Taib Mahmud – an enigma wrapped in corruption, shrouded by graft?

Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, Chief Minister of Sarawak, has been attracting media attention for all the wrong reasons. It was bad in the runup to the April 2011 state elections, but at the very personal level, it must have hurt the most in December last year.

At the age of 74, white-haired and pruned face, Taib walked down the aisle with his second wife, the 28-year-old Ragad Waleed Alkurdi. He could not have been unaware of some of the ribald and rather unkind comments levelled at him and Ragad. Spring and Autumn, Summer and Winter, Beauty and the Beast are just some of the more printable remarks made about their marriage.

Anyone googling his name online would not fail to read about all the properties and billions he and his family have allegedly amassed not only in Sarawak, but also in Britain, Canada, United States, Australia and many other nations, courtesy of the Sarawak Report.

Those in the interior would also have a chance to tune in their shortwave radio to Radio Free Sarawak which is part of Sarawak Report and based in England, for tales of Taib’s misdeeds.

After 30 years as Chief Minister, it cannot be denied Taib has brought some development for the state of Sarawak. The argument is that if he had put back what he allegedly siphoned out, the money would have propelled Sarawak at least 100 times higher than where it is now, still amongst the poorest states in Malaysia.

Reams of writing have focused on his development plans which he claims have brought Sarawak from an agriculture-based economy to an industrialised one. Economic writers have also written about his second-wave development plans which include the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), and the 12 Dams. Unfortunately, despite all these efforts, Sarawak is the fourth poorest of the 13 states in Malaysia.

Still a mystery after all these years

Who is really Taib Mahmud? A lot has been written about him, his family, and his work but few really know who Taib is. The more that was written about him, the more mysterious he became.

Everyone knows he is the father of four children with first wife, the late Laila who passed away from lung cancer on April 29, 2009. History has shown that as a politician, he is a fighter. He survived the Ming Court Affair, which was a complex plot to overthrow him in 1987, while on the personal side, he is also a cancer survivor.

Ruthless, arrogant, corrupted, superstitious, shrewd, and mean but was also kind, intelligent and firm. These are the qualities that have been attributed to him. But despite all that has been said, Taib is still mysterious.

In the last state election in April, Taib suffered the worst loss, 16 seats out of 71 in his tenure as CM. He was sworn in the same night – as soon as it was announced he had got two-third majority in the state legislature. Hints were dropping all over town by none other than the federal government and Prime Minister Najib Razak himself that Taib’s resignation was ‘imminent’. Reminders were flashed by the peninsula newspapers that Taib had promised to make way for new blood. But to every Sarawakian, Taib will have his job as CM for as long as he lives because he is unbeatable! Invincible!

During the Sibu by election in May 2010, Taib felt the heat again as talk flared that the people wanted him to step down. So worried about his negative pull that campaigners for SUPP’s Robert Law decided not to put up any poster of the Chief Minister in the timber town. Instead it was the Prime Minister Najib Razak and his federal Cabinet that was promoted. But it failed to help. Robert lost to DAP’s Wong Ho Leng.

In the 10th state election, again Taib was hardly seen in the Chinese predominant areas. It is no secret that the community dislikes him because they believe he has abused and carted away too much. In one association function where Taib was the guest of honour, SUPP candidates bluntly avoided him, citing other engagements. Apparently, they did not want to be seen with him for fear it might cost them votes!

When a newspaper showed Taib placing an arm around SUPP Pending candidate, cardiologist Sim Kui Hian, the uncles in the coffee shops shook their heads and sighed that Sim was a ‘goner’. And true enough, Sim lost to Violet Yong from DAP by 7,595 votes!

Should have started giving back at 60

Love him or hate him, no one can deny that Taib has been able to outsmart everyone to sit firmly in his CM’s chair. No one can predict his next move. He has always been a step or two ahead of everyone.

One private practitioner said every time he reads the papers and sees Taib’s face, his heart “goes out” to him. A grandfather himself, the good doctor said he felt sorrowful for Taib. The Chief Minister may have created a vicious web which entraps himself and his family, preventing him from stepping down. And despite all the wealth amassed and a beautiful new wife, Taib is not able to have the time to enjoy them.

The doctor’s view is shared by many of the older Sarawakians, who believe that Taib should have long ago left the maze he created for himself and his family.

A lecturer, who only wants to be known as Jared, mentioned “corruption” when asked to describe Taib, a term that is shared by a large number of people. Jared agreed that no one could understand what Taib wanted to do with his alleged wealth.

“He should have started giving back to Sarawak when he hit 60. Build new hospitals, improve on infrastructure, have better public transport and then go. Then, people would be willing to forget the wrongs he did and he could resign in grace.”

Even Taib’s own people fear and respect him at the same time. One of the leaders in PBB told Malaysia Chronicle that it was the fear of Taib that has glued their party together and it is this fear that has also become the PBB’s strength.

“Where have you heard of anyone badmouthing him in public? Who dares to protest when their names were dropped from contesting? His strongest point is that no one can read him and it would be foolish and dangerous to go against him,” the PBB man said.

Maybe, a student summed it up the best. When asked to give a description of the CM, the answer was “White Rajah of Sarawak”, even though the fact is Taib is not related to the Brooke family. Not at all. – Malaysia Chronicle

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