STATE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY SARAWAK
7-16 DECEMBER 2015
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this august House on the occasion of debating the budget 2016.
Mr Speaker, I wish to begin by expressing my sadness over the barbaric and heinous beheading of Bernard Then on 17 November by the Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the southern Philippines. The horror and anguish of Bernard Then’s family is unimaginable and I wish to record my condolences to them.
Mr Speaker, I wish to commend Datuk Amar Speaker on his decision to observe a minute’s silence as a mark of respect and in memory of the late Bernard Then last Monday. On the other hand I was deeply dismayed and shocked that the Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker declined the request of the MP of Sandakan for Parliament to observe one minute of silence for the same purpose, saying this mark of respect is only reserved for heads of states and members of Parliament. Putting aside the fact that the Deputy Speaker was embarrassingly incorrect about his facts, I wish to say that this attitude smacks of arrogance and a lack of empathy for the ordinary people of this country, especially in this particular case, as the death of Bernard Then was the consequence of the Government’s failure to protect the borders of the country and to secure his release. A minute of silence would have cost Parliament nothing, but as a gesture of compassion and solidarity, it would have meant a great deal to the family and friends of Bernard Then.
· BORDER SECURITY
The tragic event surrounding the killing of Bernard Then shows that even after the 2013 Lahad Datu standoff, which cost the lives of around 16 police and military personnel and civilians, the Ministry of Defence failed to secure the borders of Sabah. Following the Lahad Datu intrusion, the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) was set up to secure the borders of Sabah and allocated RM75 million in the 2014 budget, RM660 million in 2015 and RM523 million for 2016. It looks like even after spending hundreds of millions, the borders of Sabah are still not secured. And another heartbroken Sarawakian family has to pay the price.
We should be very concerned by the ease with which terrorists are able to enter Sabah to kidnap people for ransom when they are in need of money. The Sarawak borders are equally porous and susceptible to security breaches, not only to would be kidnappers but also to drug traffickers and illegal immigrants. What are the Ministry of Defence and the Home Ministry doing about this? Are we comfortable about leaving our security in the hands of the Federal government? I mentioned in an earlier sitting of this Dewan that our Sarawak Rangers founded in 1862 have a distinguished record of service in this country. They were highly skilled in tracking, jungle warfare and general policing and were even sent to Malaya at the request of the Malayan government in 1948 to assist them in fighting the communists. The Sarawak Rangers became part of the British Army in 1960 but disbanded on 15 September 1963 to become the 1st Battalion, Malaysian Rangers. I wish to again suggest that the Sarawak Government reform the Sarawak Rangers as Border Scouts to patrol and protect our borders. They are the people of the land who know our terrain and have the trust and support of our people. It is high time we take responsibility for our security instead of leaving it only to the Federal Government. Time and again, they have let us down, and I am glad that the honourable members on the opposite side of this Dewan have started to acknowledge this fact. Of course I am aware that Defence and Internal Security are matters on the Federal list but in a contract, if the promisor has not lived up to his promise, the promisee is entitled to some recourse. I urge the government to look at this matter seriously.
· MACC REPORT ON LAND APPROVALS
Mr Speaker, the MACC 2014 Report tabled in Parliament last week revealed that three top administrators in the Sarawak government have absolute power under sections 13(1) and 38 of the Sarawak Land Code in granting land approvals. These three are named as the Chief Minister, who is also the Minister of Planning and Resource Management I, the Minister of Planning and Resource Management II and the Deputy Chief Minister, who is also the Minister of Modernisation of Agriculture and Rural Development. What is even more damning is that the MACC found that this power was being manipulated to approve land applications.
Mr Speaker, what is of utmost concern is - what does the Sarawak government intend to do about this damning report? Secondly, will the government take immediate steps to amend s 13(1) as recommended by the MACC to shift the power of granting land approval to an executive council? I urge the Rt Honourable Chief Minister to act on this report, having shown himself to be a Chief Minister concerned for the welfare of the people of Sarawak.
