Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam

August 29, 2016

Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Image result for M. Bakri Musa

“…I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.”–M. Bakri Musa

Do not anticipate nor expect any positive change in Malaysia coming from the center, at least not from the current corrupt incompetent UMNO leadership in Putrajaya. Instead expect it from the periphery, in particular from Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan Setam.

This rise of the periphery is a worldwide phenomenon. Witness the successes of the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Brexit referendum. Devolution there is a backlash against globalization; with Malaysia, a weak and distracted center.

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Adenan’s rise is facilitated both by his political prowess as well as Najib’s precarious position. Najib is inept in dealing with state leaders other than those from UMNO. With those from UMNO, Najib could bribe, intimidate or bully his way.

A measure of Najib’s lack of sensitivity to matters Sarawak is that not a single university has a Department of Iban Studies. Petronas, which gets the bulk of its oil from Sarawak, does not even have one Board Director or senior manager who is from the state. Now Adenan has imposed a moratorium on work permits for West Malaysians in Petronas. It is significant that he spared non-Malaysians.

Unlike his predecessor the crude, utterly corrupt, and greedy Taib Mahmud who exploited his leverage to enrich himself, Adenan uses his to extract greater autonomy for Sarawak. He acts as if he already has that, declaring English to be on par with Malay in schools and the state’s administration, in defiance of federal policies. The surprise is the silence of UMNO chauvinists and Malay language nationalists. That can only happen with specific directives from Najib.

Adenan has banned UMNO from Sarawak; there is no legal basis for that. Again, no challenge from Najib. If UMNO were to defy that, Adenan would quit the ruling coalition and Najib would fall. Note Adenan’s ease in castrating UMNO jantans. Not a peep of protest from them. They bear and grin, as instructed.

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Sarawak (and also Sabah) already enjoys considerable autonomy on immigration. West Malaysians need a passport to enter.

Adenan exploited that to maximal effect in the last state election, denying entry to opposition MPs from West Malaysia, a slap to Parliament’s prestige. Again, the surprise was the silence of the Speaker, an UMNO man, to this unprecedented affront to his institution.

Adenan could act with impunity as his party is critical to Barisan. Through that he controls Najib. To Najib, Sarawak is his “fixed deposit.” That euphemism cannot hide the political reality.

Without Adenan’s party, Najib and UMNO would topple. Right now it is to Adenan’s (and Sarawak’s) advantage to stay with the ruling coalition. Najib will do everything to ensure that; his political survival depends on it. Because of Najib’s vulnerability, Adenan is in a position to extract concessions from the beleagured UMNO Prime Minister.

Autonomy is meaningless without changes in federal tax laws, a formidable obstacle. The federal government has near-exclusive taxing authority. Only minor items like land taxes are under state control. The oil royalty-sharing formula heavily favors the central government. Even if Sarawak could re-negotiate that, it is no windfall, what with the declining oil price. Despite its massive rain forest with its valuable hardwood, Sarawak still cannot forgo massive federal transfer payments.

One way to circumvent the tax hurdle would be to execute a secular zakat maneuver. Zakat is a religious tax based on assets, not income, and is under state jurisdiction, albeit applicable only to Muslims and is voluntary. It could be made mandatory and extended to all, non-Muslims included. Both moves would enthrall the Islamists.

Zakat contributions are federal tax credits, not deductions. That provides a neat way to circumvent federal income tax.It is well known that Sarawakians have minimal fondness for the federal government. They could be persuaded to pay zakat (and its secular equivalent for non-Muslims) instead of income tax as the benefits would accrue to them, as the money stays in Sarawak. Sarawakians would not be paying both, rather diverting income tax to zakat.

Adenan has adopted an excellent negotiating strategy with Najib by creating momentum with the easily-agreed upon and costless items like increasing the number of Sarawakians in Petronas and having one on its Board of Directors.

Image result for sarawak land of hornbill

Kulup Rani cannot help. Try stealing from us, Mr Malaysian Official 1 (MO1)

With Najib’s current weakness, Sarawak could drive a hard bargain for greater autonomy, including independent taxing power, to the point of being a virtual sovereign state. Once that happens, Sabah would be next in line to demand similar status. Sabah UMNO leaders would not dare defy the demands of their members no matter how much Najib bribes those leaders. From there, others.

