PONTIAN: It looks like a little dot on the Johor map and for the next two weeks, Tanjung Piai will be under the microscope of every other Malaysian.
The Tanjung Piai parliamentary constituency is made up of fishing villages, small towns, oil palm plantations and a rich mangrove forest.
It is carved out of the Pontian district. There are two state seats – Pekan Nenas and Kukup – that is about 35km and 60km away from Johor Baru town respectively.
It is also home to the Tanjung Piai National Park that is famously known as the southernmost tip of the Asian continent as well as the Kukup International Ferry Terminal where people used to take a boat to the Karimun Island in Indonesia or visit the mangrove forest in Pulau Kukup.
Fishermen, farmers and oil palm smallholders make up about half of the population. Others work mostly in the travel sector.
Hotel clerk Nor Esolah Mohd Ali, 23 said that despite growing development in the tourism industry here, there are concerns that it could take a step back with the closure of the ferry terminal.
“Since it was shut down in September, business has been poor for many as they have lost visitors coming from Indonesia or those who want to go there via the ferry terminal.”
It has impacted the locals, who had started businesses to cater to the tourism industry. This includes fishermen who provided supplies to seafood restaurants every day, she said.
While visitors are still flooding the Kukup area on weekends, she said that it was obvious their numbers had reduced.
(Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Dr Sahruddin Jamal said yesterday that the ferry terminal will be fully operational again on Nov 6. It was closed on Sept 1 after the state government terminated the agreement of its concessionaire, following which the ferry operations shifted to the Puteri Harbour International Ferry Terminal in Iskandar Puteri.)
Shop assistant Aow Ke Seng, 21 said there was a dire need to improve the infrastructure and amenities.
“There is only one ATM in the area that is located at a petrol station. We have to go to the Pontian Kechil town (20km away from Kukup) if we need to get anything done.
“The roads are in a very bad condition. There are either cracks, or the path is uneven. Some roads are narrow or riddled with potholes, ” he said.
English tutor R. Gayathri, 31, is among the few Indians living in the Malay and Chinese majority area in Bandar Permas Kechil.
“I was about six-years-old when my family moved here from Kuala Lumpur so that my father could open a barber shop.
“We were probably the only Indians here at that time but we never felt alone. We were able to form close ties with the locals, ” she said.
Her father died in 2010. And Gayatri has moved elsewhere due to work commitments.
She feels that more should be done to develop the place.
“There is limited public transportation. It is difficult for anyone to get from one end to the other if they do not have their own vehicle, ” she said.
Businessman Teo Wee Siong, 53 who runs a motorcycle repair shop in Pekan Nenas town, said that more should be done to lure the youths to work here.
“There is a lack of job opportunities for them. They had no choice but to get a job in Singapore.
“I think more factories should be set up so that our young people will have more options and do not have to go somewhere else, ” he said.
However, food stall owner Masliana Selamat noticed that more young people were returning home of late to start their own business.
“Many would work elsewhere for a few years and come back home after they have gained some financial security, ” said Masliana, 33.
While her income from selling food along a road in Pekan Nenas here is modest, she said it was enough to get by in a small town.
Accountant R. Kathiravan, 29 who hails from Pekan Nenas and now works in Singapore, believed his hometown has the potential to progress further.
“I think Pekan Nenas has all the right elements to be developed into a robust industrialised area but it will take time and a lot of commitment from the state and federal government.
“For now, the focus should be on ensuring business owners are able to sustain their operations in an uncertain economic climate, ” he said.
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