Politics aside, you could probably count Musa Aman as a rather popular personality. No other state’s population rallies around its Chief Minister as does Sabah for Musa Aman. Sabahans are proud of the national appeal he has, and the bad press that he was given in the early days of his chiefministership does not really matter to them. We must look at why that is.
The first thing we observe is his charisma. He is the most talented politician of his generation, if by talent we mean the ability to attract people to him. The connection he has with his audience is almost unmatched. He is one of the three best communicators in Malaysia, the other two being Anwar Ibrahim and Mat Sabu.
All three men has also been known to combine humour, drama and colloquial speak. All three, and not accidentally either, are entertainers. Performers of high calibre. Musa is very comfortable with large crowds. His quality can only by hinted at to those who don’t understand and speak Sabahan Malay. He speaks Sabahan Malay, touched by the accent of neither the rough parts of Keningau and Beaufort, nor the urban slang of Kota Kinabalu.
The second thing is that he is not a race/religious-based leader. Like Lim Guan Eng and Azmin Ali and unlike Tan Sri Adenan Satem, and Shafie Apdal, or even Salleh Said Keruak, Musa’s electoral popularity does not come from belonging to a community. Musa is a Dusun/Pathan from the Gunsanad family originating from the Sundang, the Sodomon family in Keningau and the Aman family from Beaufort. It is not numerically significant in Sabah in electoral terms, and not a vote-bank he can rely on. In any case he neither makes reference to it, nor does he have the reputation for promoting fellow Dusuns or Muslims. Despite his Dusun background, he has been able to rally around him the votaries of Muslims, which in Sabah are mainly the majority.
The third thing is that he has it together organisationally. His attention to details can be compared to the Former Penang Chief Minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, who was as meticulous in running his everyday administration as Musa is. I have never been admitted to Musa’s office for an appointment a single minute later than scheduled. If he says he will meet you at 8, it will be exactly then when an assistant comes to fetch you from the waiting room.
His fourth quality is the ability to judge which events are likely to be popular, and jargon that will and can capture the imagination. This is an important political talent in a nation where slogans are used everywhere. On admittedly a much smaller scale, in this sense he is like Anwar Ibrahim, who through his career coined words and phrases that did not exist before, such as “Professor Kangkung” and “Pandi Kutti”. Musa’s contribution are things like “Halatuju Sabah”, and “Vibrant Borneo”. He can encapsulate much meaning into a couple of throwaway words. And he can get the media to use them, a sign of success. And it is true that there have been other great organisers who became chief minister of Sabah, like Tan Sri Harris Salleh.
Hence, it is rare that any politician is really able to embody all four elements –charisma, broad appeal, organisational ability, and political talent.
Even the most contentious issue, the 5% oil royalty, which has been a source of unhappiness to every Sabahan since the Petroleum Development Act of 1974 and how Musa a Sabahan views it, is so profound. Musa is certainly aware that it is time to review the oil revenue-or profit-sharing agreement between Sabah, the federal government and Petronas, the national oil company. Presently, the federal government is the sole shareholder of Petronas.
The Petroleum Development Act of 1974 came into play after Petronas signed the first production sharing contracts with Shell, Exxon and other foreign oil companies in 1976. Under a complex mechanism, Petronas sets aside 10% of gross revenue from oil and gas production for cash payments to the federal government and oil-producing states. Out of this money, the federal takes half and the states keep the balance. The Federal Government gets a flat annual dividend of RM 28 billion. Last year it got 30 billion ringgit out of a profit of RM 63 billion. Sabah expects about only RM 800 million in petroleum royalties this year.
But, it receives about four times more than its 5% oil royalty from the federal government for its social and infrastructure development under each succeeding five-year Malaysia plan. Federal grants are estimated at about RM 350 million. The state has got slightly more than RM 10 billion to carry out 424 projects under the first phase of a rolling plan of the 10th Malaysia plan which started last year.
So hear this very carefully, Sabah contributes a little more than a quarter of Malaysia’s crude oil production of about 635,000 barrels a day. Petronas’ profits over the years from Sabah’s oil and gas could be in billions up to now. So, it is not late for The Federal Government to consider more participation of Sabah State Government in Petronas itself which is raking the billions from Sabah. Converting Sabah’s share of oil and gas revenue into equity with Petronas will be very fair. Start with 20%, let Sabah government have 20% ownership in Petronas.
This does not in anyway cause any financial burden to the Federal Government, Petronas will just have to issue share certificates to Sabah State Government and there is no cash transaction. And every year instead of “cash payments” or “royalties”, Sabah would receive dividends as shareholders with Petronas. Besides, Petronas continues to be profitable and is the most diversified company having investments in almost every corner of this world and Petronas is the only company in Malaysia which is a Fortune 500 company. Last year, the conglomerate paid RM 5.4 billion in “petroleum proceeds” to the federal and state governments.
Giving Sabah a stake in Petronas would surely help their integration in Malaysia. After almost 50 years, it is still not too late to start. This would certainly help to diminish Sabahans’ sense of loss of their natural resources.