2017 has been an eventful year for Sarawak.
It started on a sombre note when popular chief minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem passed away on Jan 11. His sudden demise, just shy of three years since he became chief minister and eight months after winning the state election handsomely, shocked and saddened many Sarawakians, who had come to appreciate his no-nonsense style of leadership and approach to issues like illegal logging, multicultural harmony and state rights.
Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg took over as chief minister two days after Adenan’s passing in what must have been difficult circumstances.
As he told The Star in an interview in June, the state Cabinet members were hopeful that Adenan could recover although his health was deteriorating in the period after the state election.
“He sought treatmeant at our own Heart Centre and I went to see him one day before he died. I did not expect him to pass away after that but God is great, he loved Adenan more.
He passed away on Jan 11 and that was the time when I took over as endorsed by my party PBB as well as our friends in Barisan Nasional.
“Under those circumstances, of course you feel that there is a lot of hard work to be done. I was also thinking how to fulfil the promises we made in the election. But thank God I was one of those who planned the election manifesto and I knew what I was going to do. Those were the circumstances around my appointment, but I took it as a challenge,” he said.
Abang Johari pledged to continue Adenan’s policies, such as pursuing Sarawak’s rights, recognising English as a second official language and reducing the cost of living. At the same time he has introduced his own ideas and initiatives, not least of which is an ambitious plan to transform Sarawak into a digital economy.
In service of this, the state government has committed RM1bil to upgrade ICT infrastructure and plans to nurture start-ups and entrepreneurs in a proposed digital village. It also recently set up the Sarawak Multimedia Authority and introduced the SarawakPay app for cashless payments.
In addition, Abang Johari has set up Sarawak’s own development bank, oil and gas company and education ministry to develop and finance the state’s infrastructure and industry needs.
With these new policies and directions, 2017 can be seen as a year of transition for Sarawak as it moves forward under a new chief minister towards a digital future. How much of a success this turns out to be will depend much on wise and visionary leadership, decision making and stewarding of resources by the state government as well as the people.
Sarawak faced an unexpected public health crisis this year when a rabies outbreak was declared following positive tests on three young children in early July. Altogether five patients died from the disease while a sixth victim remains critically ill in hospital.
Mass vaccinations of dogs and other animals were carried out at the height of the outbreak, which affected Serian, Kuching, Sri Aman and Samarahan divisions, and over 1,500 dog bite cases were given anti-rabies vaccination.
Sarawak can be declared rabies-free if there are no further cases of animal and human rabies for at least two years.
This year also saw political drama when DAP’s Pujut assemblyman Dr Ting Tiong Choon was summarily disqualified from his position by the Sarawak Legislative Assembly in May for previously acquiring Australian citizenship, only to be reinstated by a Kuching High Court decision in June. The Court of Appeal reserved judgment after hearing an appeal over the matter in October.
On the longstanding issue of what constitutes native customary rights (NCR) land, there was no real resolution in 2017 as the state government deferred its long-awaited amendments to the state Land Code relating to pemakai menoa (territorial domain) and pulau galau (communal forest reserve) to next year. In the meantime native landowners lost another legal battle when the Federal Court ruled in October that NCR land cannot be returned once converted to lease of state land and that they would only be entitled to compensation in such cases.
Finally, the arrest of a Sarawakian youth at an airport in Pakistan last Friday, who was found with firearms and ammunition and suspected to have links with Islamic State, is a stark reminder that we are not immune from the global problems of terrorism and extremism. This should be a cue for us to remain vigilant and to keep upholding multicultural harmony and social inclusiveness to prevent extremism from taking root in our midst.
As we enter 2018, let us work together towards a better Sarawak for all.