Sarawak plays its unbeatable hand
Can anyone say no as the state pushes for more autonomy?
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Sarawak Premier Abang Johari has been chest-thumping lately. “There may be more major entities that we will take over in 2024,” he was quoted as saying on New Year’s Day. He continued with that rhetoric recently, teasing that the state would acquire another entity.
At press time, Sarawak is looking to seal the takeovers of Bintulu Port and MASwings, the rural air services arm of the Malaysian Aviation Group, which also runs Malaysia Airlines. The state is also looking at upping its stake to 20% in Bursa-listed financial institution Affin Bank.
Abang Johari and his supporters are using the Malaysia Agreement 1963 treaty to reclaim what they believe to have been lost to them due to federal politics. He has made some inroads.
The Bintulu Port takeover is one example and, earlier, he managed to wrest 5% of sales and services tax (SST) on petroleum products sold in the state from Petronas. The SST, by his own admission, has significantly contributed to the state’s coffers.
Under Abang Johari’s leadership, Sarawak also made it into the high-income-state club, ranking higher than Selangor and Penang, per World Bank’s standards. Paradoxically, it remains among the country’s poorest.
As the chief minister continues with his ambitious transformation plan, up in the air is whether wealth will continue to be redistributed to every Sarawak citizen or remain in the hands of the elite. Here are four developments to watch:
Sarawak wants to export up to 1,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity to Singapore. The Malaysian federal government has given its blessings. To execute the project, the state will build undersea cables that’ll run through Indonesia to supply Singapore with power. The main power generator? The state’s hydroelectric dams.