DEWAN UNDANGAN NEGERI SARAWAK
10-19 NOVEMBER 2014
BARU BIAN’S DEBATE SPEECH
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this august House on the occasion of debating the Budget 2015 presented by the Honorable Chief Minister on 10th November 2014.
Firstly, I wish to express my sorrow about the loss of lives in the shooting-down of MH17 in July and I extend my sympathy to the families of those whose lives were cruelly cut short. Sarawakians were among those who perished in that flight and are among those who were in MH370, which has still not been found since it disappeared in March this year. It is my fervent hope that those who were responsible for the destruction of MH17 will be brought to account for their crime and that MH370 will be found so that the families will find some peace.
It is encouraging that the honourable Chief Minister has addressed his mind to the considerable developmental gap between the urban and rural areas and that a sizeable portion of the budget for 2015 is allocated for rural development. In order that real effort is taken towards the narrowing of this development gap and thereby improving the lives of rural dwellers, the government must make sure that the allocations are utilized effectively and efficiently. We must put a stop to the high leakages from the budget allocations through corruption, crony deals, direct awarding of contracts without tenders, sub-standard delivery and the like. I recall a report by The Star newspaper dated 29th November 2009 that the Sarawak Cabinet had ordered an internal investigation into claims by the MACC that up to 60% of government allocations, running into billions of ringgit, meant for vital infrastructure projects between 2002 and 2008 had been misappropriated. As usual, to date I know no one has been charged and I wonder what has become of that Cabinet direction.
I urge the honourable Chief Minister to continue to press the federal government for 20% of oil royalties, a right for which Pakatan Raykat has been advocating over the past 5 years.
PROTECTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT
Mr Speaker, it is heartening that the authorities have been stepping up their efforts to curb illegal logging activities in Sarawak. It is known that illegal logging is rampant throughout Sarawak, and that large sums of bribes are involved to facilitate these activities. The Second Resource Planning and Environment Minister had himself admitted last month that the situation is worrying. The glaring fact is that it was only after the Chief Minister announced his determination not to issue any more timber licences until illegal logging is curbed that enforcement was stepped up.
I call upon the Chief Minister to direct the authorities to send enforcement authorities to investigate claims of illegal logging and collusion in the rural areas. It appears that officers stationed at these areas may be compromised in their duties. One such instance is the recent complaint by SAVE Rivers Sarawak that one Sarawak Forestry Corporation Enforcement officers claimed he had the authority to dismiss the native customary rights (NCR) claims of the Kayan community of Long Kesseh, and that the logging company MM Golden and Autorich had absolute rights to log the area and order the police to arrest the Baram Dam protesters that erected the blockade there.
Not only does illegal logging destroy our protected trees, such as the Tapang trees that were stolen at Long Kesseh, it also has detrimental effects on the wildlife, ecology and biodiversity, causing pollution of rivers and erosion of the soil. The illegal loggers are also depriving the state coffers of revenues from our land and robbing the people of the benefits of our resources. Perhaps to show the public the seriousness of this offence, may I ask the Minister in Charge to estimate how much revenue has been lost these past 10 years due to illegal logging?
Also, while we are on the subject of loggers, I wish to ask the government for an update on what has been done about the rape of Penan women and schoolgirls by workers of logging companies. The Ministry of Women, Family and Community development’s taskforce in 2008 confirmed that the rape claims were valid. In 2013, the new Federal Minister of Women, Family and Community Development was, in her post-elections speech, gung-ho about ‘revisiting’ the claims but disappointingly, nothing has been done to date. The criminals continue to run free while the helpless victims continue to suffer without any signs of concern from the government.
I welcome the Chief Minister’s intention to ensure that 10% of our land area is declared as National Parks. However, any gazetting of areas as National Parks must include recognition of the native customary rights of the people who live in those areas. The government must refrain from extinguishing their NCR rights. I believe that National Parks and native customary rights can co-exist if properly implemented and better still, the natives can be recruited as park rangers to ensure the park is properly protected and achieve a win-win situation.
