KUALA LUMPUR: The formation of Malaysia 54 years ago brought about many economic opportunities and fresh employment for the people of Sarawak which they had never enjoyed before, said Sarawak Yang Dipertua Negri Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud (pix).
He said through Malaysia, Sarawak, as a state with a very high number of ethnic groups, had also undergone an experience to adapt themselves as citizens of Malaysia.
“This is not easily achievable but in 50 years, we have been able to strongly convince that the unity of all the ethnic groups in Sarawak is complete.
“And they have also regarded themselves as Bumiputra who are on par with the Malays in the Peninsula,” he said in a special interview recently with Prof Datuk Seri Dr Syed Arabi Idid.
Taib said that for the people of various ethnic groups in Sarawak, all Bumiputra privileges had been well-received and this had provided a lot of benefits especially to those from the rural areas.
The Yang Dipertua Negri said the ethnic groups of Sarawak who resided upstream of rivers had also been able to change their way of life to that of a modern one.
“They regard themselves as citizens of Malaysia who have ample access to job and educational opportunities besides being able to travel to places outside Sarawak such as the peninsula and Sabah as ordinary citizens,” said Taib, who was Chief Minister of Sarawak for 33 years, before being appointed to the present post about three years ago.
“This shows the wisdom of the late Tunku Abdul Rahman (Malaysia’s first prime minister) who united us in a new nation which has profited all quarters whether in Sarawak, Sabah or Semenanjung (Peninsular Malaysia).
“Nowadays, we see those people who lived in longhouses in the past, are already working in Johor, Kuala Lumpur, in fact, anywhere where there are job opportunities, by using their expertise,” he added.
He regarded this as the most important achievement of national integration which was based on a person using economic opportunities.
Taib said the government could speed up the people’s adjustment via employment which was related to the country’s economy, adding that it was also very important to unite the people in the state.
“So, we in Sarawak are grateful to Allah because we managed to see our children being regarded as citizens of Malaysia wherever we are, whether in Sabah and in the peninsula, in general.
“We are confident of a wider form of development which will create more opportunities for participation in the economies in Sabah and Sarawak.
As such, I feel, after 50 years, we can say our effort to form a nation and a Malaysian people has achieved tremendous success”.
He, however, stressed that the foundation which was still important for the economy of the nation was the capability to produce goods and services for the economy of the world.
For this, the people of Malaysia must have an attitude of wanting to venture into commerce and seek opportunities everywhere globally, he said
He said that his main aim in returning to Sarawak in 1981, after ending his tenure as a federal minister, was to diversify the economy of the state from its great dependency on petroleum and timber export.
During the interview, Taib often stressed on the importance of creating employment opportunities nationwide because it would escalate national integration.
On the philosophy of politics of development, which was the fundamental core of his administration when heading the state, he said it was aimed at shifting the focus of the people from politicking to economic activities especially in the rural areas.
The state government encouraged investors not to neglect the interior areas while the rural people were also told to play a more aggressive role in rural development.
Taib also wanted the people of Sarawak not to be over-protective over matters of land because the land they possessed would not bring them profit unless they agreed that the land be developed.
Taib, who first served with the federal government under the first Prime Minister the late Tunku Abdul Rahman and then his successor the late Tun Abdul Razak (Hussein), was also asked about the two leaders.
“I am a great admirer of Tunku Abdul Rahman. Not many saw his big contributions. He took care of the people’s attitude towards the government and inter-community relations.
“He was a very subtle man. He read the mood of the nation well and he knew the feelings of the people,” he said.
He also said many were of the opinion that Tunku was not very sensitive in evaluating the situation or people.
“But the Tunku had an instinct. He looked soft but actually he was very firm, firmer than what people thought of him”.
“He did not want to get involved in details, which he left to Tun Razak and for matters related to security, to Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman ( the Home Minister then).
“Tunku was a kind man. He taught me many things. He was not an ordinary kind of politican, he spoke in simple language but with a style. His advice to me was … slowly, slowly, slowly Taib … Don’t do things too fast”.
On Tun Razak, Taib said: “He was very, very hard working. Tun Razak was a “man on the go” all the time. He was everywhere and he was tremendous, could detect what was going on; what was good and what was not good”. — Bernama
Prof. Syed Arabi is a former Rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia and is now Professor of Communications at the same university.