Abang Johari proves his mettle after four years leading Sarawak
By Hamdan Ismail and Ahmad Syabil Sultan Noordin Ahmad
KUCHING,. It was four years ago on this date that Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari stepped into Astana Negeri Sarawak, which was once the official residence of his father, Tun Abang Openg Abang Sapiee, who was appointed the first Yang Dipertua Negeri of Sarawak.
Dressed in black baju Melayu complete with samping, his presence there on the auspicious date in 2017 was for a different purpose as he was to be sworn in as Sarawak’s sixth chief minister.
Unlike his predecessors, Abang Johari who was 66 years old when he was entrusted with the position as the state’s chief executive, the role was given to him unexpectedly following the death of Tan Sri Adenan Satem on Jan 11, 2017 which brought a profound sense of loss to the people of Sarawak.
In acknowledging Adenan’s service and dedication to the people of Sarawak, he was posthumously presented the Pingat Satria Bintang Sarawak (SBS), which carries the title Pehin Sri, the highest award conferred by the state government.
Though Adenan’s passing shocked and took the nation by surprise, following his death the administration of the state proceeded smoothly without any disruption.
As it had been for over the past three years, the political situation had remained calm and harmonious and it was a smooth transition when after 48 hours of Adenan’s passing, Abang Johari stood before the Yang Dipertua Negeri of Sarawak Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud at Astana Negeri to take over the position to lead the state government.
With 40 years experience in the Sarawak government, it was no surprise that Abang Johari would be able to leverage on the state’s rich natural resources and bring new success to Sarawak.
In the initial stages, Abang Johari’s ability was often compared to those of his predecessors but despite the comparisons, he remained focused on ensuring that his appointment is to represent the 2.8 million population in Sarawak, who all yearned for development and progress in their state.
At several official events, Abang Johari had often expressed that he is the chief minister of the various ethnic groups in Sarawak, pledging to carry on with the good policies introduced by his predecessors, as well as formulate new policies that can take Sarawak to greater heights.
Abang Johari’s commitment to the state is undeniable, especially in fighting for Sarawak’s interests, rights and position with the establishment of the Special Council on the 1963 Malaysia Agreement (MA63) to ensure that the rights of Sarawak remain protected as enshrined in the agreement.
This special council, will be able to resolve several issues which are still pending, in relation to the rights and position of Sabah and Sarawak, in line with the spirit of MA63 and the provisions of the Federal Constitution.
Seven months after he was sworn in as chief minister, Abang Johari reached an agreement to acquire the entire equity interest in Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd (SHSB), which owns and operates the Bakun Hydroelectric Plant (HEP), from the Ministry of Finance Inc and Federal Lands Commissioner for RM2.5 billion.
The SHSB acquisition enables the State Government and Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) to have full ownership of all electricity generation facilities in Sarawak, making SEB more flexible in optimising the management and operation of electricity supply in the state.
Following this, on May 11 2017, Sarawak Development Bank (DBOS) was established with the aim to finance infrastructure projects, which cover renewable energy projects, road and bridges, education and healthcare, modern agriculture, communication and transportation systems.
Abang Johari then continued with his initiatives which led to the establishment of Petroleum Sarawak Berhad (PETROS) in August 2017 to develop the oil and gas industry in Sarawak.
In efforts to further diversify the state revenue through alternative financing strategy, Sarawak imposed a five per cent sales tax on petroleum products effective Jan 1, 2019 as a new source of revenue to support the state’s development agenda.
Recognising the current wave of change in moving towards the digital world, he ensured that Sarawak was always on the right track with the introduction of the Digital Economic Policy in line with the mission to achieve developed state status by 2030.
Sarawak has now transformed from traditional economy to digital economy with the usage of smart technologies in the agriculture, tourism, health, e-commerce, government, transportation and social sectors.
The efforts were coordinated through the formation the Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA) and the Sarawak Digital Economy Corporation (SDEC) in 2017, the highlight of which was the introduction of the e-wallet application better known as Sarawak Pay, to encourage cashless payments among the community.
In addition, Sarawak ID, the digital identity system, was also introduced to provide a simpler, easier and more secure access to the government’s digital services.
It is impossible to list down all the initiatives and achievements made by Abang Johari since he was sworn in as Sarawak chief minister four years ago but the fact remains, Abang Johari has the ability to carve out new success for Sarawak, especially in achieving the target of becoming a high-income and developed state by 2030.