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Stay sharp please, messrs YBs


We do not expect superhuman efforts from our people’s representatives, just an honest one.

THE time of electioneering is over. The new assemblymen are in the State Legislative Assembly. They now have to take up the mantle and carry the people’s trust. Twelve new ones. The rest are re-elected members.

So as they walk into the August House, what new direction do they want to bring Sarawak to? Certainly those that voted out SUPP expect change. That was the battle cry of DAP and PKR, the ones that replaced them. So what needs to be changed?

Indeed there are pertinent, if not critical, questions to be asked if Sarawak is to raise its standard. How does it want to move forward?

It was announced by the Boston Consulting Group that Singapore has 15.5% of all household having at least US$1mil in assets under management in 2010. That is one in every six families. In absolute numbers that is 170,000 families. That is just monies in deposits, money market funds, listed securities, on-shore and off-shore assets. It does not take into account their principal residential home.

So what does the above figures indicate? Certainly it means there is a great level of wealth creation in the city state. Not bad for a state that does not have anything by way of resources. More importantly, it shows that there is an immense level of pushing of wealth to the lower tiers of society and everyone has a chance of making it rich.

The Competitive Advantage of Nations (by Professor Michael Porter) states how a country like Singapore lacked depth in its economy. However, it has time and again been able to re-engineer itself. It is now a hub to bio-engineering multinational corporations. In just three years, and with just two casinos, it is ready to challenge Las Vegas for the number two position as the gaming centre in the world.

So why should these figures bother our YBs and the Cabinet?

Sarawak is the centre of the world’s hardwood production. Seven of our companies perhaps have a stranglehold on the world’s industries in that sector. Initially, one million hectares were set for tree felling in Sarawak. The area has been opened to two million. Sarawak Forestry stated that in the first quarter of 1999 alone RM2.9bil of Sarawak’s RM9.66bil of export was from this sector. Then we should expect the pushing of huge amount of wealth to the lower tier of the industries such as sawmilling, cabinet- and furniture- making, wood treatment etc.

Yet there does not seem to be any of these small industries sprouting from this major producer of wealth. Why is Sibu always stated to be a town of depopulation if it is the centre of the world’s hardwood timber?

What is the state’s policy to push more SMEs to participate in this industry? Why is there the constant grumble that there is no timber for the small independent sawmillers?

Should not Sibu have a college or a university with syllabus catered to this industry?

Another area of grave interest to all Sarawakians is the handling of the NCR land issue. For too long the issue has been neglected. In many cases vast tracts of land have been alienated to “palm oil planters” and with the title in hand, for it only to be flipped to the genuine planters.

With this in hand the genuine planters are the ones who go into the land to face the NCR claimants, hence the often heard clashes in the jungle. One armed with a provisional leasehold title, the other the NCR claim of generations gone-by. The first time the longhouse dwellers know that their land has been flogged off is when tractors move into their land.

Who are those entitled to apply for these land? Who are those entitled to claim for state land? Why can’t the state auction these land, or do an open tender? Like in Singapore.

Townfolk in Sarawak also need to understand the subjection of land to Section 47 and 48 under the Land Code. It is right that there is a need to reserve to the government such powers in the Land Code. However, the definition of “public purpose” under the Land Code under which the government can acquire land, is so far reaching that it could be any reason under the sky.

Further, the section could be emplaced without limitation of time, hence the Jalan Bako problem and the death knell of SUPP (one of it, anyway).

On what basis will the government impose S47 and S48? What right has the original owners participate in projects on their land? Under what circumstances will the government give contractors charge over these land that enrich them immensely?

Low-cost housing is another area which is becoming a stand-off. When Native Area Land is developed converted to Mixed Zone Land, 30% have to be sold to natives and 30% have to be under RM80,000, marketed as low-cost plus houses.

Developers who have seen prices of commodities escalated do not see any profit in this area. Ways have been found to circumvent this price control such as entering renovation agreement, but lately such action has been frowned upon by banks and federal lending institutions. Developers are caught in a bind.

Should public housing be the duty of the government? Perhaps just as public transport should be the area of the government as well? At the least, other players such as Sesco, water boards, and Telecom that profit from the industry should share the burden. Not just the developers.

Town planning can be a baffling area in Sarawak. Instead of creating wealth some areas are decimated.

