Thank you for allowing me to participate in this debate on the Motion of appreciation to his Excellency Tuan Yang Terutama Yang Di Pertua Negeri’s Address on 20th May, 2013 and at the same time to raise some issues of concerned in this August House.
The revision of the allowance, salary and benefits of members of the administration and members of Dewan Undangan Negeri with the passing of the Remuneration, Pensions and Gratuities Bill 2013 has not only provided such allowance, salary and benefits which commensurate with the work and responsibilities of members of the administration and Honourable members of this Dewan, it also underscores the financial strength and capacity of our beloved State.
In the premise, I am obliged to echo the concerns of Honourable members in this August House that it bears on us a heavy responsibility to formulate and implement policies and programmes which will result to the benefits and interests of all Sarawakians as a whole.
Indeed, we should always be reminded that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. A famous statement of the 38th American Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, which have so often been quoted.
I would like to confine myself to what we can do to benefit the senior citizens in this debate.
Care for the Senior citizens
When a copy of the Social Statistic Bulletin Malaysia 2012 was handed to me last month, I could not help notice the insufficiency of welfare services and support we have in Malaysia, particularly Sarawak, for the senior citizens, or those referred to as “in the twilight of life” 40 years ago.
In the Bulletin that was produced by the Statistics Department, the number of inmates in government funded welfare service institutions by type of services to the end of 2011 are:
1,804 inmates in Seri Kenangan Homes, 939 inmates in Desa Bina Diri homes, and 227 in Ehsan homes.
The Desa Bina Diri Homes are not homes for the senior citizens but, as provided under the Destitute Persons Act 1977, are centres for the protection of destitute persons or vagrants from public displeasure.
I do not recall seeing any Ehsan Home or House For Destitute Patients in Sarawak, but those homes are to provide care, treatment and shelter to the old and sick older persons of our society, 60 years and above, without family or guardian or they cannot be traced or incapable of caring for the patient, and the applicants are without income and mean of support.
We could only find the Seri Kenangan Homes in Sarawak which are to provide care, treatment and shelter to poor older persons for the sake of their well being and quality of life. However, the Seri Kenangan Homes are only to cater for those above 60 years old, not suffering from an infectious disease, are without relatives, do not have permanent homes, and are able to take care of themselves.
From the national figure of 1,804 inmates, it appears that this public institution is of little assistance to the community of senior citizens. The privately run welfare homes, nursing homes and care centres would have more inmates and patients.
With our state’s financial strength and capacity, I certainly hope that we will be the first in this country to revolutionalize welfare services for our community of senior citizens in Sarawak, but utilizing our state’s wealth to build and fund retirement homes, retirement villages or communities.
A retirement village or community is a residential park designed for older adults with or without home and medical care and activities and socialization opportunities are often provided. The definition and concept of retirement villages or communities vary in different countries, but some of the characteristics typically are that the community must be age-restricted or age-qualified, residents must be partially or fully retired, and the community offers shared services or amenities.
In other countries, provident funds and savings are set up for their citizens to invest in the retirement homes and villages whereby they can rent and own their units in these retirement villages and communities to enjoy quality life in their retirement.
In Sarawak, our plentiful land and resources should allow us to provide such amenities and or support for our senior citizens community.
In fact, the state should also look into the investment and establishment of Holiday Retirement Community Living Centres, to cater for the growing global needs. Our all-year-round sunshine and cleaner environment would certainly be an attraction to those pensioners living in the temperate countries. The earnings will be enormous, and such earnings will certainly be helpful to fund such retirement homes and villages for our own senior citizens.
Call for release of Cost-Benefit Analysis of all hydropower dams
The International Hydropower Association is holding its Biennial Congress here in Kuching from 21-24 May 2013. At this Congress, no doubt, the Sarawak Government will showcase not only its existing hydropower mega-dams but also use the function as an endorsement from the IHA so as to justify the continued construction of further hydropower mega-dams.
No doubt, this Congress will also see the attendance of numerous hydropower dam contractors who will look forward to receiving a slice of the contracts.
Let me point out to this Honourable Dewan that all these mega-dams, from Batang Ai to Bakun, to Murum and now Baram; all these mega-dams are controversial, have destroyed native lands, have displaced thousands of natives and often with very questionable benefits.
The Batang Ai experience is a painful one. When the Asian Development Bank, which partly funded the Batang Ai Dam, reviewed the impact of the project in 1999, it found, among other things, that:
Resettlers’ average income from their plantations was substantially lower (about RM230 a month) compared with the income (RM523 a month) that was envisaged from plantations after 10 years. This also compared unfavourably with the average monthly family income of RM675 of those who continued to live in native customary rights lands in upstream Batang Ai (without the Project).
It was also observed that at the time of the ADB Mission, the incomes of the affected villagers were only restored or exceeded expectations due to employment in Kuching and other towns and at industrial locations.
In other words, the promised development turned out to be impoverishment which the resettled could only escape by out-migrating with unstated consequences to their communities, culture and way of life.
Further, we say that the benefits are questionable since the State Government has never concretely made known any of these ‘benefits’ to our economy apart from simply claiming that hydropower dams are not only clean environmentally but also needed to power the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy. In the same vein, the Sarawak Government has for years simply papered over the real costs to the people and to the state treasury of implementing all these hydropower mega-dam projects.
Can the State Government thus disclose if there ever been any Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) undertaken on all these hydropower mega-dam projects, namely Batang Ai, Bakun, Murum and Baram? If YES, where are these CBAs?
