2019: A year that impacted Sarawakians, and shaped our resolve

The State Legislative Assembly complex as seen from the opposite side of the Sarawak river in Kuching. — DayakDaily.com file pic

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By Lian Cheng, Karen Bong and Nancy Nais

Much has happened in 2019. Some events may take their place in history with memories of the events shared by many, while some incidents have sunk deep into our hearts and turned into memories treasured by a few.

Whether 2019 is a year we want to forget, or a year which we cling on to and refuse to let go, it was a year that we shared together as Sarawakians, a year that shaped us and made us what we are.

Looking ahead, no one knows what the future holds, but what we can make sure is, we do not repeat the past mistakes and also, bring along all the blessings of 2019 to match into the new year of 2020.

Whatever comes to an end must give rise to something new – this is the conviction of DayakDaily. Let us therefore look into some major events that happened in 2019 to prepare us to move on to 2020.

GPS’ hornbill takes flight

Abang Johari (right) and others giving the thumbs-up after the official unveiling of GPS logo. Seen with the chief minister (from left) are Nanta, Abdul Karim, Salang and Tiong.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg launched Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS)’s new logo featuring the magnificent hornbill on Jan 9 at Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) headquarters. With the hornbill being a protected species in the state, it symbolised GPS’ intention to continue protecting Sarawak and its rights.

It was a historic moment for Sarawak politics, in which a coalition of Sarawak-based parties (PBB, Sarawak United People’s Party or SUPP, Parti Rakyat Sarawak or PRS and Progressive Democratic Party or PDP) led by Sarawakians, will lead and shape the future direction that protects the interest of Sarawak and her people within the Federation of Malaysia.

The launch was immediately followed by a GPS’s nine-day flag rally convoy to introduce the coalition’s newly launched hornbill logo to the people, especially the older generation.

Conned and stranded overseas

Dr Yii (centre) with the eight Sarawakians waiting to board their flight from Kuala Lumpur to Sibu.

On Feb 4, eight Sarawakians were reported stranded in Liberia, Africa, in another case of job scam offering false promises of lucrative salaries ranging from RM8,000 to RM10,000 a month to do logging jobs.

The Malaysian Foreign Ministry successfully negotiated the repatriation of the victims whom all are males of whom four are from Kapit and two each from Betong and Balingian.

On Feb 17, news broke out that another 47 Malaysians (40 Sarawakians, 4 West Malaysians, 3 Sabahan) were scammed and ended up in a prison in Cambodia for 65 days before they were safely released and returned to Malaysia.

The ex-detainees arrived in batches in Cambodia after being lured by a US$1,200 – US$1,500 (RM5,040 – RM6,300) monthly salary. They were arrested in a raid by the Cambodian police on December 11, 2018, on the grounds related to illegal online gambling.

Amendments of Article 1(2) of Federal Constitution

Sarawak GPS MPs rejected the Amendment of Federal Constitution Article 1(2) Bill which involved removing Sarawak and Sabah from the list of Malaysian states and placing them in a different grouping.

The Bill did not pass in Parliament following its failure to obtain a two-thirds majority on April 9, 2019. In total, only 138 Members of Parliament (MPs) voted for it while 59 abstained. There were no votes against it.

It is the stance of the Sarawak GPS that the sole changes made on Article 1(2) does not affect the standing of Sarawak within the Federation. To revert Sarawak’s position as an equal partner in Malaysia based on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 needed to involve more amendments on the Federal Constitution including Article 160.

DayakDaily Debate Forum

The promotional material of the forum and a debate titled ‘Should Sarawakians support the Amendment to Federal Constitution 1(2) Bill as tabled in Parliament on April 9, 2019, in the light of Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63)?’, which will be held at Kuching Civic Centre on April 28, 2019, from 2.30pm to 6pm.

The debate forum entitling “Should Sarawakians support the Amendment to Federal Constitution 1(2) Bill as tabled in Parliament on April 9, 2019, in the light of MA63?” organised by DayakDaily on April 28 attracted an audience of about 700.

The main objective of the event was to re-examine the whole process of the tabling of the bill on April 9 and its implications as well as how should the amendment be construed in light of the MA63.

Four lawyers who differs in their political outlook were invited to debate in this most intense public talks and forums ever held in Sarawak in recent years.