WILD MONKEY MALARIA INFECTING HUMANS
A largely unknown adverse effect of the loss of our forests and the resulting loss of the natural habitat of wildlife is the eventual impact on humans. Last week, it was reported in an American science magazine Science News that a form of malaria found in wild monkeys has begun to infect people so often in parts of Southeast Asia that it has become the leading cause of malaria in Malaysia. The report says that:
‘The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo have shown a surge in infections with the parasite Plasmodium knowlesi, which is carried by long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques. P. knowlesi now accounts for nearly 70 percent of malaria cases in people there, Balbir Singh, director of the Malaria Research Center at the University of Malaysia in Sarawak, reported November 3 at a meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Recent years’ surge in P. knowlesi infections has coincided with a stark increase in deforestation. Malaysia now ranks high among countries worldwide in the percentage of forest cover lost from 2000 to 2012, according to a 2013 study in Science. Singh said deforestation to convert forest land into oil palm plantations might be driving macaques into other habitat that’s closer to settlements. 101 of 108 wild macaques examined by his team harbored P. knowlesi. The parasite does not make macaques seriously ill, but the malaria it causes in humans can be severe and is more likely to be fatal than cases caused by other malaria parasites, Singh said.’
The scenario described by Professor Dr Balbir Singh is reminiscent of what has happened in Africa over the past 20 years, when the loss of forest habitat drove bats to areas closer to the human population. A disease that was common in bats thus migrated to humans. The first outbreak of Ebola was in 1976 in Sudan and Zaire, and it has since migrated to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone with the deforestation of these countries. The Washington Post reports:
“The increase in Ebola outbreaks since 1994 is frequently associated with drastic changes in forest ecosystems in tropical Africa,” wrote researchers in a 2012 study in the Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research. “Extensive deforestation and human activities in the depth of the forests may have promoted direct or indirect contact between humans and a natural reservoir of the virus.” [How deforestation shares the blame for the Ebola epidemic, 8 July 2014]
The Guardian (UK) in an article entitled ‘How saving West African forests might have prevented the Ebola epidemic’ on 3 October 2014 had this to say:
If West Africa’s forests had been harvested in a more sustainable manner and its wildlife monitored for health, Ebola might not have jumped into the human population.
I am aware that the government does not agree with satellite imagery evidence that Sarawak has only 11% of primary forest left, but the evidence is available and the warning is clear. We must learn from the Ebola outbreak and be prepared for the consequences if we do not take steps to practise real sustainable logging and preserve the little virgin forest that is left to us. It is a relief to note that Professor Dr Balbir Singh says that the P. knowlesi parasite is such a recent arrival in humans that it largely has not developed resistance to antimalarial drugs. The Ministry of Health must alert all healthcare providers in Sarawak of this new strain of malaria and ensure that the antimalarial drugs are available in every hospital and clinic, especially in the rural areas where access to medical services can be problematic.
Mr Speaker, for over a year, the people of Baram have been blockading their lands against construction of the Baram Dam. This dam, if built, will displace 20,000 people who will lose their homes as 26 villages are submerged in water. These people have managed to collect 10,000 signatures protesting the building of the dam.
I understand from a written reply by the Second Resource Planning and Environment Minister to the Honourable member for N64 Pujut’s question at our last sitting, Sarawak Energy is currently studying 12 potential dams, 9 of them classified as ‘Large’ and 3 ‘Smaller’.
Can the government explain why there is a need to keep building dams even after the Bakun and Murum Dams had been completed? The Bakun Dam was supposed to produce sufficient power for our needs plus some extra for the SCORE industries. It appears that the government is determined to build dams and then invite foreign investors to establish industries here by offering them attractive rates. Many cynical Sarawakians would no doubt say that these dam projects are to enrich the many cronies and rent seekers who abound in this state.
I would ask the government to re-consider its plans for a dam-building spree. We should take a lesson from the experiences of other countries that have built similar dams and suffered detrimental effects from them. The footages of dam failures from around the world are frightening in the intensity of the water surge and the damage it causes. In a technologically advanced country like the United States of America, dam failures have been documented in every state. In Malaysia, just last week, the Sultan Abu Bakar dam in Cameron Highlands broke on Wednesday night due to torrential rain, killing 3 Indonesian workers and causing huge property losses.
