Malaysia is looking at Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman. Will he take the reins that history has graciously given him to change the future of one of the most poorest state in Malaysia? Some analyst have conducted polls on the popularity of states run by Barisan National state governments and Musa Aman is one of the best. If he wants a place in the history of Malaysis’s fractured politics, he can bid for it. But it is not going to be easy.
One cannot help feeling tickled with the poll predictions that the media toyed with before the results of the Batu Sapi Parliamentary elections came pouring in. Most of them were far off the mark. Sometimes, the media would do well to look into the mirror and accept how poorly prepared it is. Even in Sabah where the majority is illiterate, unemployed and poor, voters can vote for change and hold out a candle of hope for democracy. The golden rule in old-fashioned journalism of yesteryear’s was that if a journalist had his ear to the ground, he would hear the tremors. But in the age of Google and Facebook, the way most journalists get information has changed.
More than anything else, the Batu Sapi Parliamentary election screams at journalists asking them to see beyond stereotyped valuations of sociology, race prejudices and ideology. Politics can often teach us simple truths about how truth is what someone somewhere wants to hide and the rest is all advertising. But journalists went around quoting Anwar Ibrahim and Taiko Yong Teck Lee and pretended it to be analysis. After all, both had mastered the art of offering unsolicited election arithmetic in the last twenty years.
Taiko Yong Teck Lee, the rich kid from Lahad Datu who kept talking of how he was just a lawyer, learnt new lessons when the results came pouring in. He could not use “Sabah for Sabahan” battle cry anymore to win elections as the poor wanted change. They wanted development, roads, schools, employment, law and order. Taiko Yong Teck Lee gave them none of these when he was Chief Minister. The investment that he started with his buddy Datuk Ambrose Lee for Sabahans – ‘Saham Amanah Sabah’ or SAS – got him into international headlines as he advertised himself as so caring for the needs of Sabahans, has been in shambles. Once the ink dried on the headlines, he was not bothered, the shares became worthless papers. When he was out as Chief Minister because of the rotation, he was out because of the Likas Election Petition, foisted his friend, Tham Nyip Shen, within minutes. There are many miracles in Sabah politics, but this had no parallel.
There is no politician in Sabah who used the media like Taiko Yong Teck Lee did. With his typical buffoonery, he attracted both the print and electronic media who ate out of his hands. His shirt, his “stylized” hair cut, his sideburns, his deliberate regional accent, all were lapped up. His rustic jokes and pranks were blown up by the media showing him up to be a lovable people’s leader. The media almost showed him as a social engineer whose only passion was social justice for Sabahans.
But, fifteen years down the road, the state of Sabah was appalling, until Musa aman came into the picture when he was Sworn-In As Sabah’s 13th Chief Minister 27 Mar 2003. It is the poor who have no say while the rich and the politically connected, run a diktat. So do illegals who have gotten Malaysian identity cards compliments to Mahathir, criminals, timber thieves, gangsters and political touts. Sabah’s per capita GDP in 2009 was just RM. 14830 when it is RM. 29569 for Penang. Musa needs to do all he can to get the Federal Government to give him more funds. He will have to reform public administration and insulate the bureaucracy political interference. Only then will he be able to insulate himself from daily governance and concentrate on the larger picture of salvaging his state from the depths it had fallen since joining Malaya, Singapore and Sarawak in 1963.
It is certainly not going to be a cakewalk for Musa Aman. Today, he heads one of the most poorest states of Malaysia that is caught in a whirlpool of political depravity. The state had crumbled before he took over, even Yayasan Sabah could not pay wages to its staff, quasi government bodies like KPD and SLDB were milked dry by top officers. Kidnappings for ransom continued in the east-cost around the seas in Semporna by Abu Sayafs. But after Musa Aman took over the state everything changed, its better now a world of difference. Even the annual real per capita income of Sabah of RM 14000 is about halve of the national average of RM 22000 and its improving.
It is not that Kuala Lumpur ignored the reality of Sabah. There were reports, but not enough. Unless KL politicians travel and live in the interior with the natives, there will only be superficial reports that are basically hearsay of planted stories by vested interests.
Musa Aman’s assurance that he will change the focus in Sabah from politics to economics and development, is heart warming to say the least. He has raised millions of hopes not only in Kota Kinabalu but every corner of Sabah since 2003. He will now have to work against all odds to get to change the way we all see and feel about Sabah.
