STATE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY SARAWAK
8-17 NOVEMBER 2017
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this august House on the occasion of debating the budget 2017.
· FEDERAL BUDGET
The RM280.25bil Federal Budget that was just announced allocated operations expenditure at 84 percent and development expenditure at only 16 percent, hardly a responsible thing to do. The government will be hard-pressed to encourage economic growth at only 16 percent. On this point, I am glad to note that the Chief Minister has allocated 70% of the Sarawak budget for development and 30% for operating expenditure. Of course this is with a caveat on whether there will be a supplementary supply bill for extra allocations next year and if so, how those allocations will be used.
As for the RM6.8bil allocated for development projects in Sabah AND Sarawak in the federal budget, even my friends across the floor have said it is not enough for what we need. In contrast, the PM allocated his department RM12bil. How can the PM’s department need more than Sarawak? It is truly unfathomable and a gross injustice. Even more galling, he recently freely offered to spend RM100bil of our money to help strengthen America’s economy. What is going on with this scandal-tainted Prime Minister? What about giving us more money to fix 1020 dilapidated schools, build hospitals and proper roads?
An even more sobering realization is that the amount for Sabah and Sarawak is only 2.4% of the total budget allocation. This, more than anything else is a clear indication of how the Federal government views us – a convenient fixed deposit vote bank, but of inconsequential importance when it comes to sharing the pie. How is that paltry amount going to help us play catch-up with Peninsula Malaysia, which was one of the stated aims of Sarawak in agreeing to form the Federation of Malaysia in 1963? Is this how Malaya treats its equal partners? All the more reason we must fight for full devolution of powers to us, including greater fiscal allocations.
· SARAWAK BUDGET
I applaud the government for allocating 53% of the development budget to the rural areas. On improving connectivity, the RM409mil is earmarked mostly for building bridges, and I was disappointed to note that no mention was made of better roads for the highlands and interior of Sarawak.
The Chief Minister noted that one of the contributors to the expected higher revenue for 2018 is hill timber premium. It is truly a bitter pill for the people of the rural highlands that their forests are contributing to the coffers of the government, but their needs are receiving little attention in return.
The emphasis on digital economy and the eagerness to follow in the footsteps of Estonia, which is becoming the ‘leading force of digitization in the world’, should not be at the expense of the improvement of basic infrastructure and facilities for the people of Sarawak. It is incongruous to talk about explosion of technological advancement and digital revolution when many of the rural folks are still being educated in dilapidated schools, isolated from the major towns by poor roads, drinking untreated and cloudy water, have poor access to healthcare, and no access to grid electricity. What does the digital economy mean to the rural population? What does e-commerce offer them when they do not even have proper roads to send their produce to be sold in the towns?
It is well and good to be ambitious, but are the conditions in Sarawak the same as those in Estonia? Estonia is known to be a small country with one of the freest economies in the world, excellent transportation links, strong rule of law with an independent and efficient judicial system, low public debt/GDP ratio, high regulatory efficiency focusing on enhancing labor productivity and employment growth, and most interestingly, a superior education system based on equity, ie giving equal opportunities to students of all backgrounds.
Sarawak still has a long way to go before we can claim to meet the same conditions as exist in Estonia. We need to first put in place the physical infrastructure. For example, when China decided to embrace modernization, the first thing they did was to build roads. As I pointed out in this august house in 2012, a World Bank paper states that ‘highway construction can be conceived as the laying down of a "prerequisite" for further development. As such, it permits and invites, rather than compel, other activities to follow suit.’
A good road infrastructure in Sarawak is sorely needed but after so many years of promises, we are still putting up with our sub-standard roads, yet our leaders want to leapfrog into the digital era. We must not leave the rural folks behind in our eagerness to be the second Estonia, and the government must put more emphasis on uplifting the economic prosperity and the lives of the rural population. If there is a Pan Borneo Highway along the coast, I propose for a parallel Highway in the hinterland of Sarawak.
· BUDGET ALLOCATION FOR NCR PERIMETER SURVEY
The Sarawak BN politicians were quick to claim that Federal government’s allocation of RM30mil for NCR perimeter surveys was the government’s way of caring about Sarawak’s needs.
Firstly, RM30mil is a relatively small amount compared to, say, the RM811mil allocation to Jakim, which has recently been roundly criticised by the Johor Sultan recently.
Secondly, the native communities must be made aware of what perimeter surveys really are. ‘Survey of NCR land’ is misleading. Conducting perimeter surveys does not automatically mean that NCR, or more specifically, pemakai menoa or pulau galau are recognized by the government. These surveys are conducted on the smaller temuda that are recognised ONLY if they were cleared before 1958. In most cases, communal titles are issued, with the promise that further surveys will be conducted and the land divided into individual titles under s 18. The larger area of the native’s land is located within the pemakai menoa, but the status of pemakai menoa is in limbo, and gravely uncertain.