Aside from the risk of dam failure, the social and environmental cost of dams is too high a price to pay. Thayer Scudder, one of the world's foremost experts on resettlement of people displaced by dams, throughout most of his life held a hope and belief that dams, if well constructed and managed could lift the people’s lives out of poverty. In August this year, he announced that he had changed his mind. An article entitled ‘Large Dams Just Aren’t Worth the Cost’ published in The New York Times on 22 August 2014, describes how he came to believe that dams have disastrous environmental and socio-economic consequences. The displaced Tongans of the Kariba Dam in Zambia and Zimbabwe went from being cohesive and self-sufficient to being plagued by ‘intermittent hunger, rampant alcoholism and astronomical unemployment’. Scudder’s later experience with a dam in Laos confirmed his suspicion that ‘the task of building a dam is just too complex and too damaging to priceless natural resources’. His findings are corroborated in an Oxford University Study published in March 2014 [Should We Build More Large Dams? The Actual Costs of Hydropower Megaproject Development] which found that without even taking into account the invariably negative and often vast social and environmental impacts, the actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return.
The Bakun Dam was meant to cost RM2.5 billion. While the official expenditure figures have risen to RM7.4 billion, other estimates put the total cost of the Bakun Dam at RM15.325 billion. As the Bakun Dam was financed mainly through EPF, Malaysia’s citizens are paying the price for the over-optimistic forecasts of the Bakun Dam promoters at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet.
Earlier this year, a Norwegian company Norconsult, which was tasked to carry out an independent assessment of Murum dam's turbines, reported that the dam suffers from serious defects that can potentially cause a "catastrophic" breakdown. Although SEB predictably downplayed the report and claimed that repairs would be completed without extra cost, the fact is that there were defects in the turbines. It has been reported that such defects in the turbines cannot be repaired in situ or at the site but only at the factory. Can we have some clarification from the Minister about this allegation and a report of the turbines’ defect, and what has been done about it?
In light of what I have just said, I propose to the government that instead of building big dams, we should look at alternatives such as mini-hydro systems, solar and wind power projects. Such projects will cause minimum disruption to the people and environment and will be more cost-effective.
I wish to ask the Minister where the proposed Trusan 2 dam (designated as Large 240 mw) and Lawas dam (designated as Small 47 mw) as revealed in the answer to the Honourable Member for Pujut referred to earlier, will be located, how much it will cost, whether the EIA has been done and if so, whether public participation was invited at the preliminary assessment stage. I do not want a repeat of the Murum Dam, where it was reported by SUHAKAM that work started 10 months prior to the EIA approval and that there was no free, prior and informed consultation with the affected communities. Neither were civil society and environmental groups invited for their views.
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION
I understand that the Public Service Commission has gone online for notification of vacancies and application for the positions offered. The powers that made this decision are obviously unfamiliar with the situation in rural Sarawak where internet and wifi are still alien concepts. Besides the fact that many rural communities are still without grid electricity, Sarawak has only 55% broadband penetration – therefore by going online for PSC vacancy notification and applications, more than half the population of Sarawak will be denied the opportunity of even knowing about the vacancies, let alone applying for jobs. This is discrimination against the rural population, who are already at a socio-economic disadvantage. It was reported by the Sarawak Dayak Graduates Association (SGDA) President that their field trips to the interior of Sarawak revealed that many youths had failed to access the PSC website from cybercafés, and they feel that the decision to go online was actually a way to eliminate a section of the community from the jobs.
It was revealed in the Sin Chew Daily in 2010 that only 28,868 or 6.48% of the 445,164 bumiputeras of Sabah and Sarawak who applied for government jobs were qualified for the jobs, but of that number, only about 50% were offered jobs. This number is already low, and with recruitment now online, we expect that the number of new recruits will be even lower. The PSC must review this online system of recruitment. Their reasoning that it saves them RM2.5 million cannot make up for the loss of opportunity for the disadvantaged people of Sarawak.
Still on the Public Services, I have lately been receiving complaints from civil servants that in many instances, their superior officers who should be retired are re-employed on renewable contracts, thereby denying the lower-ranking staff the opportunity for promotions. While I have nothing against the extension of services of retired civil servants where there is a real need of their services and expertise and I acknowledge that many of them still have much to contribute to society, such practice must be balanced with the need to provide career advancement for deserving civil servants. I should be grateful for information from the government on how widespread this practice of re-employment of retired civil servants is, how many years on average the extension of service is for, and whether there are any steps taken to ensure that such extension cannot be a hindrance for other officers in their career advancement.
ALLAH ISSUE AND RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM
Mr Speaker, I wish to record my deep disappointment with the Federal Court for its decision in July to refuse the Catholic church leave to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision that banned the use of the word ‘Allah’ in their Bahasa Malaysia publication. That they would chose the politically expedient path rather than the path of justice and fairness sends a deeply troubling message to Sarawakians. Far from being excluded from the ramifications of this decision, Sarawakians are being made to feel threatened, eg by the seizure in West Malaysia of their Christian materials containing the word ‘Allah’.
