Sworn in as Melaka’s 13th chief minister last March, Tanjung Bidara assemblyman Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Yusoh has big dreams of not only improving the administration, but also bolstering the state’s economic growth.
He shares his master plan for the state, how he intends to tackle political criticism, and how the people of Melaka can be like legendary Malay heroes Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat.
Question: What are some of the new policies that you have introduced to improve the welfare and harmony of the people?
Answer: I have introduced several new practices and improvements in the administration. There have been a number of new policies, not just for the people of Melaka, but also tourists visiting the state.
An in-depth study is being conducted by agencies — such as the Public Works Department, the Road Transport Department and local councils — to look into resolving traffic leading into the city centre.
One of the methods is to implement a “no right turn” rule along the Sungai Udang-Paya Rumput-Ayer Keroh Highway straight into the city centre.
We will also introduce a car-free zone, particularly in tourist areas from near Jonker Walk’s Red Square right until the road near Hatten Hotel in Banda Hilir.
The 3km-long stretch will be closed off to vehicles from 5pm on Friday to 5pm on Sunday in stages starting this July.
Q: In your mandate, you told civil servants not to use your name to secure projects. Can you elaborate on this?
A: When I was an exco, there were many instances when my name, or the names of YBs (Yang Berhormat) were used to bid for projects. I felt that I had to be firm on this from the get-go.
I will not allow anyone use my name to get projects without referring to the right source. Even my senior officers will not be allowed to name-drop me as a reference to bid for tenders, whether big or small.
I have also barred state government officials from playing golf during working hours.
Also, complaints or government-related applications must be addressed within two weeks from the date they were received, be it through social media or via official letters to government departments.
All these reports will be recorded and screened, then channelled to the appropriate department. They is being overseen by a unit to ensure that they are resolved within two weeks.
I’ve conducted spotchecks and found that most of these issues have been addressed, including problems concerning clogged drains and traffic jams.
Q: Moving on to politics. In the last three years, a lot has happened in the state until you took over the party leadership in Melaka.
A: In 2018, Barisan Nasional (BN) lost the general election and was unable to form the government. In Melaka, BN only won 13 state seats, two seats short of securing a simple majority.
Then the Sheraton Move happened and the winds of change also affected Melaka, during which I was in charge of the political situation as the BN state liaison chief.
I had thought that if any change was to happen, BN must be given the priority (to form the state government) as we had a large number of assemblymen.
In March 2020, BN worked together with two Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia representatives, giving us the majority to become the government.
Some 18 months later, things shifted once more and the state assembly was dissolved. It was in the November 2021 snap polls that BN was able to win 21 of 28 state seats.
After the 15th General Election, the unity government was formed and this was translated into the state level.
Under my leadership, I appointed one assemblyman from Pakatan Harapan as an exco member, then expanded it by appointing remaining assemblymen who had no positions to become deputy exco members.
As a result, we now have a strong administration. In this government, we have representatives from Umno, MIC, MCA, and Pakatan Harapan.
Through this, we have been able to gather more input and suggestions from all parties to develop Melaka for its people.
Q: How would you rate the potential of your unity government in Melaka? Do you think it will last until the next general election?
A: To me, this is the year of “new politics” in Malaysia. Melaka is one of the states where representatives from all parties form the state government.
But whether the people accept this, we will have to wait until the mandate is returned to them to see if they want this unity government to continue.
It all depends on how we manage this state and how its people can benefit from our policies.
I have outlined plans for this unity government to give the best to its people, including making Melaka more investor-friendly, making it easier for businesses, and creating more jobs and opportunities for local entrepre-neurship.
All this is so the people can feel that the government is being run well. Apart from building a positive image, we also want to ensure that we grow Melaka together.
Melaka has a population of about one million, and from that total, 150,000 work in industrial sectors in the state.
The remaining 750,000 are either civil servants, private sector workers or are self-employed.
Foreign direct investments (FDI) in the state have given great returns to convince the people that the government is managing the state well, and that they are able to make a decent living under this government’s investment policies.
Many of the world’s largest conglomerates have chosen Melaka as their high-tech industrial production centre.
For example, a high-tech company from Germany has opened up 15,000 jobs in Melaka for locals. Of the total, 3,500 are engineers from Melaka.
Q: You have been involved in politics for a long time, but in the past, your playground was in the heart of the nation’s capital, in Bukit Bintang. What made you return to your hometown here in Masjid Tanah?
A: This is where I was born 61 years ago, and where I was raised. I went to school here, and I played here. This used to be a padi field, and at the time, this was a poor village. My parents were rubber tappers.
Then I moved to Kuala Lumpur where I started venturing into politics. I felt that being in the city was luxurious, comfortable and it had complete infrastructure.
When I became Umno’s executive secretary, I saw a chance for me to return to Masjid Tanah.
Initially, I did not have plans to come back. But then my father fell ill. For 13 years, I would drive back to Melaka weekly.
That was when many of my friends in politics “asked for my hand” to stay in my home state.
Q: Are you aiming for bigger positions, perhaps at the national level?
A: Artists will not be able to create good artwork if their heart is not in the right place.
