honesty in governance, that the people will use as their yardstick in deciding whether they can continue to trust their leaders or not. Once integrity is gone, the people’s trust will also evaporate.
In order to enhance integrity, various measures – all of which have been proposed before by a number of us – should be undertaken. Apart from ensuring through legislation that state leaders declare their assets and liabilities and those of their kith and kin, in a register that is accessible to the public, Adenan should also bar close relatives of State Government Ministers and Assistant Ministers from bidding for any state project or contract that requires the approval of the State Cabinet. This rule should also apply to the top brass in the state public services. The role of proxies, agents and middle-men in procurement exercises should also be curbed if not eliminated altogether. Equally important is effective enforcement of whatever laws, rules and procedures that are formulated.
To ensure that integrity triumphs in society, there should be constant vigilance. For that reason, criticism of the powers-that-be should be encouraged. It is the only way to check their wrongdoings. In this regard, preventing certain politicians and activists from entering Sarawak especially during the election campaign period conveyed the impression that the Sarawak state leadership was averse to evaluation and scrutiny.
Now more than ever before scrutiny has become imperative. The ruling Barisan Nasional commands a huge majority in the State Assembly. It has massive, mammoth power.
In this regard, Adenan should perhaps recall the wise words of a Malaysian leader of integrity who sought to curb corruption. After the Barisan Nasional’s 1978 election victory, the then Prime Minister, the late Tun Hussein Onn, remarked, “ Let this victory go to our hearts, not to our heads.”
Chandra Muzaffar is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Yayasan 1Malaysia.