LAST week, many Kuchingites were slightly under the weather.
No, it wasn’t because of GST. It really was the weather. There were several aircraft diversions due to Gusts, Showers and Thunderstorms.
Ok, enough of the GST jokes!
Some flight delays are blessings in disguise. People are grateful that their safety is of utmost importance and usually don’t hesitate to thank the flight crew for that.
I get the opportunity to chat with passengers, some of whom know me from this column.
One gentleman was rather cheeky, asking why there are only “foreign” captains in Kuching.
“You can always hire Dayak captains ba!” boomed the outspoken Dayak politician who’s also a personal friend of my missus.
I reassured him that I was no foreigner. Unfortunately, the “orang Malaya” tag didn’t convince him otherwise.
I didn’t mind that he was blunt. As a matter of fact, he did have a point. Let’s face it – I’m only here because there aren’t enough locals to do the job.
I was equally blunt. I told him the number of “foreign pilots” will dwindle as soon as he can find 25 Dayak captains to replace us, which left him flabbergasted.
I also reminded him that this is the same reason there are too many “foreign doctors” and “foreign teachers” in the state too.
The politician’s concern was that Sarawak’s workforce is inadequate and may attract even more foreigners to the state whenever mega projects are announced.
His main grouse was that foreign engineers will become towkays (bosses) while the locals will again end up as kuli (labourers) in their own state.
This concern received ministerial attention recently when a senior leader encouraged the authorities to procure Sarawak’s industrial needs from the rural workforce.
He was rather hard-hitting, challenging rural folk to cease seeking handouts from the Federal Government and instead, capitalise on their land resources to uplift themselves.
To quote the minister, “begging is no longer an option as the state cannot develop through half-past six bureaucrats or a half-past-six workforce.”
Some people got upset at his statement but as they say, the truth hurts. For too long, Sarawakians have been content with merely filling up positions in the already bloated civil service.
The rest are happy with blue-collar jobs.
Nothing wrong with that, except that this keeps Sarawak’s workforce lopsided with low-salaried positions with the middle class trying hard to eke a living that has since gotten more expensive.
Never mind the bureaucrats and blue-collar workers. Where are the thousands of local doctors, engineers, architects, accountants and teachers to feed the state?
And if I may, where are the pilots?
It’s strange that there’s a shortage of technically skilled people here, hence the unflattering perception that Sarawak depends on “foreign talent” to meet its needs.
When I visited a maritime museum overseas recently, I was pleasantly surprised to view a diorama of “Saribas Dayak seafarers”, depicting the exploratory traits of early Ibans and their maritime technologies centuries ago.
Based on historical fact, one would expect Saribas to have a thriving maritime industry by now.
But where is it?
As early as 1950, Dayak inventors already developed technologies for commercial farming, river milling, textile manufacturing and even the prototype of a flying machine.
Looking at these historical records, one would obviously expect inventors and aviators among the younger generation today.
But again, where are they? Why the gradual decline into a state where dependence on government intervention, BR1M payments and handouts seem to be the norm?
I don’t have the answers to these questions.
But what is clear is this: The challenge remains for the rural people to lift themselves out of the quandary they seem to be in.
Academic achievement must be in tandem with economic and social empowerment for the rural populace to progress and prosper.
Locals cannot simply demand mega projects be given to them just because they are “hardcore government supporters” anymore.
Locals cannot simply expect high-salaried positions just because they pasted a “Sarawak for Sarawakians” car sticker anymore. Or happen to own a MyKad that starts with a K!
They must do more than just wait for a project to hit their land, pocket the compensation and then think success comes in the form of a Hilux.
They must aggressively start pursuing education in all fields.
The strongest resource in Sarawak isn’t its vast forests, mighty rivers, tourist potentials or underground minerals.
It’s the people. And what better time to develop this priceless asset than now with a supportive government, training opportunities and various educational infrastructure?
With a technically-skilled workforce, it’s not impossible that Sarawak eventually attains developed status like Singapore in the future.
Eventually, Sarawak has to chart its own economic destiny in order to realise accelerated growth and income improvement. Technical literacy is no longer an option but a prerequisite to succeed.
The state-wide agenda is clear i.e. to attain economic autonomy through SCORE and an attractive investment climate for human capital development.
Now the onus remains on the natives themselves to make hay while the sun shines.
I leave you with a wise Iban proverb: “Sepemansai batu chanai, enti enda bumai, enda meh tulihka padi” (No land, no matter how big, produces paddy unless you plant on it!)
- The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.
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