Muara Tuang assemblyman Datuk Idris Buang, Sarawak Association for Peoples’ Aspirations (Sapa) president Dominique Ng, Padungan assemblyman Wong King Wei and veteran lawyer Shankar Ram were the speakers while Senior lawyer Arther Lee was the moderator.

The Suitcase Murder

On July 19, a body with a blindfold around his eyes and his head, hands and feet bound with a yellow adhesive tape was found inside a luggage bag underneath a bridge at Kampung Pangkalan Baik, Bau.

The gruesome case shocked Sarawakians and a few hours after the body of the victim – Wong Sie Tuang, 28, a tailor, was found, two suspects were apprehended. Further investigation led to one of them been released and the other one being charged for murder.

Sarawak Day 722 Rallies

There were two Sarawak Independence Day rallies held in Kuching on July 22, 2019, apart from the state-level Sarawak Day Celebration held in Bintulu to celebrate Sarawak Day.

The first rally was organised by Kuching Tradition Handicraft Studies Society at the Song Kheng Hai rugby field from 7am to 9 am while the second one by Sarawak Association of Peoples’s Aspiration (Sapa) at Padang Merdeka from 9am to 11am.

Braving the rain, about 2,000 people from all walks of life, far and near, assembled at the Song Kheng Hai field in Padungan from as early as 6am, to celebrate what was arguably Sarawak’s most important occasion, the Sarawak Day. The crowds gathered and there were speeches before they matched to Padang Merdeka to meet those gathering there. The 2,000 made a spectacular view when matching all the way to Padang Merdeka.

The two groups met and there were more speeches and calling for Sarawak’s independence. The song “The Land is mine” were sung before the whole event came to a close.

Soon Koh quits cabinet

Wong at the press conference at Bangunan Baitulmakmur, Kuching today (July 15, 2019).

Second Finance-cum-International Trade and E-Commerce Minister Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh had on July 15 tendered his resignation from the state cabinet. Following Abang Johari’s acceptance of the resignation, Wong vacated the office in August.

Wong, 77, who is Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) president, said he has no ‘ moral locus standi’ to remain in the cabinet and decided to leave ‘as a matter of political integrity’. This came after PSB leaders were excluded from the new line-up of the state’s 24 local councils.

On Aug 22, a new cabinet line-up was announced which saw Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas being appointed as Second Finance Minister replacing Wong.

Wong’s resignation was believed to be the result of tension built up between PSB and GPS. It started with Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) vice-president-cum Sri Aman member of parliament (MP) Datuk Masir Kujat quiting the party on March 7 to join PSB.

On July 11, however, Mambong assemblyman Datuk Dr Jerip Susil who is also PSB’s deputy president quit the party on grounds that he had confidence in GPS to bring development to rural constituencies. He was later reappointed as Assistant Minister of Transport in the GPS-led government in the Aug 22 minor cabinet reshuffle.

On Oct 24, PBB president Abang Johari announced that Dr Jerip was accepted by the party during its Supreme Council meeting.

Hazardous haze blanketing Sarawak

The haze situation in Kuching as in 8am, Sept 14.

In the month of August and September, Sarawak was blanketed by suffocating regional haze, with air quality breaching hazardous levels.

On Sept 20, a total of 1,037 schools in 20 districts were forced to close in Sarawak’s haze-hit areas, rendering 325,391 students to stay home as the air pollutant index (API) levels exceeded 200.

The haze was caused mainly from fires in Kalimantan, Indonesia. To make matters worse, flaring local forest, peat and bush fire in Sarawak were making situation worse. The last regional hazardous haze happened in 1997.

Sarawak sues Petronas

The Comptroller of the State Sales Tax, Sarawak and the State Government filed a Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim at the High Court registry here on Nov 21, 2019.

The claim against Petronas was to recover the five per cent State Sales Tax on petroleum and petroleum products which had been imposed by Sarawak under the Sales Tax Ordinance 1998, made effective beginning of this year.

It had been confirmed that Petronas owed the Sarawak government about RM1.29 billion in sales tax on petroleum products for the first half of this year. Other oil companies operating in Sarawak such as Murphy Oil and Pertamina have paid their due except Petronas.

In Memoriam

Dato Andrew Wong Kee Yew, former Sibu Municipal Council deputy chairman and son of former Second Finance Minister Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh, passed away on Feb 10 at 11pm at his family home in Sibu. Initial postmortem report found that he had bleeding on the left side of his brain. He was found unconscious on the floor of his bedroom at 9.30pm by his mother Datin Seri Pauline Leong Poh Lin.