· ENGLISH AS AN OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
I wish to commend the Chief Minister for making it clear that English is and has always been an official language of Sarawak, and for standing his ground in the face of criticism from several individuals and organisations in West Malaysia. Our right to use the English Language is something I had brought up in this Dewan as far back as 2012 and I am gratified that this is being recognised officially at last. We have a lot to do to bring the mastery of this language back to the levels we enjoyed in the 60s and 70s. I hope the government is considering ways to improve our English language skills such as by recruiting foreign English Language teachers, volunteers from the Peace Corps and the Fulbright programme, re-hiring retired English teachers, and conducting classes for civil servants.
· OFFICIAL RELIGION
Now that Sarawakians are on an overdue journey of discovering and reclaiming our rights, I wish to once again bring up the matter of Religion. In the May 2012 sitting of this Dewan, I had said this:
‘Sarawak being of a different ethnic composition from Peninsula Malaysia, it was 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’. The absence of a state religion is a hallmark of Sarawak agreeing to join in the formation Malaysia in 1963, due to the wisdom of our forefathers who acknowledged that Sarawak is a land for all creeds or beliefs to mutually prosper and grow with respect for each other’s rights and freedom. It however disturbs me greatly to note that in its latest publication entitled Sarawak Facts and Figures 2010, the State Planning Unit of the Chief Minister’s Department states clearly on page 2 that Islam is the Official Religion of Sarawak. I respectfully ask for a clarification on this matter from the Chief Minister and I hope for a reassurance that this most fundamental agreement has not been amended or taken away subtly from us.’
As a result of that, I was happy to note that the reference to an official religion was omitted in Sarawak Facts and Figures the following years.
However, to my disappointment, I noted this year that in the Government’s official web portal www.sarawak.gov.my, in the tab ‘Visitors’ under the heading ‘Religion’, it is stated ‘The official religion in Sarawak is Islam.’ I immediately wrote a letter to the State Secretary on 24 July this year to point out the error and asked for it to be rectified. I have an acknowledgement of receipt of my letter from the State Secretary’s office but until now, nothing has been done to rectify the error. I am requesting our brave and courageous Chief Minister to also state this simple fact, that Sarawak does not have an official religion although we recognise that Islam is the religion of the federation. It is time that our citizens and civil servants know of this unique feature of Sarawak. This will also prevent the embarrassment of not knowing our rights and giving visitors the wrong information.
Mr Speaker, I speak about Education at every sitting of this Dewan as education is the key to the people’s progress and improvement of their livelihood. The provision of Education in Sarawak is faced with challenges in every aspect, from inadequate and dilapidated schools to lack of equipment and facilities, to shortage of teachers, to falling standards. These issues have been widely reported in the press and discussed in social media.
The 2014 Auditor General’s report stated that 85.5% of Sarawak schools are in a state of disrepair with schoolchildren studying in rotting or termite infested buildings or buildings with sewage leaking. This is no surprise to anyone. In my constituency, 11 out of the 12 schools are in need of repair. The Federal government has made endless promises of repair and rebuilds but frankly, we know these promises will amount to nothing. The Education Blueprint 2013-2025 stated that ‘by 2013, critical repairs and upgrades will be completed across all 1,608 schools with critical needs’. The honourable Minister of Welfare, Women and Family Development said last month that for 2014 we asked for RM422.5 mil but were only given RM92mil. That is a far cry from the RM1.2bil budget allocation announced for 2014 for rebuilding of dilapidated schools in Sarawak. The then Education Minister said in February this year that the allocation for education development in Sarawak for 2015 was RM235.2 mil. I would be interested to know how much of that was received and how it was spent. Of the paltry 2016 overall budget allocation of RM13.1 bil for education and training, health, housing and the well-being of the rakyat, how much will Sarawak’s education allocation be? And how much will we actually get? It is gratifying to note that the BN members are finally realising that it is futile to keep hoping that the Federal government under BN will give Sarawak the funds we need and deserve. I am glad that the Chief Minister has said that he will look for more funds for our rural schools.
