By John Teo
THERE was something rather touching about a photograph released in the media recently showing Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) chairman Tan Sri Leo Moggie flanked by his two key lieutenants in the national utility and government-linked company.
There are precious few personalities from Sarawak who have climbed as far and high as Moggie up the national political and corporate ladder. All the more remarkable given that Moggie is an Iban, a community which, while predominant in Sarawak, is very much a minority nationally.
Moggie did not come this far by being merely a useful token representative of a minority group. Although he was certainly a token and sole representative in the Federal Cabinet from the Iban and even the wider Dayak community for many years, he certainly made his mark on the national scene as much by being the quiet and, therefore, perhaps more effective political operator as by being a skilful navigator of the often treacherous political terrain, both in his native Sarawak and nationally.
This writer had a rare opportunity recently to sit down with Moggie for more than an hour at his TNB office in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. Although the meeting was over a matter unrelated to him, there was a fair bit of reminiscing about matters political and otherwise. Odd as it may seem, given Moggie’s long career in politics, he evinced little enthusiasm for the cut and thrust of politics, admitting politics was perhaps the inevitable if somewhat reluctant calling thrust upon him as it did countless others from the nation’s pioneering, Merdeka-era generation which enjoyed the privilege of a foreign higher education.
Two critical political junctures marked out Moggie’s career in politics. Perhaps especially painful was the falling-out with the late Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Ming whom Moggie challenged for leadership of the once politically-dominant Sarawak National Party (SNAP), now defunct.
In retrospect, Moggie has kind words of Wong, suggesting that perhaps the latter’s incarceration under the Internal Security Act gave him a larger-than-would-otherwise-be sense of entitlement to be president of the party he built up with Sarawak’s first chief minister, the late Tan Sri Stephen Kalong Ningkan — despite the near certainty that Wong’s move would have torn SNAP apart and eventually destroyed it.
If not for being egged on by the best and brightest of Dayaks who formed the core of SNAP’s membership then, Moggie most likely would have been personally disinclined to challenge Wong. Moggie, then leading Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) created in the wake of the falling-out with Wong, had perhaps his best chance of leading Sarawak when he and his party-mates threw their lot in with a disaffected group from Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), challenging Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, then the chief minister, in the mid-1980’s.
Moggie might have been chief minister if only the PBB defectors had not made such a dismal showing in the snap state election that was then called. PBDS and its ally had won 20 of 48 state assembly seats with PBDS itself taking three-quarters of that tally.
All those political miscalculations and frustrations would easily have embittered lesser men. Instead, Moggie now seems far more comfortable in his own skin as that rare Dayak high up the national corporate totem pole.
Moggie in political retirement has been instrumental in the formation of the Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry and displayed some dark humour when he revealed a lament to then prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in the wake of corporate bankruptcies following the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 that Dayak businesses did not even get the chance to face bankruptcy then simply because they were non-entities to begin with.
Moggie’s quiet lobbying saw the natives of Sarawak and Sabah no longer so marginalised from being lumped together under the all-encompassing category of “Bumiputeras” and today enjoying a sub-category as “non-Muslim Bumiputeras”.
That said, Moggie today remains a powerful and inspiring symbol of the possibilities for Dayaks under the Malaysian sun. Moggie’s technocratic savvy is second to none. His political skills have been well honed and tested. As a member of a national minority, he would obviously be most conscious of and particularly adept at building trust and respect in the upper-most echelons of corporate Malaysia. Moggie’s stellar rise is testament to the fact that a self-confident and self-assured Dayak can be a true Malaysian patriot and leader as well. Malaysia sorely needs more leaders from minorities in his mould and with his calibre. – New Straits Times