Chief Minister for all

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I HAVE to say a week of State Legislative Assembly argy-bargy did raise my blood pressure a little. My family doctor said “not high” but it is a little above your “allowed level”.

It was probably due to the newsroom stress with the overwhelming number of stories to go through every day but mostly it was anguish over the time so dishearteningly wasted by the nonsensical utterances from some members of the august House.

I have to salute the Speaker for keeping the House in order – either by subtly telling off members who contravened the Standing Orders or turning off the mics of those members who went overboard with their overbearing rant.

Of course, there were good speeches and debates. And it did strike a concordant chord when Ali Biju (PKR-Krian) suggested the Chief Minister consider “changing or loosening” the policy on allocations for minor rural projects (MRP), now given to only Barisan Nasional (BN) elected representatives.

It was a gentle and unostentatious nudge from this YB who used words like “consider” and “loosening”in his request for MRP funding to improve the welfare of the people, especially in the rural areas.

He said – and quite rightly too – that “fair administration, especially in the allocation of MRP funds by the state government, will be respected and acclaimed by the people from all walks of life.”

“The most important thing is that the people can enjoy together the richness in the state fairly, regardless of political affiliation,” Ali stressed.

My memories hacked back to a year ago when I was travelling with the Borneo Post Adventure Team (BAT) to the Highlands in the northern region of the state.

Whether in Bario, Baram or Ba Kelalan, the people depend on generators for power which they normally switch on from 6pm to 10.30pm, and in some places, till midnight.

In these far-flung, yet hauntingly beautiful outbacks, taking a bath at night usually means pouring icy water on your body. Refrigerators and ovens – the most basic of equipment in any kitchen – are mere pipe dreams. The significant difference between a BN Bario and a PKR (opposition) Ba Kelalan is the phone connectivity. In Bario, there is a telecommunication tower, allowing people to call and SMS all day long. And for this (necessary) convenience, the BAT team were quick to remark: “Thanks to our own Bario boy, Dato Sri Idis Jala, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department”.

In Ba Kelalan, with its assemblyman from PKR Baru Bian, the connectivity with the outside world depends on one old man to “switch on the generator installed at his lodge.”

You can forget about Internet connectivity – yes, there is Internet at the community centre – mostly to test your patience.

But the hardy people in the interior are not unhappy poor souls but, in fact, happy and friendly people. They are generously endowed by the nature with blue skies, scenic mountains, crisp fresh air, crystal-clear cool streams, oxygen-rich green trees and sustenance from nearby forests.

But it does not mean we should take them for granted. It would be foolhardy to assume rural people follow the political leanings of their village heads or leaders lock, stock and barrel. They may not be all that well-connected but don’t underestimate their intelligence as they know what they want – a better future for themselves and their children.

Yes, they deserve basic infrastructure development such as roads, electricity, water, medical facilities, education institutions and telecommunications.

As Ali rightly pointed out, the discretion of the Chief Minister and the concern shown by the latter for the welfare of the people would mean a better life for the rural folk.

This was echoed by Baru Bian who said: “With a very fair and new Chief Minister who is very concerned about fairness and justice, I think he should be bold and courageous to depart from the usual practice and give this (minor rural project) allocation to all. With justification, Ali said in the rural areas, the people were also paying taxes, including GST.

“They realise they have the right to available funds from the government because it is their money anyway,” he added.

Indeed, the BN should not penalise the people for exercising their democratic rights by choosing the opposition. Even allowing for such a premise, there are, undeniably, many voters who are still BN supporters.

Malcolm Mussen Lamoh (BN-Batang) was confident the state’s commitment to rural development, as expounded by the Chief Minister, would augur well for the natives of Sarawak.

If that commitment includes the people who have chosen an opposition to represent them, I stand by Mussen’s claim that the natives of Sarawak “remain unwavering in their beliefs, hopes and expectations that their livelihood will improve with higher income, better job opportunities and more efficient public service in rural areas across the state.” In his first press conference after being named Chief Minister in 2014, Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem expressed the hope that the opposition – despite their political differences with the government of the day – would accept him as the state’s chief executive, representing all Malaysians, in particular, Sarawakians.

In this context, one year down the road, Ali had declared in the august House that “we (PKR) always support the government’s policies that are beneficial to the people.”

On his part, Adenan had said he had learnt from his predecessor that “if you are the Chief Minister of Sarawak, you are not the Chief Minister only to the Malays or the Chinese, or the Ibans, Bidayuhs or Orang Ulu. You are the Chief Minister to all, including those in the opposition.”

He has said it not only once but twice, thrice and umpteen times throughout this one year and two months as the Chief Minister.

At that packed press conference on February 14, 2014, he also used the English saying “when you are on to something good, you stick to it.”

I believe with his wisdom, fairness and determination to make a difference during his watch, Adenan will stick to whatever is true, whatever edifies, whatever builds and gives hope to the people and to Fairland Sarawak.