Minorities feel neglected and insignificant

Wish list: Business operators in Kampung Cina want more efforts to get tourists to stay in Kuala Terengganu instead of bypassing it for the islands.

KUALA TERENGGANU: More than five years ago, Beng Sia used to feel a sense of peace when he drove into his village of Kampung Pak Kiang in Kuala Besut, home to a small Siamese community that is mostly unknown to outsiders.

“The village used to look so pretty and inviting because the local council would cut the grass regularly,” said the mechanic.

He was comparing what village life was like under the past Barisan Nasional administrations versus the recent Perikatan Nasional government.

“Because the roadside grass is now so overgrown, you feel like the village is unkempt and it’s such an eyesore whenever I come home.

“Our roads have also become narrower because there is no way for vehicles to pass each other when curbs are overgrown with bushes,” said Beng Sia, 47, in an interview.

Beng Sia’s complaints about the local council were echoed by fellow villagers.

It is the most visual example of their dissatisfaction with the government services of the past five years when PAS was in charge.

Parts of the roadsides into the village were indeed overgrown with weeds during The Star’s visit, making it difficult to swerve to the side to make way for oncoming cars.

Grouses against the Perikatan government were also heard among the Chinese and Indian communities in Kuala Terengganu, who feel that PAS has paid little attention to them because of their small numbers.

The Siamese community of Kampung Pak Kiang only has about 200 voters, said long-time resident Inwi Eh Kliyau, while the total voter population of the Kuala Besut state seat is 27,762.

The only seats where the non-Malay vote can have a significant impact are Bandar in Kuala Terengganu and Cukai, Kemaman. In Bandar, Chinese and Indians comprise 35% and 1% respectively, while in Cukai they make up 13% and 1%.

Barisan ruled Terengganu from 2004 to 2018 before it was deposed by PAS, which is now part of Perikatan, in the 2018 election.

Voters in the historic enclave of Kampung Cina, in the Bandar seat of Kuala Terengganu, tell of a different feeling of negligence in the past five years.

“Besides oil and gas, the only real asset of Terengganu is tourism. It’s a very pretty state but this beauty is not properly promoted and preserved,” said retiree Ng, who used to work as a clerk in the hospitality industry in the state capital.

The 56-year-old was referring to the beaches along the state’s coastline from Kemasik in the south to Merang in the north, and its ever-popular islands such as Pulau Redang and Pulau Kapas.

“Whenever anyone wants to organise events to bring in more tourists and to get them to stay and spend more time in Kuala Terengganu, there are so many restrictions. ‘This cannot, that cannot.’ So how to do business?” she said.

As a result, visitors often just head to the islands without staying longer in the state capital, added Ng.

Her husband chimed in and complained about the lack of big industries coming into the state, apart from the fossil fuel industry that is based mostly in southern Terengganu in Kemaman.

But even that industry is unable to provide sufficient well-paying jobs for the youth, who often migrate to the Klang Valley and Singapore in search of work.

“It’s like a chain reaction. Their friends go and find a good employer and then they pull their friends to move there and join the company.

“So the only youngsters left in Terengganu are those running their family business,” said the 60-year-old businessman.

Terengganu PAS, however, has refuted these assertions.

In a ceramah, former Terengganu executive councillor Ariffin Deraman said the administration had focused on reviving and repairing projects that were either abandoned or mismanaged by Barisan.

These included repairing the Gong Badak stadium that collapsed, repurposing two ferries meant for Tasik Kenyir which could not be transported to the lake, and building new hotels in Kuala Terengganu.

“We are also trying our best to revive the Pulau Bayas duty-free zone in Tasik Kenyir because the previous government had spent close to RM200mil on it,” said Ariffin, who held the portfolio for tourism, culture and digital technology.

He added that the administration had found an investor to take over the moribund Strawberry Park Resort in Kemaman.

“Instead of spending more money trying to do new things, we want to take these projects and make them successful because we don’t want all the money that has been spent on them to go to waste,” he said.

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