By John Isaac
THE “winds of change” which blew Barisan Nasional out of Putrajaya in 2018 could make its way to Sarawak, but a leader of the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak coalition is confident that Sarawakians will appreciate the state’s track record.
It has been five years since former Sarawak chief minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem led the ruling coalition to a sweeping victory, winning 72 of the 82 state seats up for grabs.
Following Adenan’s death in 2017, there was a change of leadership and the “rebranding” of the ruling coalition.
According to reports in FMT, a new contender for power has arisen in the form of Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB), a local opposition party led by heavyweights such as former state minister Wong Soon Koh and Selangau MP Baru Bian.
“We can’t take anything for granted. What happened in the peninsula could happen here,” said Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jafaar, a member of the supreme council of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), the lynchpin of the GPS coalition.
State assembly elections are due in Sarawak this year, but this seems out of the question at the moment because of the emergency and the Covid-19 situation, where longhouse communities in particular have been hit hard.
Still, GPS is confident Sarawakians would appreciate the string of development projects that have been implemented despite the Covid-19 spike in the state, Wan Junaidi said.
“In terms of Covid-19 management, we did all we could. You need to look at the achievements of this government now.
“I don’t want to undermine all the other chief ministers before this, but Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg provides the most strategic and most fruitful leadership I have seen in my 40 years of politics in Sarawak.
“Before this, we saw agendas only being implemented sporadically or in a fragmented manner, not systematically. But Abang Johari changed that.”
He said the state government’s major achievements included getting Petronas to pay over RM2 billion in sales tax for oil products extracted from their shores.
In the settlement between Petronas and Sarawak, the national oil company agreed to pay RM2.95 billion after a long legal tussle.
It is estimated now that the state would be able to collect RM3 billion in SST from its oil annually, money which it said would be used to finance development projects over the next five years.
Wan Junaidi said this can be viewed as Sarawak attempting to reduce its traditional over-reliance on funds from the federal government.
He said the state government needs at least RM140 billion to fully develop Sarawak, and that this was not an impossible sum for them to raise.
GPS is using some of the revenue from the SST payments to fund the 86km Northern Coastal Highway, formerly known as the Pan Borneo Highway phase two project, he said.
The project involves the construction of seven bridges across major river crossings, and is in various stages of implementation.
“It serves the whole community in the coastal area – the Malay, Iban and Melanau communities from Miri to Kuching,” he said, adding the project will serve as a vital link to the northern districts of Lawas and Limbang, which are potential oil and gas “goldmines”.
In addition, the state government has started the water grid project, which Wan Junaidi said will take place over the next 10 years. It aims to provide uninterrupted water supply to rural Sarawak.
On the coalition’s ties with the federal government, Wan Junaidi said GPS will continue to support the federal government, without being part of the Perikatan Nasional coalition.
“But the first agenda for us is for Sarawak,” he said, adding that it was in Sarawak’s best interest that the state and federal governments are aligned.