The question is: why waste time conducting perimeter surveys? My stand is that NCR land claims should be surveyed under s18, and titles issued to the successful claimants. The RM30 mil funding should be fully utilized to issue titles under s 18 of the Land Code.
· NCR AND THE AMENDMENT OF THE LAND CODE
Mr Speaker, I had made two attempts before this sitting to effect amendment of the Land Code. Firstly by way of a motion in November 2013 and then by a Private Member’s Bill in May 2014, before the Federal Court’s decision in the TR Sandah’s case. Both were unsuccessful. Since the decision in TR Sandah, my law firm has lost 7 cases in the Court of Appeal in July this year and because of that, we have had to withdraw a few more cases, some subject to costs imposed on our clients.
The reason I tabled the Private Bill in 2014 was to make the law certain, so that the status of Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau would be unequivocally recognised before the Federal Court made its decision. As it was, my Private Bill was voted down, the Federal Court decided against the natives, and the issue has become blurred.
The native communities have been awaiting for an amendment to the law, and the committee under the DCM has not given any indication as to when this could be done.
The reason I tabled another Private Bill yesterday was to simply show that the amendment need not be complicated, and does not require many long sessions of discussions and consultations. In my view, the Land Code already recognises the concept of pemakai menoa and pulau galau, in its definition section 2 under the definition of “Native Customary Land” as indicated in my proposed Bill, but the amendment is needed to make this absolutely clear in view of the recent Federal Court decision in TR Sandah.
To protect the rights of the native community, the concept of pemakai menoa and pulau galau must be recognised first. The idea of territorial domain must first be given the force of law. It is not necessary to compile the definitions of pemakai menoa or pulau galau according to every native group. It is not possible to specify the extent, as it is subject to proof, ie evidence of occupation of the land by virtue of the adat of the respective native community concerned.
The federal government’s allocation of RM1bil for the repair of dilapidated schools over 2 years is not enough if we want to rebuild all 415 critically dilapidated schools out of the 1020 dilapidated schools.
In 2014, the Federal Government also announced an additional budget of RM1bil to repair dilapidated schools. In last year’s budget, RM570mil was allocated to rebuild ‘destitute’ schools in the country and to upgrade science laboratories. How much of these announced budgets were in fact disbursed to Sarawak?
A week ago, the Minister of Education, Science and Technological Research announced that every rural constituency will be getting at least one new school. Is the new school to replace a dilapidated school in that constituency, or will it be an additional school?
On the construction works, I agree with the Assistant Minister of Corporate Affairs that the federal government ought to stop appointing peninsula-based contractors to implement projects in the state. In those cases, as much as 40% of the contract sums were skimmed off by the time the projects were sub-contracted to Sarawakians. Sarawakian contractors and project consultants must be appointed for all the works from now on.
I urge the Chief Minister to ask for this RM1bil to be disbursed to Sarawak without delay so that we can get started on the repair and rebuild. Otherwise it will be another case of empty promises and lip service from the federal BN government.
Of the RM27bil allocated for healthcare, how much will be allocated to Sarawak? We need more rural clinics with trained staff, and more hospitals to serve the people. Many in the rural areas have to travel long distances to get medical attention, or even to just collect their regular supplies of medicines and they are now being told that the government does not have enough supplies to dispense their 3 months’ worth of medication, as had been done in the past.
The people of Lawas are still wondering whether the new hospital will be completed anytime soon. In 2011, the then Health Minister announced that it would be completed in 3 years. In 2016, the Second Minister of Resource Planning and Environment announced that it would be completed in 36 months. In May this year, the Assistant Minister of Public Housing and Health said that the construction of the Lawas hospital is expected to take 36 months. This protracted delay is unacceptable and I hope the Minister can see to it that there will be no more delays
· 90:10 RATIO OF LOCAL TEACHERS
The recent statement by the Minister of Education, Science and Technological Research that it is not possible to achieve 90:10 ratio of local teachers raises several questions.
In October 2015, the Minister of Welfare, Women and Family had said that on average, the ratio of local teachers was 70:30 then, and that the ratio of 90:10 would be reached by 2018 without compromising on quality.
In October 2016, the same Minister revealed that the proportion of local teachers had risen to 88.7%, and in January this year, she said that the ratio was 88.9:10, very near to the target.
Were the figures given by the previous Minister wrong, or have we suddenly had an influx of teachers from Peninsula Malaysia or a drastic reduction of Sarawakian teachers to upset the ratio? What is the ratio now?