I am thankful for the voices of the Chief Minister and the Minister of Land Development who have consistently rejected the religious extremism that is being propounded by several groups in West Malaysia. Indeed, there is no place in Sarawak for the supremacist and hate-mongering bigots and we must strive to keep them out of Sarawak. However, I must voice my concern that JAIS and JAKIM have not stated their stand on our rights to use the word ‘Allah’.
The members of Majlis Islam Sarawak and their administrative arm Jabatan Agama Islam Sarawak (JAIS) are appointed by the Agong and are therefore answerable to the Agong, and not the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister appears to have no say in the affairs of the Majlis and JAIS.
JAKIM, which has branches in Sarawak, is a unit under the Prime Minister’s Department, and presumably, they are answerable to the Prime Minister and not to our Chief Minister.
Mr. Speaker, to allay the fears of many Sarawakians on this issue and in support of the Chief Minister’s stand, I humbly ask that the government obtain JAIS and JAKIM’s stand on this matter for the enlightenment of all Sarawakians.
Sarawakians are tired of people like the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Religious Affairs deciding that Malaysia is an Islamic Country. The founding father, Bapa Malaysia Tuanku Abdul Rahman stated it plainly in Parliament: ‘I would like to make it clear that this country is not an Islamic State as it is generally understood, we merely provided that Islam shall be the official religion of the State’ [Hansard, 1 May 1958]. It is clear that the INTENTION was the establishment of a secular state. Further, during the talks leading to the formation of Malaysia, the non-Muslim communities of Sarawak had voiced their reservations about Islam being the religion of the Federation. Nevertheless, it was finally agreed that ‘While there was no objection to Islam being the national religion of Malaysia there should be no State religion in Sarawak, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya should not apply to Sarawak’.
TEACHING OF NATIVE LANGUAGES
Mr Speaker, in the previous sitting of this august house, I spoke about the importance of preserving culture, tradition and shared values through the preservation of language. I requested the State government to consider allocating a special budget to provide mother tongue education for each ethnic group, at least from pre-school level until Primary 6. I was therefore gratified that last month, the Tourism Minister expressed concern about the danger of extinction of 5 of our 44 living languages, namely Narum, Sihan, Lahanan, Bukitan and Seru, and announced that to preserve the five endangered languages, the state government had allocated RM300,000 to Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) to conduct research on documentation of the indigenous languages.
Research and documentation of these 5 languages is a good move, but in order to prevent the other native languages from falling into the endangered category, we need to ensure that these languages continue to be used by the native community. I therefore reiterate my call for the government to provide a special budget for teaching native languages in primary schools.
Mr Speaker, there is a shortage of judges in the native courts and some of the current ones do not seem to be cognizant of the adat of the indigenous communities. Cases are not moving at an acceptable speed. I am requesting that the government look into improving the Native Courts, and also to provide us with statistics as to the number of judges and the number of cases pending hearing at every level of the Native Courts.
EMPLOYMENT AND LABOUR FORCE ISSUES
Mr Speaker, the state Labour Department reported last month that we are enjoying full employment. The Human Resources Minister told us that the government is planning to bring up to 12,000 workers from Bangladesh to work in oil palm plantations in Sarawak. In 2011, the Minister of Industrial Development announced that Sarawak would be willing to recruit skilled workers from India to expedite the implementation of SCORE. We were also told that there were over 100,000 illegal foreign labourers in Sarawak. It is well known that the dams were built by foreign workers, mainly from China.
On the other hand, it is estimated that there are 100,000 Sarawakians working in Peninsula Malaysia and abroad. There is clearly a mismatch of skills and wages with jobs. Although the government is trying to play catch-up by promoting technical and vocational courses to students so that employment opportunities in SCORE may be filled by Sarawakians, it appears we will not be able to produce graduates at a fast enough rate, given the late start. I should be interested to know how many skilled workers our technical schools have produced so far and what the shortfall will be in the next five years that will still need to be taken up by foreign workers.
