HE was only 27 when he was sworn in as a State minister of Sarawak on July 22, 1963.
For the next 50 years, with 13 years as Federal Minister and 33 years as Chief Minister, he lived up to his own unique legacy – by being a leader with responsibility, wisdom and vision doing something significant that charted the path of the nation, especially Sarawak, to development.
Abdul Taib Mahmud was born into an aristocratic family on May 21, 1936 in Miri.
He won a Colombo Plan Scholarship to study law in the University of Adelaide, Australia. Upon graduation, he declined the offer to be on the bench as a judge but chose to return to Sarawak to serve as a Public Prosecutor. He brought back with him a barrister’s degree and a young beautiful Australian wife of Turkish descent.
Sarawak then was an economic backwater. Its longest road was a stretch of dirt road from Kuching outwards, schools were ramshackle and the children went to school barefoot, with 5,000 village and longhouses scattered all over the state with virtually no infrastructure.
The task of development was almost impossible, not even the British could do so with their over 100 years of colonial rule.
The turning point of Sarawak’s history was on March 26, 1981 – the day Pehin Sri Abdul Taib was sworn in as the fourth Chief Minister.
It was a time when political instability reigned supreme with members of political parties and state assemblymen leaving one group to join the other.
The state was not only subjected to political vicissitudes with no attempt to elevate its economic stagnation but also had a tense relationship with the federal government.
Against a backdrop of political uncertainty, there was no doubt in the mind of the first (then retired) Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj that Taib, with his impressive track record, would be best man to be the Chief Minister of Sarawak.
The Tunku counted Taib as one of the most capable members of his Cabinet. For Taib, the affable and charismatic Tunku had been a mentor and father figure.
Taib’s years as a federal minister and massive victory of Barisan Nasional (BN) in Sarawak in the parliamentary and state elections allowed Taib to garner support and harness all the strength to develop Sarawak through federal funding.
Taib was innovative and resourceful. He introduced a new policy that is the envy of many – the Politics of Development.
Political infighting whether inter or intra were to be subordinated to economic development because the goal was no longer political fighting but development and economic prosperity for the state.
Through the Politics of Development, the incidence of poverty from a soaring 70 per cent was brought down until it went as low as a single digit. Currently the rate of poverty in Sarawak is 2.5 per cent.
Taib is a visionary leader, not only that, he is a man of action with concepts and ideas. He is methodical and meticulous.
Education is the best leveller in an uneven playing field. Where you start is not important. What is important is how to take opportunities be they educational or economic to make it an even playing field.
This doctrine of levelling the uneven playing field through education, knowledge, entrepreneurial skill was done under the policy of the New Reality, an elevation of the Politics of Development.
Taib brought in Australian universities to Sarawak. Today, in Sarawak there are six universities. His former constituency in Samarahan was converted into an education hub.
Under Taib, the budget for 2013 was RM4.9 billion without taking into consideration federal funding. Sarawak has no external debt. The financial ratings by Moody’s Investors Service and fellow international company Standard & Poor’s gave a consistent rating of 3A, which is comparable with the financial ratings of Saudi Arabia and Petronas.
As a result of Taib’s policy of development, Sarawak’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth exceeded the national average in 1995. To balance development between urban and rural areas, he also endorsed town planning, natural resources planning, large-scale plantations, and Native Customary Rights (NCR) land development. The Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), which was introduced in 2008, aims to diversify the future economy of Sarawak.
Since 1981, the state’s GDP has grown from RM6.5 billion to RM19.7 billion in 1995 and increased further to an estimated RM29.9 billion in 1999.
In the next five years, the state had an average real GDP growth of six per cent, building a progressive society of high quality human capital and good quality of life.
The biggest chunk of Sarawak’s GDP is oriented towards export, which contributed to nearly an RM30 billion reserve.
Taib’s strategy for the future development of Sarawak is Vision 2030 through the development of SCORE.
SCORE’s plan is to bring “the economy into the global supply chain to be part of the whole economic growth.”
The plan is to develop hydroelectric power projects. This will give Sarawak a competitive edge over other countries by providing a cheaper source of energy.
In a ministerial capacity, Taib has the unique distinction of serving with all six prime ministers – the Tunku, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussien Onn, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
He has met in person the last colonial governor, Sir Alexander Waddel, and also served under the first Sarawakian governor,Tun Abang Haji Openg, to the present Head of State, Tun Datuk Patinggi Abang Muhammad Salahuddin.
On February 28, 2014 (today), Taib retires after helming the state government for 33 years. During that period, he has distinguished himself with many firsts — and ranked among his most highly acclaimed achievements must be blazing the trail of development and progress that is unprecedented in the history of Sarawak.
Taib considers his proudest achievement to be in terms of economic development, social integration and industrialisation in Sarawak. But Sarawakians will also grateful to him for another very significant contribution – the constant nurturing, fostering and preserving of racial and religious tolerance and political stability that have enabled the various ethnic and racial communities to live side by side — in unity and harmony — all these years.
He changed the skyline, economic and political landscapes of the Land of the Hornbills but has also left a lasting legacy, reflecting our unique identity and an unwavering resovle to preserve our racial and religious harmony.
Indeed, Taib leaves behind a Sarawak with a place in the sun for everyone — including the opposition.
