KUCHING: The possible diversion of the Pan Borneo Highway to bypass Brunei is a potential “life-saver” for Sarawak’s rural population by improving access to healthcare and economic activities, says Works Minister Baru Bian.
Welcoming Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s announcement on the possible diversion, he said it reaffirmed the ministry’s view that such a diversion of the Miri-Lawas-Sindumin road was necessary for a number of reasons.
“The diversion of the highway will open up the interior of Sarawak for agricultural activities and business opportunities for the people living in the vicinity.
“There are several longhouses in the area and the residents will benefit from the connectivity that this diversion will provide,” he said in a statement yesterday.
Baru also said the proposed diversion would boost tourism by making it easier to travel to attractions in the area.
“Places such as Mulu, Mount Murud and Batu Lawi have huge potential for tourism, especially the latter two which have not been promoted as tourist destinations,” he said.
In addition, Baru said the bypassing of Brunei would make it easier for patients from the rural areas of Baram, Bario and Ba’Kelalan to get medical treatment in Miri Hospital.
He noted that patients from these areas who need critical care currently had to cross Brunei to reach Miri Hospital.
“This is a problem as not everyone holds a passport. The alternative is to be flown by helicopter, which is out of reach for most.
“Patients from Lawas needing critical treatment currently have to go to the hospital in Kota Kinabalu and this is an added stress on the hospital in Sabah.
“The much-needed diversion therefore is potentially a life-saver for the people of northern Sarawak,” Baru said.
For Limbang, he added, the proposed diversion would be a lifeline as it would go through the town, bringing a much-needed boost to economic activities there.
At present Limbang is bypassed by a highway from Miri to Temburong in Brunei.
On Monday the Prime Minister said Malaysia and Brunei reached an agreement that the Pan Borneo Highway would not go through Brunei after taking into consideration factors such as cost and immigration issues.
Dr Mahathir also said the government was now studying alternative routes for the highway project to connect Sarawak and Sabah.
Baru said the Works Ministry started to look at the best alignment for the diversion and he would personally monitor its progress.