The Gambier Street market is an area in point. It is the heart of Brooke legacy. It was the convergence point each day for hundreds of vegetable and meat vendors. Thousands converge on it from Petra Jaya by way of the perahu tambang. It was also popular with tourists; a glimpse into the local liveliness. Now in place we have the Kuching Esplanade.

In spite of petition by the Sarawak Heritage Society and numerous other people, the building was torn down. It would have been all right if the replacement was an economic stimulation or money creating project, but it is alas a walkway. Lessons ought to have been learnt from the Kuching Waterfront. It was designed not to create livelihood. It annihilated the businesses of the shophouses across the road along Main Bazaar for nearly a decade.

Similarly, the shophouses across the Esplanade along Gambier Street will now suffer for the next few years before they re-engineer their business.

Town planning is a subject difficult to fathom. Previously it was stated that the Central Padang was to be made the centre of town and low-rise only was to be built in the area. Hence the joint venture between LCDA, BDC and Court Square Sdn Bhd to build Banking Chambers and the Merdeka Mall. It was supposed to be a low-rise where one could stand at Central Padang and look across to the Kuching Waterfront with only the five-storey suite in the way.

That objective is obviously forgotten as in its place now there is the new hulking 12-storey Merdeka Plaza. There goes the idea of former Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Michael Manyin to create a Unesco heritage site out of Kuching. Issuance of a high-rise within the peripheral area of the Unesco site in Penang almost cost the state its Unesco status. (Modern structure of certain height is disallowed by Unesco within the cultural core site or peripheral area).

Security is another issue our YBs will have to look into. Snatch theft is of major concern to the extent that people actually fear to travel to certain areas of Kuching. The thieves/robbers attack with impunity. What are the police doing to prevent this? If the YBs say that this is Federal matter, then the people will say that they are only evading the issue. Police investigation into thefts and break-ins are almost always for statistical purposes. Do we need organised vigilante?

Another issue is that of job creation. Why are there over 40,000 Dayaks in Johor alone? Why are there so many Sarawakian specialists in Singapore hospitals? It must be accepted that migration goes on in every country. Malaysians move to Singapore and Australia. Singaporeans move to Australia and Australians to the UK. But what hurts most is when SPDP has to move to the peninsula to recruit members. What’s all these stories about job creation in our massive projects, first Batang Ai, then Samajaya, and now SCORE. Are they really successful? What is the benchmark?

Are we developing the right areas of the economy?

Modernisation of agriculture? Stimulation and modernisation of small and medium industries? What are the benchmarks? How are the ministries performing?

With all these issues around, it is now up to the YBs to start answering fundamental policy issues. It is not enough to do the local government’s job of looking into potholes and blocked drains.

Is there a clogged economy? Do we need to de-centralise policy making? Decentralise project approval? Do we need to hold each ministry to a benchmark?

The setting-up of a shadow Cabinet was a move in the right direction, but before it could get off the ground PKR squabbled among themselves. What are our YBs in the government doing?

I have read a part of a YB’s debate on the amendment of the Land Code in the August House. He said: “It is a piece of brilliant legislation by the government.”

He forgot to tell the house what was so brilliant about the legislation. The standard of the debate has to rise with the Bakun River, that is to say, by a large margin. Otherwise, the August House will become a funny house.

And keep the record of all debates intact, please. Lawyers need to read the hansard to understand the objectives of legislations. Oh, yes, our YB is now an assistant minister.

YBs from both sides of the political divide must realise that inside the House they are legislators, not politicians. No antics for political mileage. Policy matters. Implementation matters. Not political matters, please.

At the local government level, the government must push for better standards for the councillors. From experience, some are sorely lacking in that aspect. Only then can stronger authorities and powers be pushed to them. Only then can local councils play their part in enhancing development. Currently their functions have been diminished, and much have to be brought back to the Local Government Ministry. Lacking in funds and authority is a fatal restraint on the local government.

So to the new YBs, “With great powers come great responsibilities.” (Peter Parker’s uncle to his nephew aka Spiderman.) However, we do not expect superhuman effort from our YBs, just honest effort. Stay sharp!

The contributor is an ex-councillor of Samarahan District Council and a practising lawyer and a social observer and he can be contacted at thomasongadv@yahoo.com.my

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