Taib Mahmud was the federal-level Primary Industries Minister in charge of oil and gas when the Petroleum Act 1974 was passed by Parliament.
KUCHING August 29, 2012: Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s turnaround on the oil royalty issue after 31 years in power and the fact that he preferred “private” and “amicable discussions” with the federal government have raised more questions.
Uppermost on the list is whether Taib and his predecessor and uncle, Abdul Rahman Yakub, had knowingly “surrendered” Sarawak’s rights over oil and gas to the federal government.
Sarawakians who have read Taib’s biography – “A Soul You Can See” – written by Douglas Bullis and who remember their history, would recall that Taib was the federal-level Primary Industries Minister who was in charge of the nation’s oil and gas resources.
This being the case, was Taib responsible for the lopsided oil agreement and the Petroleum Development Act passed in Parliament in 1974?
The Act was passed following a confrontation between Opec (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) and oil companies over oil price policies in 1973.
Expounding on the 1973 “crisis”, Taib was quoted by Bullis as saying: “By 1973 I realised Malaysia and the oil companies were headed for a confrontation over their purchase price policies.
“There was too much take and too little give, and Malaysia’s people have an ethic based on balance,” Taib had said in page 88 of the book.
“Eventually I came up with the idea that we should base Malaysia’s oil concession policy on shared production agreements.
“Naturally I was snubbed by oil companies who claimed the Malaysian government was moving towards nationalisation.”
Bullis said that it was obvious that Malaysia’s post-1974 policy on taking control of Malaysia’s petroleum interests from oil companies was largely Taib’s works.
It is well known in Sabah that its then chief minister Mustapha Harun and his successor Fuad (Donald) Stephens refused to sign the oil agreement giving 5% of oil royalty to Sabah, but Sarawak under Abdul Rahman was said to be “too willing” and signed the agreement.
But the question is: Did the nephew and the uncle “surrender” Sarawak’s rights over oil and gas to the federal government in order to please the then prime minister Abdul Razak in return for political and financial support?
At the time there were incessant allegations by the Parti Pesaka anak Sarawak president Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng that the Ibans were shabbily treated by Abdul Rahman and Taib.
Abdul Rahman was also facing an “internal rebellion” against his leadership from within Pesaka, which had by then (in 1973) merged with Parti Bumiputera to form Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).
At the point of signing the oil agreement, Sarawak was said to be politically unstable and needed the support of the federal government.
Could history be the reason why Taib has been silent on the royalty issue during his 31-year tenure as chief minister? And why he has been compliant to Umno in the peninsula, having pumped millions into its coffers?
What off-the-table deal did Taib and Abdul Rahman eventually strike with the federal leadership that allowed them to sustain Sarawak’s “independence” as opposed to Sabah’s “colonialisation” by Kuala Lumpur?
What has now compelled Taib to call for re-negotiations on the oil royalty issue?
It certainly cannot be fear of losing his grip in Sarawak because he has already won the state election held in April last year.
If it is the parliamentary election, Sarawak BN coalition is unlikely to lose more than 10 of the 31 parliamentary seats. And that too the losses will come from Chinese-based Sarawak United People’s Party, Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party and Parti Rakyat Sarawak. Less likely will it be from Taib’s own PBB.
So what then is compelling Taib to go to the “private” negotiation table? What cards will he pull and how will he keep “wanting” Umno away from Sarawak?