Johor Sultan already stirs noises for Bangsa Johor and threatens secession. Kelantan wants its hudud. Najib supporting that ill-advised initiative could come back to haunt him.

Image result for The Sultan of Johor and Tunku Mahkota of Johor

Once the unraveling begins, it is unstoppable. The prospect of a chief minister being on par with the Prime Minister (as it was the case when Singapore was in Malaysia) is a giddy one to ambitious state politicians. Remember, the federation is of recent vintage. The old Malaya was set up only in 1948; Malaysia, even more recent.

Consider the impact of autonomy on national policies like education and special privileges. Even with the current restrictions, note the ease with which the opposition DAP terminated special privileges for Malay contractors in Penang. Selangor under Pakatan’s Khalid Ibrahim annihilated a whole class of UMNO rent seekers, and saw his predecessor, that javanese dentist character, jailed for corruption.

Even if Najib were to balk at Adenan’s demands, what’s to stop Adenan from asking his party members in Parliament to submit a private member’s bill, a la PAS Hadi’s hudud, seeking greater autonomy and taxing authority for Sarawak? If Adenan were to do that, then watch both Najib and the opposition compete to accommodate Adenan in an epic lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu battle. He would be holding Parliament–and Malaysia–to ransom.

I support the principle that a government closest to the people governs best. There are pitfalls, however.

Sarawak shares a long unguarded border with Indonesia. Most of Borneo is Indonesia; Sarawak being part of Malaysia is an anomaly. It would not take much for the Indonesians to overwhelm Sarawak. If not for the British, they would have during konfrontasi. Besides, Jokowi is everything that Najib is not: an honest, respected, effective, dedicated, down to earth, and charismatic leader of his people.

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Musa Aman–The Sabah Fox

As for Sabah, Filipino pirates can enter it with impunity, and Philippines is resurrecting her claim. Another complicating mix, traditional kinship ties between Sabah and Southern Philippines.

Adenan envies tiny independent Brunei. The lesson there is not the Brunei of today but earlier. In 1962 one A. M. Azahari toppled the Sultan. If not for the British Gurkhas, the Sultan would have remained a refugee in Singapore. The son of Azahari may yet arise. This time there will be no Gurkhas.

As for Johor, it wasn’t too long ago that its Sultan treated the state as his private property and gave away a strategic and valuable part of it (Singapore). It would be the supreme irony if his descendant were to repeat the folly.

Those aside, I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.

12 thoughts on “Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam

  1. Although we may not know Adenan Satem personally, intuitively looking at all his images in the media , his sincerity and serenity , of a man of great humility and humbleness,,,,,, ( to me , a deeply pious man , which is in his Heart ) , he is one single ‘jewel’ which shines among all the rotten and fake gems, that make up the political leadership of the Nation……( the great pretenders ! ) –

    I totally and humbly echo my sentiments of what the learned Doctor Bakri Musa has eulogized about this great man ……. may our beloved Nation prosper by the Contribution of this great Malaysian figure ( ” membawa Berqat ” , god-willing )

  2. “Adenan exploited that to maximal effect in the last state election, denying entry to opposition MPs from West Malaysia, a slap to Parliament’s prestige. Again, the surprise was the silence of the Speaker, an UMNO man, to this unprecedented affront to his institution.”

    I could not understand this statement. It was not surprising at all to me that the UMNO Speaker was silent on this action by Adenan; after all, it is to UMNO’s gain not to allow opposition MPs into Sarawak.

  3. I wish Sarawakians all the best. History have shown that local leaders who have won more power inevitably abuse them for themselves. Perhaps Adenan will pass on his bargains with Najib to Sarawakians but it does not mean those under him or those after thim will not also abuse them for their own gains and self-interest. Chances are they will.

    This country is institutionally messed up. Its dysfunctional, sooner or later everyone of us will take turn at paying for that dysfunctionality..

  4. The Sultan of Johor did not “lose’ Singapore. The Malays are just too Ketuanan Melayu-Islam bigoted to have kept Singapore within the Federation. Will the Sultan “lose” Johor to a foreign power? Let’s just say HRH cannot do any worse than what the ketuanan Melayu-Islam bigots have done.

  5. //today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.

    Love these words. Dr Bakri. Perhaps PBB would guarantee a DPM for Adenan.