Further, the following clarifications are found wanting:
(1) Why have these CBAs not been publicly disclosed since these mega-dams are all being funded by tax-payer funds?
(2) Does the CBA list all the alternative projects considered in the power sector (along with their respective values) but ultimately rejected in favour of hydropower mega- dams?
(3) What was the measure of value used and how was this measure quantified for all the various stakeholders in all the various mega-dam projects? What was the discount rate used for each of these mega-dam projects? What was the net present value of all the project options?
(4) How were long-term environmental and social costs quantified?
(5) Does each CBA list who the stakeholders are; who stands to benefit and who stands to lose and by how much?
If NO, why have there not been any CBAs conducted on these expensive mega-dam projects? Further, if no CBAs have been conducted on any of these mega-dam projects, how then can the Sarawak Government claim that all these mega-dams are going to benefit the economy and the people of Sarawak when they obviously don’t even know the benefits or the costs to the people and the economy?
It should of course be noted that an EIA or a Social Environmental Impact Assessment is not the same as a CBA.
A CBA is an important financial tool. Hence, undertaking a CBA is a necessary step undertaken by responsible decision-makers in making financial investment decisions for capital intensive projects; and more so when such investment decisions are long-term ones and involve a huge amount of public funds.
Mr Paul Low, the newly minted Honourable Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office who will be a panel speaker at this international conference has vowed to advocate and to examine the need for each project and that the issue of good governance and effective safeguards must be in place pre and post implementation, including independent monitors in each phase of the project, starting from the need analysis phase.
Unfortunately, good governance is already taking a backseat as one of the leaders of the affected indigenous communities, Encik Peter Kallang, has been barred from attending the IHA workshops which began on Monday. He is only allowed to attend the conference today after he had lodged a police report to register his protest. As a stakeholder, Peter Kallang and his folks who will be displaced by the construction of Baram Dam should be heard and be informed of the project. The safeguards for their rights and interests and the need analysis certainly rings empty.
Need for more equal representation of “one person one vote” in DUN and Parliament via improved re-delineation of constituencies
Throughout 2011 and 2012, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform (PSCER) had received and considered various suggestions from around the country to improve the electoral system which has long been criticized for being unfair and undemocratic.
In April 2012, PSCER had made 22 recommendations to the Parliament and the Election Commission as to the steps to take to improve the electoral process. Two of those recommendations (No. 19 and 20) on the distribution of seats in the Parliament for the states of Sabah and Sarawak and a balanced electoral delineation have implications for Sarawak.
I believe that it is our collective aspiration that the EC will heed all these recommendations seriously and do everything in their power to enhance the process of free, fair and democratic elections in our beloved state.
However, I wish to highlight one key issue which the EC is responsible for and which continues to undermine free, fair and democratic elections in Sarawak and Malaysia.
I am referring to the gerrymandering of electoral constituencies which has resulted in the commonly skewed and biased representation of the electorate in our state assemblies and the parliament.
The EC has said that there will be an electoral re-delineation exercise taking place in Sarawak later this year.
However, the Commission must come up with a more equitable distribution of weightage of voters amongst DUN seats in Sarawak than their currently biased delineations. At the moment, the weightage between many seats is grossly unfair, as shown in a table contained in the website of our parliament and PSCER, showing all the state and parliamentary seats in Sarawak and their weightages which was prepared and presented to PSCER by Prof Dr Andrew Aeria from UNIMAS in November 2011.
It is shown clearly that there are gross imbalances between relative seat sizes not only between urban-rural and urban-urban seats but also rural-rural seats. These imbalances shows up the anomaly of the EC’s claim to ensure that “the number of electors within each constituency in a state ought to be approximately equal except that, having regard to the greater difficulty of reaching electors in the districts and the other disadvantages facing rural constituencies, a measure of weightage for area ought to be given to such constituencies.”
The unjust imbalances are clear and obvious if we compare Batu Lintang with Satok (both adjoining urban seats in Kuching), Batu Danau and Pending (Rural-Urban seats compared) and Daro with Bengoh (both rural seats). The value of a vote in Satok (10431 voters) is more than twice the value of a vote in Batu Lintang (27833 voters). The value of a rural vote in Batu Danau (7636 voters) is four times that of a vote in Pending (29488 voters). And the value of a vote in rural Daro (7305 voters) is three times that of a similar vote in rural Bengoh (21955 voters).
In other words, the EC has no idea how to achieve “an approximately equal” weightage between constituencies or it is deliberately skewing rural seats. There is thus an urgent need to re-balance all these imbalanced constituencies. Indeed, respecting the principle of “one-person, one vote”, it is necessary to relook at the need to accord more weightage to rural constituencies than urban ones which has reach the extent of oppressive disparity. This after all is 2013 and not 1963 or 1973 when the EC Criteria of “approximately equal” weightage was drawn up.
Hence, with the re-delineation of constituencies in Sarawak coming up, this Honourable Dewan must record our informed view and strong recommendation that the EC breaks up the large urban constituencies and consolidates lesser populated constituencies to best reflect an average of about 14,000 voters per constituency in the state.
Indeed, there should also be no recourse to any geographic argument in maintaining gerrymandered small constituencies that grossly outweigh large urban constituencies anymore since wakil rakyats represent people and not empty terrestrial space. Hence, the recourse to drawing constituency boundaries based on geographic size is a red herring.
See Chee How
N11 Batu Lintang