Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem in London on Tuesday and the day after, continuing his style since taking over from his predecessor and ex-brother-in-law Taib Mahmud, continues to say all the right things. They continue to be music to the ears of the environmentalists, other activists, the Orang Asal and even the Opposition.
In fact, he has even taken the wind out of the sails of the Opposition, being in the forefront with them, indeed away from the stand taken for so long by his ruling Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).
In giving the benefit of the doubt to Adenan, although he's a product of the very party and system under attack, we can best say that he may have realised belatedly that it cannot be business as usual in Sarawak for his administration. However, recognizing the need for change and being committed to that change are two different things.
We know all the usual cliches about actions speaking louder than words and the proof of the pudding being in the eating.
But let's move beyond that.
Adenan hasn't so far merely agreed to disagree. He's in fact agreeing. But will anything come out of this or will it remain mere rhetoric and polemics? The prognosis could have been better on Tuesday night at the Malaysian High Commission in London.
Adenan gave a good speech, reiterating key points expressed before, but his arch critics and his own people did not applaud him when he touched on logging and the construction of dams. There wasn't even a smile on the faces of Doris Jones Yapp of the Sabah Sarawak Union (UK) which runs the Sabah Sarawak Keluar Malaysia FaceBook Campaign Page. Likewise, Sarawak Report Editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown and Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) Executive Director Lukas Straumann listened in stony silence along with the Penan activists. Obviously, they were not convinced or at least remain to be convinced. The clichés mentioned earlier refer.
Clare was told that the ban on her against entering Sarawak "should be considered lifted". Was that a poor choice of words or a deliberate one? If deliberate, does it mean that the paperwork on removing her name from the blacklist must go through some unknown bureaucratic formalities or that Taib, who was the one who banned her, must first be consulted on the matter? Adenan was silent on the fate of at least 70 other people blacklisted during Taib's 33 year rule. Some of these people have been on the blacklist since 1986 when Taib first began wielding Sarawak's so-called autonomy on immigration matters.
Adenan, like Taib, cannot claim that Sarawak has autonomy in immigration matters. Nothing is further from the truth. Immigration is on the Federal List. The immigration powers of the Prime Minister can be delegated, but only to a certain extent, to the Chief Ministers of Sabah and Sarawak. Likewise, the immigration powers of the Home Minister can be delegated -- to a certain extent -- to the State Secretaries of Sabah and Sarawak. What do we mean by "to a certain extent"? It simply means the authorities can, to protect local jobs, impose the work permit ruling against Malaysians from the peninsula wishing to work in Sabah and Sarawak. The authorities in the two Borneo states can also impose the work permit ruling against Malaysians from their respective states wishing to work in a Borneo state where they are not citizens.
Still, despite the "to a certain extent" caveat, we know what has actually been happening in Sarawak, Sabah too in some cases. Adenan, in that sense, has been no different from Taib in abusing the Immigration Act in cahoots with the Prime Minister and Home Minister. The Prime Minister and Home Minister cannot delegate immigration powers which they can't delegate.
So, how much is Adenan really in charge and is there a Taib factor which continues to dog his administration? If Taib is not a factor, why was he allowed to become Sarawak Governor as he demanded?
Adenan himself has been busy banning Malaysians from the peninsula on the grounds that these "extremists and racists" must be kept out of Sarawak. Those banned so far have been activists and Opposition politicians. Except for Perkasa's Ibrahim Ali and controversial lecturer Ridhuan Tee, there's no evidence that the others are "extremists and racists". In fact, the evidence is that the extremists and racists come from the Barisan Nasional (BN), the very coalition in which his BN Sarawak is a member.
For starters, Adenan doesn't have the power to ban anyone as already illustrated, and even if he did for argument's sake, his bluff can be called on the matter.
Again, we come back to the Taib factor.
Patently, Adenan did say that he's in charge, apparently touching on a point of much cynicism and skepticism about his administration. His critics know that there's only so much that he can do, given the lack of resources behind him and the fact that Taib has built up a powerful feudalistic dynasty and a formidable war chest.
The very people surrounding Adenan will probably allow him to play at being the Chief Minister that the people want, knowing that public sentiment is with him not only in Sarawak, but also in Sabah and the peninsula. In fact, so great is his popularity, that the people would even consider him as the right candidate to replace beleaguered Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to "put things right" before 2018 when the 14th General Election would be held. This is not about indulging in wishful thinking and living on hope as the critics may think. This is called thinking out of the box.
The bottomline is that although Adenan has projected himself as the solution to the problem, it must be conceded that those who are part of the problem surely cannot be part of the solution.
PBB, in particular the Dayak-based Pesaka component, is part of the problem and along with Adenan, perhaps.
Adenan's strongest card against the Taib factor and his administration.
The Sarawak Chief Minister must keep in mind that his fiercest critics didn't applaud, didn't even smile, when he pledged yet again to stop logging and the conversion of NCR land into huge oil palm plantations. Neither did members of his own administration.
The onus is on Adenan to prove that he's indeed part of the solution, not part of the problem as the public perception may well indicate. In the end, this might be Adenan's strongest card against the Taib factor and members of his own administration, Pesaka in particular, who remain stumbling blocks.
An early indication of Adenan's strength would come when we see Doris, Clare and Lukas turn up in Kuching, followed by the 70 others on the blacklist including those banned since 1986. We pray that the lifting of the ban didn't come too late for some of them. Quite a number of them are married to Sarawakians. If the ban on them is not lifted, or not lifted in time, the only way that they will return to Sarawak is in a coffin.
The true test of Adenan would come when he's willing to face critics on his home turf. He doesn't have to do anything else for now, or even later, since he's unlikely to succeed to make good on many of his pledges.
In short, Adenan has to merely prove himself on intentions i.e. he's saying what he means and means what he's saying. It's unlikely that Adenan would be faulted in the Court of Public Opinion if he can demonstrate that he meant well and acted in good faith in the greater public interest.
It would be a bit far-fetched to see Taib and members of his family being hauled away to the Court on money laundering charges, as critics expect.
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