    Sigh… Malaysia is sinking faster into an unfathomable void of darkness when Sarawak kleptocracy gets part of the pie. The nation’s wealth is too small for the greed of a few.

  6. The Malay/Muslims are not the victims of decades of discrimination policies…..they are beneficiaries of these abused and divisive policies.

    They have numerous govt. depts/agencies, resources and taxpayers’ money to take proper care of them.

    It is shameful and disgraceful to continue paint the Malay/Muslim as ‘ victims ‘. The real victims are the majority of poor, silent, voiceless and powerless ordinary non Malay/Muslims.

  7. Vincent, Bakri has alluded to history by saying that the Sultan of Johor “lose” Singapore. He is not talking about Singapore after the formation of Malaysia. Singapore, in the old days, was part of Johore. It was ceded to the British as the Brits appreciated the commercial and strategic significance of the island vis-a-vis Malacca, Benculen (Sumatra) and Penang. The island of Penang was similarly “given” to the British by the Sultan of Kedah in exchange for protection against the marauding Siamese. It’s history, pure and simple.

  8. The early Sultans (of Malaya) were Sultans on their own rights exercising sovereignty over their subjects. There were minor tussles for supremacy among them but this was more or less sorted out by themselves without causing major upheavals. This decades -old scenario changed when the Portuguese and the British landed upon Malaya.

    The Colonisers brought gifts and (later slowly) introduced liquor to the Sultans and their courtesans and things began to unravel and upset the placid land. This may be a crude assertion to make but there can be no logical explanation for the Sultans to readily acquiesce and give big takeaways to the British almost for free. Just imagine the Sultan or Temenggong giving an integral part of Johore i.e. Singapore, to the British on a silver platter. The British with their entrenched position all over Malaya had other tricks in their bag to cajole and, where necessary, to badger the Sultans to give in to their demands. A resistant Sultan, for example, can be liquidated and not the lawful crown prince but his uncle installed the new Sultan instead. Interestingly, some Sultans embraced a British way of life and became “His Master’s Voice”

    When the Colonials left the land after giving independence, the Sultans regained their original status as true savior of their respective subjects.

  9. We should not forget that Adenan is a brother-in-law of Taib Mahmud, the modern day Rajah who had misappropriated huge sums of money from Sarawak. These amounts exceeded Jibby’s ‘donations’ several times over. And Adenan has been in cahoots with Taib all these years. You may be sorely disappointed if you think Adenan will save Sarawak. He is part of the same pack. “Cheat me once, shame on you; cheat me twice, shame on me.”

  10. Devolution should have taken hold from the inception of Malaysia, because it was binding in Malaysia Agreement where Sarawak and Sabah were partner-states to Federated states of Peninsula Malaya. The people’of the of the East Malaysian state s, are to hold their leaders and those from Umno-BN fully accountable for all the misdeeds and mistreatments suffered.

    The people themselves and the MPs from across the nation were also held responsible to a large extent because they let them cheat, steal and plunder.

    It is about time leaders and MPs, like Adenan, regardless of race.religion personal beliefs and affiliations, from both sides of the ilse, wake up to the fact and take the lead.

    It is in each and every Malaysian’s, their children’s interests, to act swiftly and decisively, Collectively together with the people, to Save Malaysia from the ruin and doom resulted largely from the Umno Baru/leaders Scandalous culture of MACCP* and replace it with ACGT*.

    *MACCP=Money politics, Abuse of power, Corruption, Cronysm and Puppetry
    *ACGT=Accountability, Competency, Governance and Transparency.

  11. One-man band (including Adenan Setam) will not make a desired power evolution happen. For that, there must be a groundswell of real and visible support from the natives of the land in furtherence of their aspirations, needs and autonomy.

    This is not to under estimate Inche Adenan but a solo man, however much he may be bristling, is vulnerable too given the chinks in his armour. He can be easily disposed off or even made to pay for obstinacy and over reaching the limits of his power. Just think of the fate of the former formidable Sabah’s Kadazan Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan and Sarawak’s CM Stephen Kalong Ningkan and how they were dealt with and shown the door by the Federak Government for standing up to it.

  12. If Adnan Setem is such a good man he wouldnt and couldnt have survive under Taib Mahmud patronage.The fact that he did and managed to take over control of the Stata should give us a reason to be wary that all is not what it seems to be.

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