In any event, what does Minister mean by ‘quality teachers’ and ‘qualified teachers’? What are the statistics of the trainees at the 4 Teachers’ Training Colleges in Sarawak now in terms of their origin? Places in the Sarawakian Teachers’ Training Colleges should be prioritised for Sarawakians so that our 90% goal can be achieved in the shortest possible time.
If there really is a problem with the number of local teachers, the closure of the Rejang and Miri Teacher Education Institutes would exacerbate the situation. The government should consider keeping these 2 institutes open for the upskilling, upgrading and training of teachers who are unable to meet the criteria now.
· TRUSAN DAM
In the November 2014 DUN sitting, the Minister had said that the then-proposed Lawas and Trusan 2 Dams were still in the feasibility study stage and when the projects reached the next stage, full Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) would be conducted. To my surprise, the SEB Chairman said in July this year that the feasibility studies for the Trusan Dam were completed 4 years ago.
How was the decision made to build the dam, and what sort of studies had been done in the past?
If the project goes ahead, the government must ensure that proper and thorough EIA and SEIA surveys are carried out, including full consultation with the people affected. I was reliably informed that if this project goes ahead, the Petronas Pipeline from Kimanis Sabah would be submerged. Are there studies done on this too?
Where there are NCR claims, the government must assure the people that they will be properly compensated based on the adat of the people, which extends NCR to pemakai menoa and pulau galau.
The state government should also guarantee that the whole of the Lawas and Ba’ Kelalan areas will be supplied with grid power supply and proper infrastructure, including good tar-sealed roads.
· LOCAL ISSUES
I have just been informed by the office of the Minister of Education, Science and Technological Research that there is no plan to build the long-promised SMK Long Semadoh as there are other schools that the students can attend.
The point is that there is a need to have the school as the children from the area are too young to be sent to boarding school. The parents are worried about them being exposed to undesirable elements especially in this current time when problems of bullying, drug abuse, and illegal gambling seem to be on the increase.
This need for the school must have been the overriding factor when the school was announced and land acquired for it in 2003.
Furthermore, during the elections campaign last year, the Federal Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water informed the people of Lawas that the Prime Minister had approved RM35 million for the construction of the proposed SMK Long Semadoh.
The people of Long Semadoh have waited since 2003 when land was acquired by the government for building SMK Long Semadoh, as recorded in the Sarawak Gazette dated 23 October 2003. To now dismiss this promise outright is dealing a blow to the people, and proof again that the BN politicians and the PM are expert at dishing out empty promises to win the elections. Where is the integrity in this, for a government that claims to promote it?
The project by Samling to upgrade the 80km stretch of the Long Luping – Ba’ Kelalan road to a standard R1 category road is welcome news to the people of Ba’ Kelalan. Samling has been logging extensively in the area for the past 30 years, and their licence is valid for many more years. The company has profited enormously from the timber extracted from the land of the people, and it would be taken as a goodwill gesture if they could bear the cost of the road construction.
I understand that an R1 road is the lowest standard of rural roads, and the surface is not necessarily tar-sealed. As this 80km R1 road is to be a gravel road, I hope the road builders will take extra care with the drainage so that the road does not wash away during heavy rains.
I assure the honourable Minister that we do not criticize the government for the sake of criticism, but only where we feel it is warranted. As for asking the people to be appreciative of the government, in the same way, we hope that the government will appreciate that the people of Ba’ Kelalan pay taxes as well, and their hill timber is contributing to the government’s income in no small measure.
I support the government’s proposed agricultural product collection centre in Lawas, and the establishment of the Highland Development Agency to accelerate development in the highlands, including the rearing of buffaloes, promotion of tourism, rice production and other economic activities.
Long Semadoh and Ba’ Kelalan are the most fertile areas in Sarawak, and any initiatives to harness the agricultural potential of the area, including proper research into the ideal crops and suitable livestock, must be encouraged. However, the roads must first be improved and maintained so the people will have no difficulties in transporting their produce to the collection centre.
My question to the Deputy Chief Minister is whether the Collection Centre will merely be a hub for collection, or whether it will actually buy the produce that is sent there.
OTHER LOCAL ISSUES
The people of Ba’ Kelalan are concerned that there appears to be an obstruction in the registration of new voters. Many have sent in their registrations, some a few times, but to date have not been entered into the system.
In certain areas, the water is not fit for drinking or cooking with. This problem is also encountered by the people of Lawas town after the rain.
Besides the Long Luping - Ba’ Kelalan road, other roads that need repair and maintenance are the Long Semadoh – Long Ibau Road, Long Sebangang – Long Sukang Road and the Lawas – Damit Road.
In conclusion, may 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.
N81 Ba’ Kelalan