Taib may have found ‘true successor’
Little known former state forestry director Len Talif Salleh, who holds many of Taib Mahmud's deepest secrets, is now a serious contender for the Sarawak's chief minister's post.KUCHING: Many believe that the leading contenders to succeed ageing Chief MInister Taib Mahmud are his Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) party information chief, Adenan Satem, senior vice-president Awang Tengah Ali Hassan and its deputy president Abang Johari Tun Openg. But others, however, think that the trio are only for show.
According to these soothsayers, when the time comes – in two or three years – for Taib to step down, it will be Len Talif Salleh who will step into his shoes.
They said although it was obvious that Taib is grooming Adenan, 68, by giving him important portfolios in the new state cabinet, it was now increasingly likely that Len Talif, who is from within Taib’s family circle, may now join the list of contenders.
Len Talif retired in March to contest in the April 16 state election.
Following his success, Len Talif was appointed as assistant tourism minister, assistant minister in the chief minister’s office, and assistant resource planning and environment minister.
He is not only a Melanau, but also a close relative of Taib.
As a civil servant, Len Talif was well-known and most feared in the civil service as he was not only appointed to several key posts, but also held many of Taib’s secrets.
But politically not many even in Sarawak know who Len Talif was until and when he delivered his maiden speech at the recent sitting of the State Legislative Assembly.
Elected on a Barisan Nasional-PBB ticket in Belawai, Len Talif’s aggressive style in delivering his speech caught the attention of his fellow BN state representatives as well as the opposition leader Wong Ho Leng and his band of 14 other opposition-elected representatives.
Newcomer to politics
From the onset, Len Taliff, a newcomer to politics, had caught the eye of the opposition because of his style.
He clashed with the opposition members during the maiden speech.
“You shut up. This is my floor,” he said to an opposition member who wished to seek clarification when he (Len Talif) accused DAP of being racists.
Despite constant reminders by the Speaker, Asfia Awang Nassar, to Len Taliff to discontinue his speech as the time given to him had been used up, the latter continued his tirade against the opposition.
The Speaker could do nothing.
Had he been one of the opposition speakers, his microphone would have been switched off. That is the kind of character Len Talif is.
In another instance, Len Talif showed his potential when Adenan, Minster with Special Functions, could not answer a question from the opposition regarding timber certification from the European Union (EU) which sought to ban timber from Sarawak if it did not comply with conditions imposed in the certification.
Len Talif stood up and told the assembly that the EU was not a body that issued the timber certification.
His instant answer saved Adenan. This prompted Adenan to say that he would recommend to Taib to have him appointed as assistant minister.
Of course, Len Talif knows about the certification. After all, he was the former director of forests.
Besides holding the post of director of forests, Len Talif had been in charge of several important government departments and agencies.
Among the positions he held simultaneously were chief executive officer of Sarawak Forests Corporation, (SFC), the general manager of Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC), the deputy permanent secretary to the planning and resource management ministry and chairman of Tanjung Manis Integrated Port.
He was also given four other special tasks.
All these departments, corporations and ministry are extremely important because these agencies are the ones that are involved in multi-billion ringgit worth of projects, resources such as land and forest products including timber.
Described as a man with “super human ability” by his peers, Len Talif joined the Forestry Department soon after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in forestry in 1979.
His right connections saw him rise rapidly in the department, sometimes overtaking some of the senior officers.
Usually civil servants would not challenge a minister.
But this is not the case with Len Talif. He has challenged and rebuked Ministers.
In one instant, he ticked off State Land Development Minister James Masing for his remarks on the logjam along the Rajang River last year.
Masing had blamed excessive logging and timber operations in Ulu Baleh for the logjam.
Timber, logs, timber parts and other debris that had accumulated over the years were pushed into the rivers by heavy rains causing massive logjam from the the Rajang River tributaries.
Tonnes of fish and marine life perished, while thousands of residents along the rivers were cut off from river communications.
But Len Talif chided the minister for his remarks. He blamed the change of weather as the culprit for causing the logjam.
He said it had nothing to do with logging and timber operations in those areas.
Of course, everyone knew that the excessive timber operations were the cause, but Len Talif dared to lie and challenge the minister, because he has the support of the chief minister.
Masing from there on has held his tongue.
Another character of Len Talif worth noting is that just before he retired as director of forests, he was alleged to have approved several timber licences in water catchment and native customary right (NCR) land areas.
Many of these licences are questionable, as legal suits are being filed by NCR landowners to challenge the issuance of licences in those areas.
The question of issuing timber licences before the state election was raised by a Sarawak PKR assemblyman See Chee How in the recent state assembly sitting.
But the Speaker disallowed any discussion on the issue.
But the questions that have been nagging the minds of the people are: why did Taib bring him to politics? Why did Taib make him an assistant minister holding important portfolios other than to train him to take over the leadership?
Could he be the man who will succeed Taib?