Another politician, Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak Baru (PBDSB) president Cobbold John Lusoi passed away from a heart attack at his home in Kuala Lumpur at around 7am on March 7 at the age of 57. An oil palm planter with a masters degree in agriculture science from a New Zealand University, Cobbold was also a Native Customary Rights (NCR) land activist.

Mambong MP, the late Datuk Seri Dr James Dawos Mamit, who suffered from nasal cancer over the past few years, breathed his last at the age of 70 at his residence at Stutong Park around 11.30pm on July 8. Dawos, known to be an environment specialist was Deputy Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water from 2015-2018. Prior to that, Dawos was the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment from 2013-2015, and Deputy Tourism Minister from 2009-2013.

The moving of the High Court Registry

On April 19, a circular signed by the Chief Registrar of the Federal Court, Datuk Seri Latifah Mohd Tahar, stated that the registry would be relocated to Kota Kinabalu on May 1. The circular however did not take effect following strong objection from the Sarawak Chief Minister’s Office.

On April 30, the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) unanimously passed the motion rejecting the relocation of the principal registry.

On Nov 12 evening, however, Sarawak was informed that the Sabah and Sarawak High Court Registry would be moved from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu effective Nov 15, 2019.

The last minute announcement shocked Sarawak.

The decision was made by Yang di-Pertuan Agong who acted upon the advice of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg had no choice but to confirm the moving of the Registry.

He however, said upon negotiation, there is a compromised agreement that the Registry will be be based between Kuching and Kota Kinabalu on a 10-year rotational basis.

Rabies kills again

Getting wound thoroughly cleaned as soon as possible greatly reduces risk of rabies!

Sarawak recorded six human fatalities from rabies this year.

Since an outbreak was declared on July 17, 2017, the rabies virus has so far claimed 21 human lives from 22 recorded cases.

The state government has to date provided anti-rabies vaccination for free to 150,000 or 65 per cent of the estimated number of pet dogs in Sarawak.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said following the effectiveness of Ops Rabies 2019, there has not been any new areas declared as rabies affected with the last one being declared in July 2019.

The rabies operation in the state had cost RM22.9 million of which RM6.9 million came from the federal government.

To date, 63 areas in Sarawak were gazetted as rabies-affected areas, with the Serian division having the most with 22 rabies-affected areas, followed by Kuching (seven), Sri Aman (five), Miri (six), Sarikei (five), Samarahan (four), Mukah (four), Betong (four), Sibu (two) and Kapit (one).

Uggah, who is also Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) chairman, hoped Sarawak can achieve zero fatality due to rabies by 2021 and be free of the disease by 2025.

He added that Sarawak is currently formulating programmes to deal with rabies more effectively next year including creating ‘immune belt’ along the Sarawak-Kalimantan borders.

Sarawak Government’s new policies

Abang Johari delivering the keynote address at “Unlocking the potential of digital economy for Sarawak” Forum at Bologna, Italy.

Abang Johari is relentlessly channeling Sarawak’s resources to push for speedy development in rural areas. He believes that only with the availability of basic infrastructural development would Sarawak be able to be fast-tracked to move into a developed economy.

Some of the major rural projects included the building of five new bridges to enhance rural connectivity, the building of roads such as Second Trunk Road and Coastal Highway. As much as RM2.8 billion has also been allocated to make sure that all rural settlements are accessible to 24-hour electricity and treated water.

To speed up the development of Sarawak, Abang Johari has also announced a series of development projects in urban centres including the building of Automatic Rail Train, electric and hydrogen buses, provision of affordable houses which are among some of his urban renewal projects.

In terms of agriculture, he steadily pushes for improvement of agricultural yields and export through digital farming and marketing. Among many of the agricultural-related initiatives are building of two STOLports (short take-off and landing) at Bukit Mambong and Bukit Sadok and the purchase of a cargo plane to ensure speedy export of agriculture produce.

There are also new welfare policies which benefit people from all walks of life such as RM1,000 for each newborn, RM450 for new mothers, RM5 water subsidies, RM5,000 free electricity connection fee.

As of 2019, Abang Johari has announced a total of 76 initiatives to build a modern and digital Sarawak. —DayakDaily