In the plantation sector, it is widely known that the wages are so low that Sarawakians are not able to make a decent living if they take up these jobs. Although the minimum wage is RM800, it is not clear that this is being enforced. Sarawakians are forced to seek employment in West Malaysia. What this means is that Sarawakians are unable to benefit from the development that occurs here. The sad fact is that many of them have been forced to give up their lands to plantations and development such as SCORE and the dams and yet, these projects do not offer them any employment. There is instead an exodus of Sarawakians to slightly greener pastures in West Malaysia and an outflow of funds from of Sarawak as foreigner workers remit their incomes home.
The plantations are lamenting the effect of the minimum wage on their profit margins but they are huge profitable operations and it is up to them to manage their operations more efficiently so that they can pay decent wages to enable locals to take up the jobs in the plantations. I would be grateful for information from the government on the extent the minimum wage is being enforced in Sarawak.
Mr Speaker, I am pleased that we unanimously voted yesterday to support the Motion moved by the Honourable Member for Nangka to support continuous efforts by the Government to reduce the crime rate in this country. I have read some unofficial statistics showing Lawas to have the highest crime rate in the State. I request an official reply from the Minister as to whether this is true. I have in the past sittings of this august house raised our peoples’ concern about the issues of syabu and drug abuse, and car theft and smuggling across the boarder with Kalimantan, but the reply to my questions on Tuesday morning from the Honourable Deputy Chief Minister shows that the reports from the Police appear to contradict what I hear and personally know from the ground. The Police seem to deny that there is such problem in Lawas.
Where there are drugs, there is crime. Just last Friday, in Lawas a murder was committed in a pub. The news has shocked the community. I was told again it might have some connection with drugs. The Lun Bawang church community of Lawas are so worried about the drug abuse problem that they recently formed a committee to organise anti-drugs programmes. The launch of an Anti-Dadah day was held on 13 September this year. I commend the people for the initiative shown to fight the scourge of drugs in Lawas. But I was shocked to hear from one of the participants who proposed that if we want to fight this drug problem in Lawas, “all the police must be transferred from Lawas”. Now Mr. Speaker, that is the voice of the people in Lawas. That is probably a very sweeping statement because I know there are many good and disciplined police all over the country and even in Lawas. Bur Mr. Speaker, there could be some truth in that statement because it came from the people who know the situation on the ground. So I ask the government to step up their enforcement efforts and investigate if indeed it is true that the police are involved in these criminal activities.
I note with thanks the government’s intention to build a road from Lawas to Ba’ Kelalan and Bario. However, we also need more roads to connect all the rural villagers so that agricultural and economic activities can be triggered. A good road system will enable local produce to be transported to major towns and help to arrest the rural-urban migration rate. Tourism can also be encouraged with better roads and more comfortable transportation.
The people of Long Lellang have had to suffer the terrible logging road to Miri for many years, which at times becomes impassable. In particular, the stretch from Long Lellang to Camp C is a horrendous stretch of road. Long Lellang is accessible only by the Twin Otter aircraft at the moment, which makes travel a high expense item for many families. I wish to ask if the Government has any plans to build and construct a proper road to connect to Lg Lellang.
Mr Speaker, yesterday it was revealed by the Auditor General that YTL Communications Sdn Bhd was fined RM2.4 million for failing to provide all 10,000 schools with the 1BestariNet e-learning project and that less than 5% of schoolchildren nationwide are using the facility. It appears that the 1BestariNet project is a failure and a waste of taxpayers’ money. Some schools in Ba’ Kelalan have been connected but with a very poor connectivity while others are still waiting to be connected.
I was informed that the new building for SK Long Sukang has been completed for quite sometime now but it cannot be utilized yet. I wish to know the reason for this as it is a waste of resources to build a school and yet not allow it to be occupied.
I wish to thank the Minister of Women, Welfare and Family Development for the written answers supplied to my previous questions on schools and I again urge the ministry to allocate funds to repair or rebuild the many dilapidated schools in my constituency, particularly SK Long Semadoh, SRK Ba’ Kelalan, SK Long Tukon, SK Tang Lapadan, SK Bario and SK Pa’Dalih. I have visited these schools and seen the pathetic state of these buildings. In SK Lg Semadoh, some of the floors of the buildings are in danger of collapsing. I would like to know if anything has been done to remedy this problem.
Lastly I have been informed that the solar project in Long Sukang has been completed but is yet to be commissioned. I wish to know the reason for the delay.
Before I close, I would like to wish all Christians a Blessed Christmas and all Sarawakians a Happy New Year.
May God Bless Sarawak.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.