JULY 31 — Our nation first took note of Datuk Haji Abdul Karim when he requested for the postponement of the tourism tax for Sabah and Sarawak which was to take effect on July 1, 2017.
That started a flurry of exchanges with then Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz, culminating with Nazri labelling Karim a setahun jagung (greenhorn) and samseng (thug).
Nazri, well known for a spectrum of opinions, was also famed for his disdain with disagreements, particularly from persons he deemed of lower stature to him.
Karim, then 57 years old and already a four-term assemblyman, had just joined the Sarawak Cabinet as Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports minister in May.
From 2011 he was the Assistant Minister for Housing and Youth reporting to minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari, better known as Abang Jo (now chief minister).
Earlier Karim had worked for governor Tun Taib Mahmud when he was the chief minister as a political secretary from 2000 to 2005 and as the chief political secretary from 2005 to 2011.
He took over Taib’s Asajaya state seat in the 2001 state election and kept the seat in subsequent campaigns in 2006, 2011 and 2016. A greenhorn he wasn’t.
Karim the samseng?
Karim has been married to Zuraini Abdul Jabbar from Penang since 1997 and they have four boys; two undergrads Haziq (21) and Haiman (18), Harith (16) and Hakeem (11).
I had a splendid chat with Karim recently.
Q. What to your mind are the priority issues in Sarawak’s 18-point agreement?
A. Now this is my personal opinion. Besides the 18-point agreement, I think the oil & gas income distribution is a good start as the funds received will directly affect the pace of the long term state development agenda. The percentage due must also be deliberated from both profit sharing and royalty standpoints.
Education is another very critical issue. It must cover the whole gamut i.e. syllabus, content, teaching staff, administrators, school upkeep, etc. (From his tone and manner, I think he means we must recapture the Malaysian spirit).
Q. Why did Sarawak (and Sabah) agree to the 1976 constitutional amendment rendering the two regions as equal to the 11 states of Malaya?
A. I cannot answer that in a completely factual manner. But seeing as it was 43 years ago, I can only attribute this to mostly our naivety and trusting nature, without necessarily casting aspersions.
At that point we were not really up to speed with the ways of the world when compared to Kuala Lumpur. Nevertheless some answers could also be found from the raison d’etre of the Petroleum Development Act 1974 enactment.
Yes, the configuration started as Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak and this union became the nation of Malaysia.
Q. Your ministry covers a broad range i.e. tourism, arts, culture, youth and sports. That’s a lot of coverage! Share with us an ongoing initiative, say with youths.
A. I am glad you cited youths. Jelajah Belia Sarawak 2019 is a youth dedicated programme which was introduced for the first time in April this year. The roll-out was to 20 districts. The other 20 districts should be covered next year.
The core activities are “Belia Got Talents” where their diverse capabilities can be showcased, motivation presentations by youths who have been successful in various endeavours, plus town hall sessions.
We had planned for between 500 to 1,000 attendees at each district depending on their population base, however in one location two and half thousand turned up.
Was I enthused!
It is open to 15 year olds up to 40 year olds.
Q. Sarawak for Sarawakians?
A. That has never been a clarion call. We have always been inclusive. The only thing we have truly kept out, and we make no secret of it is Malaya’s brand of politics and politicking culture.
I was once at a political party conference in KL and suddenly I heard shouts of Hidup Melayu ringing out all over the hall! I cringed and did contemplate taking a breather outside.
I am of course proud of my ethnicity but we do not shout about it in Sarawak. What will other Sarawakians think? Even worse, how will the minorities feel? Are they going to be overwhelmed? (Clearly he meant race and religion are not political capital.)
We grow up with a guiding principle of “to each his own” owing to our diversity. And that has been embedded. No ketuanan here.
Sarawak has never wavered
As my Grab driver SH Su knew my destination houses several ministries, he asked me who I was seeing.
He continued by asking about the situation with the Pakatan Harapan government and he used “you all” twice before apologising and switched to “West Malaysia.”
He asked how “West Malaysia” is contending with the 3Rs (race, religion and royalty)?
He proudly reminded me that the Rs are non-existent in Sarawak. And he attributes this to the legacy from Pek Moh (Tun Taib) which was steadfastly maintained by Tok Nan (immediate past CM Tan Sri Adenan Satem). But he fears it is creeping in as PAS is quite relentless.
PAS competes in as many state and parliamentary seats as their funds allow. And it matters not even when they know they will lose their deposit. I am told they must retain a presence for that day will eventually come.
Sabah is often cited as an example on how incessant political wrangling can result in a mixed bag of stakeholders causing unending uncertainties. Project IC (mid 90s) is a single most glaring example. Identity cards were issued to selected neighbouring foreigners with the intent to redraw the state demographics to suit ballot box objectives. I cried for Sabah.
The ongoing discussions between Putrajaya and the Borneo states on MA63 must result in a clear devolution of power. The irony of the state of this union is that Malaya, the dominant partner is in a serious state of confusion; Malays having divergent views is now propagated as Malay disunity. And I thought dissimilar views is one of the signs of growing up?
Sarawak, on the other hand, hasn’t wavered. The ideals of the formation of Malaysia is very much intact!
Maybe the negotiators should be looking at Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah as regions. The head of government is based in Putrajaya as the prime minister. The 11 states continue to be helmed by mentris besar and chief ministers.
Sabah and Sarawak heads of the regional governments are known as premiers, after all their state executive branch already comprises state ministers, and not state executive councillors (state exco).
* Datuk Lee Yew Meng is the CEO/MD of Genovasi Malaysia Sdn Bhd.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.