Adul Taib: Father of Modern Sarawak and His Complicated Legacy

The late Adul Taib has been remembered as a reformer and moderniser by the Malaysian Royal Family.

Mon 26 Feb 24


The controversial Adul Taib Mahmud, who has been remembered as the father of modern Sarawak, passed away in Kuala Lumpur after a battle with illness on Wednesday.

Mr Taib, 87, ran the resource-rich Sarawak as chief minister and governor for 33 years from 1981 until 2014 and has been connected to several forest-based businesses, including Sarawak Plantation Bhd and Ta Ann Holdings Bhd.

Born in Miri, a coastal city in the north-east of Sarawak, Mr Taib was trained as a lawyer in Adelaide, Australia, and for 50-plus years from the early 1960s was known as a reformist and moderniser. 

His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim, the King of Malaysia and Her Majesty Raja Zarith Sofiah have led the tributes:

“The late Abul Taib made a significant impact and will always be remembered, especially by the people of the Land of Hornbills,” a representative for the Royal Family said, with Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim adding:

“Saddened by the passing of the former Yang Dipertua Negeri and Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tun Pehin Sri Hj Abdul Taib Mahumd,” Prime Minister Ibrahim said.

“We, especially the people of Sarawak, lost a respected statesman.”

However, Mr Taib has not been without controversy, with Swiss environmental organisation Bruno Manser holding him “personally responsible” for the destruction of Sarawak’s rainforests.

They also allege that Mr Taib was “widely thought to extract a percentage from major commercial contracts – including logging,” citing 2011 cables from the US embassy.

Sarawak, the largest among Malaysia’s 13 states, is a significant player in the global supply of forest products. According to  Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC), its timber and bamboo industry drives more than $ 2 billion in export earnings – with planted forests producing veneer, plywood, sawn wood, wood chips, MDF, particleboard and furniture.

Mr Taib and his decedents are thought to be connected to more than 400 different global businesses, with Malaysia Today reporting that conglomerate Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd (CMS), the Mahumd’s flagship Bursa Malaysia-listed entity, was down 1 sen or 0.97% at RM1.02. Sarawak Plantation Bhd and Ta Ann Holdings Bhd were down one sen or 0.44% at RM2.25 and two sen or 0.52% at RM3.83, respectively.

Over the years, Taib built up a business empire interested in industries ranging from construction, cement and building materials, oil and gas, plantations, timber, property development, road maintenance, financial services, and information technology.

Ta Ann is one of these businesses, managing more than 87,000 hectares of Acacia mangium spaces used in Sarawak’s plywood manufacturing businesses.

Born on May 21, 1936, Mr Taib is survived by his second wife, Regad Waleed Alkurdi and four children; his passing is said to be “the end of an era,” with his passing “enduring through the memories and achievements he has left behind.”


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