For Long Semadoh, I did ask in this august house what happened to the proposed primary and secondary schools that were meant to have been built over 10 years ago. The answers I received ranged from ‘there was never any such plan’ to ‘there were suggestions but they were rejected because the secondary schools in Trusan and Sundar have not reached full capacity and can cater for pupils from the Long Semadoh areas’. Dissatisfied with the answers, I did some research and found out that 2 pieces of land in Long Semadoh had in fact been officially acquired in 2003 for the purpose of building SK Long Semadoh and SMK Long Semadoh, as documented in Sarawak Gazette No 3590 and No 3591 of 2003. I also have the printout of the titles, which show that the lands are vested in the Federal Lands Commissioner. The government must now follow through with their plans for the schools as the land has been acquired. The Education Minister had announced last week that 42 new schools will be built in Sarawak under the 11th Malaysia Plan which starts next year. I urge the Minister to give these 2 schools priority as the people have waited 12 years already.
The idea that parents must send their children to Trusan and Sundar was not relevant in 2003 when the land was acquired and should not be used as an excuse now. Besides, SMK Bario has less than 200 students but there is a secondary school there. Sending young children away to boarding schools is not acceptable to many of the parents in my constituency, especially in view of the social problems faced by the youth of today. Ideally, schoolchildren of tender and impressionable ages should remain at home under the care of their parents until they are old enough for college.
We do have the students for SMK Long Semadoh and I believe that this will be a very successful school, like the highly rated SK Ba’ Kelalan which has won some awards for excellence. The parents of this area are extremely supportive of the school and are prepared to go to great lengths to help create the right environment for a good education for their children.
SK Ba’ Kelalan, SK Long Luping and SK Long Sukang are still depending on old generators for their power supply and SK Long Sebangang suffers from lack of water. Can the government supply electricity and water to these schools without delay?
Mr Speaker, I am pleased to note that the Prime Minister and the Education Minister
have said that the government targets 90% of teachers in Sabah and Sarawak to be locals by 2018. This is a welcome move in order to avoid the problems of incompatibility and mismatch of teachers. For Lawas, I have been told that in the primary schools, 147 out of the 517 teachers (or 28.4%) are from West Malaysia while in the secondary schools, the figure is 94 out of 249 teachers (or 37.75%). The honourable Minister of Women, Welfare and Community had said that a large proportion of teachers from West Malaysia wish to be transferred back to their home states. The important thing for us to consider now is how to encourage more people to take up teaching as a profession and to ensure that there are enough places in the Teachers Training Colleges for them. We need to ask whether our students meet the requirements to be teachers and if so, whether there is a bias against Sarawakians in training institutions. In order to achieve the 90% target, the government should consider requesting a quota of places for native Sarawakians as is provided for under Article 153 of the Federal Constitution and Article 39 of the Sarawak Constitution.
In the case of Heads of Federal Government departments, I note from the answers obtained by the honourable member for Kota Sentosa in Parliament that 62% are Sarawakians while in the case of Deputy heads, the figure is 68%. It is obvious that Borneonisation has not been achieved. It is also obvious, looking at the racial breakdown, that there is an imbalance in the ethnic composition of these Heads and Deputy Heads. I wish to propose to the State Government to take some concrete steps vis-à-vis the Federal Government in order to achieve our desired target by doing the following:
1. Declaring as a policy of every Government ministry and agency including the Public Services Commission and Public Services Department the achievement of Borneonisation and equal ethnic parity share based on eligibility and capability.
2. Highlighting this declaration in all policy documents, service manuals and directives.
3. Ensuring representation by Sarawakians in Federal government recruitment and promotion committees for postings in Sarawak.