It’s the same in politics. Wherever we go, we must work well. We can create (work) anywhere, but we must give our best for the best outcome.
So whether it is at the federal or state level, we can work to manage (the welfare) of the people anywhere, as long as we are given the space, opportunity and the support of the people.
Q: Being in such a strategic location, Melaka is also historically known for its trading route. How will the state’s development plans contribute not just to its population but also to the country’s economic growth?
A: Even though Melaka is a small state, it has the potential to be even better than other far more developed places.
There is a sea embankment area in the state known as the Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone (M-Wez), which has been gazetted as an economic, tourist, industrial and port zone that can generate growth for the state and the country.
It provides the state with more investment opportunities, hence the idea of making Southeast Asia’s largest cruise and container terminal in Melaka, known as the Melaka Gateway.
InsyaAllah (God willing), this project can be completed two years from now.
Melaka has received 70 bookings for merchant vessels that will be berthing in our waters.
So with this terminal, and a high-standard customs, immigration and quarantine complex, more tourists will come and more merchant vessels will dock in Melaka, creating a new economy in the tourism sector.
This is just one of the aspects under the tourism cluster of M-Wez.
Other sectors that have been given the green light are the deep-sea port and container sectors, apart from various activities in the maritime industry.
Q: Next year is Visit Melaka Year 2024. What can tourists expect?
A: We are revamping the banks of Sungai Melaka and beautifying its corridors.
When Visit Melaka Year 2024 is launched, we will invite Malay-sians to ride the river cruise in Sungai Melaka for free.
Melaka is also now home to a new attraction, where a designer brand has set up its boutique in an airplane at the Freeport A’Famosa Outlet. This will be the first of its kind in the world.
Tourists will also have a chance to visit a hot air balloon festival and the largest kite festival in the world in conjunction with the event at Dataran 1Malaysia in Klebang.
We will welcome e-mobility users, such as riders of electric scooters, to make full use of the car-free zone.
We will promote Melaka as a low-carbon state, and I am engaging with companies interested in setting up electric vehicle charging stations in the state.
The government is also launching the Melaka Super App, an application for visitors to make purchases in these tourist attractions.
This means we are set to also be a cashless payment state next year.
I am expecting more than eight million visitors, but I hope there will be 10 million. Melaka has enough accommodation to meet the demand, and we even have new hotels opening up, including five-star ones.
Q: How do you intend to upliftg the lives of people in rural areas?
A: One of the first things I introduced was digitalising our villages. I find that the delivery and communication systems in Melaka are at the same levels as they were after independence.
Even the addresses of houses in the villages here are using “batu” (mile).
To give you an idea, my address on my MyKad states “Batu 21”. So there are thousands of people living in Batu 21.
We want to restructure the management of the community by numbering the homes.
The state government will work with the National Registration Department to assign numbers to homes within six months to a year.
After that, all correspondences will automatically be updated, including utility bills, banking and correspondence with local councils.
All houses will be given a QR code that can be used as a digital address, and can be shared.
The pilot project for this will be in Masjid Tanah, and I hope it can be a model to be implemented in the country.
I will invite Deputy Prime Minister and Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to officiate the first digital village.
Q: Can you talk about the proposed Melaka-Dumai connection project?
A: The area near the Melaka-Dumai project will be turned into an industrial area.
It is in its planning stages, and our research into the project will be re-presented to the federal government.
The Indonesian government has fundamentally agreed for this project to continue, as it could make Melaka the world gateway for trade and tourism activities into Indonesia.
It will also help complete China’s One Belt One Road initiative.
We have provided 2,023 hectares of land north of Melaka to construct this world-class industrial area.
We are offering industry players the opportunity to collaborate with the state government to develop this.
Down south, we have the Jasin Industrial Park, in central Melaka we have Batu Berendam and Ayer Keroh as free-trade zones, and in the north we will have the new Masjid Tanah industrial zone.
Q: We’ve talked about the development of the state and economic growth. What about flooding? What steps have been taken to address this problem?
A: In Melaka, the flood-mitigation plan in Alor Gajah is in the first phase, and for Sungai Duyong, it’s in the second phase.
We are also improving the flood-mitigation plans in Bandar Merlimau.
The flood retention pond in Krubong-Durian Tunggal will also be upgraded to a dual-function pond for flood retention and as a water source for the state.
The Sungai Putat flood-mitigation project, with a cost of RM72.83 million, is in its planning, design, and construction phase.
The tender for this project will be issued in June.
Q: There have been many disparaging remarks about you when you became chief minister. Do you feel slighted?
A: As a politician, we have to accept this as asam garam (ups and downs) of the job. The greater the leader, the greater the criticism and praise.
So we have to take all of this in with an open heart for us to drive the state forward. All their criticisms and censures will be translated into the visions I have explained. I treat all that as my guide.
I don’t feel discouraged.
It’s normal. To be a leader, you have to be big-hearted, and your vision, too, has to be big.
Only then will the people reap the benefits from our policies. A progressive Melaka, progressive people. The people of Melaka have to be intelligent like Hang Tuah and brave like Hang Jebat.