WITHIN a week of the appointment of the state ministers, the new state cabinet assembled by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem was rocked by a salvo fired from within its rank.
Newly appointed deputy chief minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing took everyone by surprise when he questioned Adenan’s appointment of Dato’ Sri Wong Soon Koh, who is partyless, as Second Minister of Finance.
“I’m still curious which party is re-appointed Second Finance Minister Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh representing,” he told reporters who met him at his new office on Monday.
However, in raising that question, Masing showed his ignorance of the state constitution as it was never stated that an assemblyman must belong to a political party to be appointed a minister.
State Constitution 6 (3) B: reads…He (TYT) shall on the advice of the Chief Minister appoint not more than 10 or no less than four members from among the members of the State Legislative Assembly.
State BN secretary-general Datuk Dr Stephen Rundi Utom also stressed that Wong’s appointment was based on the said constitution above and on the fact that he is a BN man.
It is obvious that the State Constitution is silent on the affiliation of an assemblyman in the appointment of ministers; hence, by objecting to Wong’s appointment, Masing had raised a storm unnecessarily.
Apparently to pre-empt the legitimatising of Wong through the merger of his former party United People’s Party (UPP) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP), Masing also questioned the Barisan Nasional (BN) status of the new entity if both parties agreed to merge.
Masing argued that the merger would result in SPDP having to change its name, and by so doing, it is similar to a newly-formed party that has to apply to become a member of BN.
This would put the new party in the same predicament as UPP and Party Tenaga Rakyat Sarawak (Teras), which were kept out of the coalition as it could not get the unanimous consent from all the BN component parties.
Masing, who is also Party Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president, was quoted as saying that “We cannot change the rule of the game just to accommodate one person. BN rule is very straight. That is why we had been very strong over the years. If you don’t follow the rule, you get out”.
Such abrasive language from a senior politician from within the BN has caused disquiet among many people and political observers.
Academician Associate Professor Dr Jeniri Amir of Unimas said Masing should not have questioned the chief minister’s decision because cabinet appointment is solely his prerogative.
“Those appointed by the chief minister to be members of his cabinet are based entirely on his prerogative. So, if a member of a cabinet questioned the appointment of another member, he or she is questioning his boss in public.
“This is not right because the chief minister has an executive power to appoint any member who has been duly elected by the people in the last state election. What’s of utmost importance now is that they must start work and to focus on how to implement the promises made during the election,” Jeniri told The Borneo Post yesterday.
Jeniri pointed out that it was imperative for Adenan to form his cabinet as soon as election was over so that he could start implementing the policies that he had promised during the election.
“Adenan must have taken into account all sectors based on his wisdom and those appointed too must be based on their proven track record and merits.
“Now with their appointment, they have to work for the rakyat regardless of which political affiliation they belonged to. This is no longer a time for politicking anymore as the rakyat has enough of it during the two weeks of campaign,” Jeniri pointed out.
A veteran journalist agreed with Jeniri saying it was beyond Masing’s jurisdiction to question the decision of Adenan in appointing Wong as minister.
“The chief minister has made a decision on who he wants to be part of his team. So Masing as one of the deputy chief ministers should start to work instead of asking why Wong has been appointed.
“As a deputy chief minister and minister of infrastructure development and transportation, he has responsibilities now especially on the needs for proper planning and implementing more roads for Sarawak instead of engaging in political rhetoric,” said the journalist.
The journalist also noted that Masing seemed to be skating on thin ice by stirring up the racial sentiments when he told Chinese Sin Chew Daily that “it was the Chinese who gave up the DCM post.”
Masing was quoted by the daily to have said “if during this state election, Sarawak Chinese had given their full support to BN to deliver all the Chinese seats, it is believed that a Chinese DCM will be appointed.”
“This is clearly racist and also stirring up the sentiments of the Chinese who have made a swing back to BN in this election winning eight of the Chinese seats to BN fold, two each in Kuching, Sibu and Miri and one each in Bintangor and Sarikei,” the journalist said.
“Masing’s statement puts his boss Adenan in a very awkward situation when Adenan should be thanking the Chinese voters for their strong support and having faith in him.
“Sarawakians hope that Masing will be a DCM for all, not a DCM for Dayaks only. Or else should Sarawakians expect Adenan appoint more than 20 DCMs to look after each of the races?” the journalist added.
As the president of PRS, Masing surely knows his party’s history by heart. And as the offshoot of the defunct Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) which was one of the political parties involved in the infamous Ming Court incident to oust former Chief Minister (now TYT) Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.
However, after the failed coup-de-tat, Masing and the rest of PBDS leaders were forced into the opposition camp until they were finally admitted back into the BN fold in 1994.
In fact, PBDS was dissolved twice, firstly in 2003 and secondly in 2004 due to leadership crisis between Dato Sri Daniel Tajem as the PBDS president and Masing as the challenger. The de-registration of PBDS has given rise to the formation of PRS, which was subsequently accepted into the BN fold once again.
So by Masing’s logic that BN is about exclusive, PRS should never been allowed into BN.
And, also by Masing’s wisdom, if BN were to stick firmly to family business, that is only ‘family’ members are allowed, then his party PRS should never been an exception.
Ultimately, politics is about gaining the support of the people. You are strong because the people support you. The elected representatives were elected by the people and they want to support BN, it is illogical for BN to close the door to them.
No doubt the spirit of BN is an element, but it is not convincing enough to put a dead end to elected assemblymen and political parties who genuinely want to serve the people through BN fold.