4. Ensuring full multi-racial representation in Sarawak government recruitment and promotion committees.
Mr Speaker, at this juncture let me commend this august house in uniting to carry a Motion yesterday fundamentally proposing amongst other things, mandating ‘the State Government to take all measures and action under Article VIII of the Malaysian Agreement, with the Federal Government to ensure the complete implementation of all the recommendations in the IGC Report for the advancement and safeguard of the special interests of the State and the peoples of Sarawak’. I hope the State Government will take an aggressive approach to realise this Motion that was unanimously passed as the first four points I raised above have a connection with the Federal Government.
Mr Speaker, I understand there was a promise made some time ago by the Minister of Rural Development for a Rural Growth Centre for Long Semadoh that was not fulfilled. I am requesting that the plan be implemented as Long Semadoh has great potential for tourism as well as agricultural activities. The Long Semadoh area is reported to be the most arable and fertile in Sarawak where apples, strawberries and coffee grow well. I was informed by the Agriculture Department that the best area for Arabica coffee is the stretch from Long Luping to Bario. In fact, at one time, coffee was grown in Ba’ Kelalan and Long Semadoh but the trees were eventually chopped down because marketing was a big problem as Government agencies appeared not to be able to assist the farmers. There is now a good demand for coffee and I am requesting the government to look into encouraging the planting of coffee and helping the farmers with training and the processing of the coffee beans to the stage of green coffee when it can be sold.
The government should also step in to help the Adan rice farmers in Ba’ Kelalan by helping them with machinery to open up new areas and assisting with drainage and irrigation. In Long Semadoh, there is a problem with drainage caused by erosion of the riverbank which has resulted in large areas of paddy fields being destroyed and abandoned. I hope that the government will step in to assist.
I was glad to read in the press last week that Sarawak aims to increase the production of MD2 pineapple to meet the increased demand worldwide. Puneng Trusan is the ideal place for the growing of pineapple and I would like the government to include this area in their plans for pineapple production.
However, regarding the government’s intention of setting up large scale MD2 pineapple plantations using imported planting material, I would like to alert the Government in respect of the disease risks that are associated with the importation of planting material for plantation schemes.
Sarawak is almost unique in the region for being blessed with an environment that is relatively free of the many noxious diseases that afflict crops like banana, pineapple and papaya. This reflects great credit on the Department of Agriculture staff who have worked diligently to keep these diseases at bay. However, the threat is growing day by day and I am sure many of you will remember the recent case where large areas of banana in Penang had to be destroyed because of the dreaded ‘blood banana’ disease which is now endemic there.
The only way that we can protect our farmers and plantations from these diseases is to implement an ‘Australian-like’ approach and severely restrict the importation of planting material. Such a policy accompanied by the local production of necessary planting material is the safest way to protect our farmers.
I understand that there are now several local companies in Sarawak that are producing certified planting material for the agricultural industry and these companies should be encouraged so that we completely preclude the risk of importing devastating plant diseases that are ‘hidden’ inside imported planting material. I hope the Minister is looking in the greatest detail at this matter and asking his staff to thoroughly research the implications before allowing the importation of huge quantities of planting material such as the MD2 Pineapple from areas where the dreaded diseases exist.
· ULU TRUSAN PROPOSED PROTECTED FORESTS
Mr Speaker, on 26th May 2015, a gazette to declare about 70% of Ba’kelalan constituency as “Ulu Trusan Proposed Protected Forests” was published in the Borneo Post. On the 4th day of August 2015, I handed to the Rt Honourable Chief Minister a letter supported by over 3000 people from my constituency opposing the said proposal. On 14th of August 2015, it was reported in the Borneo Post that the Rt Honourable Chief Minister had “suspended’ the said proposal. On 17th of August, I wrote to the Rt Honourable Chief Minister for clarification as to whether the said Proposal was suspended or withdrawn. To date I have not received any reply. I therefore wish to ask if the said Proposal is suspended for the time being or withdrawn totally.
I take this opportunity to wish all Christians a blessed Christmas, and to all, a Happy New Year.
May God Bless Sarawak, and I pray that ‘justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream’ from this august house to the whole state of Bumi Kenyalang. ~ Amos 5:24
Thank you Mr Speaker for your indulgence.
N70 Ba’ Kelalan