What the voters in Sabah were looking for is governance. Voters told themselves that it was pointless to waste their votes on anyone or any party that would not give them anything in return. So they voted for change. It is now pointless for political pundits to sit in air-conditioned office and proclaim that the phantom voters and illegals was responsible. Or some ridiculous analysis. We must accept this truth.
And that is the greatest hope for Sabah. The Batu Sapi Parliamentary elections showed us what the poorest of the poor could do when in an election booth. They wanted Musa assurance not so much the PBS which was contesting the seat.The electorate was actually desperate and wanted someone who would rescue them from a present, which seemed to be heading towards a bleak future. They no more wanted to be a part of a failed state. I remember how on one of my visits to shoot news stories in Sekong, I had my cab driver telling me to pack up early as he would not drive at night as the night belonged to the illegals. The bridge I was walking was falling apart.The clinic had no medicines and patients were lucky if they had doctors attending to them. But hundreds of poor people were being transported for a rally in Sandakan. The visual of a poor emaciated woman trying to pick up plastic bottles strewn in a ground after the “ceramah” haunts me as if I saw it yesterday.
I had interviewed Late Pitting Ali just outside his sprawling house and he asked me counter questions to every question asked. There was arrogance in his voice as he mocked every question that came from the feeling that an illiterate and poor populace would never have the courage to stand up and show him the door. Typical USNO mentality.
Musa now has to put the fear of law into those who thought it was land that was created for illegals. He will have to inspire the bureaucracy that has been numbed by years by the Federal. They have to be allowed to get back their self-esteem and pride in building a state and infusing it with their commitment and vision. He will have to seduce industrialists into investing and that is not going to be easy either but so far he has done a fantastic job. There is just too much of cynicism. He will have to sweep in literacy although its in the hands of the federal, as that is one great hope for Sabah. It is just that it will take a decade for the results to show and its showing. Development indices have to start climbing the graph which is climbing from the time he took over, glad to say that.
Musa has to learn how to humor the coalition. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is silently waiting in the wings. It is desperate for more power in the state as it wants to pull Musa down. It knows that its base in the state is slowly eroding and openly criticizing the Chief Minister, stating they did not have confidence in and cannot work with the State leadership. Its president Datuk Liew Vui Keong openly criticized Chief Minister Musa Aman when Liew said that Musa is obliged to look after the interest of Barisan Nasional component parties in exercising his prerogative power, as though Musa does not know this. Liew knows that Musa, as the BN chairman and Chief Minister had the prerogative to chose who he wanted to appoint into his cabinet but Liew ignores this fact because of his dissatisfaction following the appointment of my good friend PBS deputy president Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai as the deputy chief minister on March 23. Sure this appointment paved the way for PBS to have two deputy chief ministers in the cabinet, but what else can Musa do, these two were the best, Pairin and Dr Yee. Desperate for tasting power, LDP will want its own agenda addressed and it might not go well with Musa’s plans to run the state. If Musa is not careful, sooner or later, the LDP in its typical style will try to dominate the bureaucracy and other potent centers of power and undermine his leadership in the state.
Musa can look towards Penang chief minister, Lim Guan Eng, who is rapidly changing the face of Penang bringing in investment, creating employment, infrastructure and also working on improving the poor development indices. Guan Eng never even seemed like a politician when he took reins over the state and critics said that he was lucky that his father, Lim Kit Siang, was there for him. But the son has done far better than the father ever did though he was such a seasoned leader and politician.
Musa knows that he carries a heavy weight on his shoulders. He has to tame a bureaucracy that has forgotten how to work. He has to bring in fiscal discipline. He has to take unpopular decisions. He has to be tough in implementing law and order. He has been in power for many years now, and the honeymoon period with the electorate is over. Now, it is time to act with courage and determination.
And with courage and determination he manage to talk to Premier Najib to scrap the plans to build a coal-fired power plant near a Borneo wildlife reserve, a move environmentalists praised as a landmark effort to curtail projects that threaten rain forests sheltering endangered animals. Musa Aman, announced that the federal government had decided not to construct the 300-megawatt coal plant, which many feared would be a major source of pollution.
If not for Musa, the RM 1.7 billion ringgit plant would have been built on the site of an oil palm plantation, about 12 miles from the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, home to Borneo pygmy elephants, rhinoceros and orangutans.
Musa knows very well that Sabah needs to increase its power supply to meet the increasing development, but he also knows that the state cannot afford to put its natural environment at risk. Now he has to seek other ways to fulfill Sabah’s energy demand, which is expected to increase by up to 8 percent annually.
There could be a new dawn in Sabah. Musa has got a chance in a lifetime. If he loses this, history will never forgive him.