He is currently married to Puan Sri Raghad Kurdi Taib, an Arab from Syria.
DURING his tenure, Taib has been able to facilitate the cooperation of leaders from different political parties to reach a common political consensus.
Under his leadership, Sarawak BN scored spectacular victories during parliamentary and state elections:
1990 – 17 seats out of 27
1995 – 26 seats out of 27
1999 – all 28 seats contested.
2004 – 27 seats out of 28
2008 – 30 seats out of 31
2013 – 25 seats out of 31
1991 – 49 seats out of 56
1996 – 57 out of 62
2001 – 60 out of 62
2006 – 62 out of 71
2011 – 55 out of 71
These show that Sarawak under Taib’s leadership has contributed tremendously to the victory of BN in the nation in most of the elections.
For Taib’s outstanding and sterling service and contributions to the nation and state he received state, national and also international awards, as follows:
(1) Panglima Gemilang Darjah Kinabalu (PGDK) which carries the title Datuk by Sabah State Government in 1972;
(2) Darjah Utama Yang Amat Mula Bintang Kenyalang Sarawak (DA) which carries the title Datuk Amar in 1974;
(3) Thai Royal Decoration of Knight Grand Cross Award, First Class (KtWE) from the Thai Government in 1979;
(4) Korean Order of Unification (KOU) Award from Korea in 1979;
(5) Datuk Patinggi Bintang Kenyalang (DP) which carries the title Datuk Patinggi in 1981;
(6) Darjah Kartika Eka Paksi Naraya (KEPN) by the Republic of Indonesia in 1986;
(7) Darjah Gemilang Seri Melaka (DGSM) which carries the title Dato Seri by the state government of Melaka in 1988;
(8) Darjah Panglima Setia Mahkota (PSM) which carries the title Tan Sri by Duli Yang Maha Mulia Seri Paduka Baginda Almutawakkil Alallah Sultan Iskandar (DK) Yang di-Pertuan Agong Malaysia in 1989;
(9) Darjah Mahkota Brunei Yang Amat Mulia (SPMB), First Class which carries the title Datuk Seri Paduka by Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan Negara Brunei Darussalam in March 1989;
(10) Darjah Seri Setia Diraja Kedah (SSDK) which carries the title Datuk Seri by DYMM Sultan Kedah in 1991;
(11) Darjah Kebesaran Sultan Ahmad Shah Pahang Yang Amat Dimulia Peringkat Pertama Sri Sultan Ahmad Shah Pahang (SSAP) which carries the title Dato Sri in 1992;
(12) Darjah Seri Sultan Salahuddin Aziz (SSSA) which carries the title Dato by DYMM Sultan Selangor in 1994;
(13) Darjah Seri Paduka Mahkota Terengganu (SPMT) Kelas Pertama, in 1996;
(14) Seri Panglima Darjah Kinabalu (SPDK) Kelas Pertama which carries the title “Datuk Seri Panglima” by the Sabah state government in 1999;
(15) Pingat Cemerlang Delima (Emas) (PCD) in conjunction with the State’s 40th anniversary of independence in Malaysia in 2003;
(16) Darjah Satria Bintang Sarawak (SBS) which carries the title Pehin Sri by TYT Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sarawak in 2003;
(17) Darjah Panglima Pangkuan Negeri, which carries the title Datuk Seri by TYT Yang di-Pertua Negeri Pulau Pinang in 2005;
(18) Darjah Kerabat Johor Yang Amat Dihormati Pangkat Pertama (DKI) by DYMM Baginda Sultan Johor DatulTakzim;
(19) Darjah Kerabat Sri Indera Mahkota Pahang Yang Amat Dihormati (DK Pahang) by Sultan Pahang Sultan Ahmad Shah in 2007; and
(20) Darjah Seri Utama Mahkota Wilayah (SUMW) by DYMM Yang di-Pertuan Agong Malaysia which carries the title “Datuk Seri” in 2008 in conjunction with Federal Territory Day in 2008.
Apart from the above, he also received various awards and appointments as follows:
(1) Semangat Padi (Emas), the Scout’s highest award by TYT Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sarawak Tun Datuk Patinggi Ahmad Zaidi Adruce Muhammed Noor in 1990;
(2) Pro-Chancellor, Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, Aug 8, 1990;
(3) The Honorary Degree of the University of Adelaide by University of Adelaide, Australia in 1994;
(4) Pro-Chancellor, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak in July 1995;
(5) Ijazah Kehormat Doktor Sains (Hon DSc) by Universiti Putra Malaysia in 1997;
(6) Ahli Kehormat Mayo Alumni Association by Mayo Clinic Alumni Association, Rochester, USA in 1998;
(7) Fellow Kehormat Akademi Sains Islam by Islamic Academy of Sciences, Amman, Jordan in 1998;
(8) Ijazah Kehormat Doctor of Technology by Curtin University of Technology, Australia in 2000;
(9) Honorary Doctorate of Leadership by Lim Kok Wing University of Creative Technology, Kuala Lumpur in April 2010;
(10) The Brand Laureate Brand Icons Leadership Awards 2012 by The Asia Pacific Brands Foundation, Kuala Lumpur in 2012; and
(11) Honorary Doctorate in Development Studies by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak in October 2012. - theborneopost