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THE PACE of development in Balai Ringin is heartening as progress has taken root in the fertile soil of this rural constituency.
Once not even a name on a map, many villages did not have road access, electricity and treated water.
Today, many positive changes can be seen, which community leaders here say are the fruits of a responsible government and elected representative.
Created in 2005 after an Election Commission redelineation exercise, Balai Ringin is a State constituency under the Sri Aman parliamentary constituency.
From 2006, it has been represented in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly by Datuk Snowdan Lawan from Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS).
Since its inception, Balai Ringin under the good hands of Snowdan has been transformed and equipped with various infrastructure and amenities from rural backwaters to a stage where it is on the cusp of being elevated into a sub-district, hopefully by next year.
Located approximately 90km from Sarawak’s capital city of Kuching, the predominantly Iban area has been transformed holistic development over the years through numerous projects, aimed at improving its socio-economic landscape and lifting up the living standards of its residents.
On top of that, Balai Ringin is also strategically located along the mega Pan Borneo Highway, which is scheduled for completion in 2022.
Surrounded by vast tracts of land suitable for farming and agriculture, the town of Balai Ringin has a bustling wet market and bazaar selling local produce, as well as coffee shops, a primary school and a secondary school, library, multipurpose hall, police station, army camp, health clinic, churches and mosque for a population of about 10,000 people.
Satifying the people’s needs
When met, a number of Balai Ringin community leaders were all in agreement the constituency is steadily progressing as reflected in the construction and upgrade of much needed infrastructure on par with the development of other rural towns and constituencies in Sarawak.
Village chief Saloma Jamit from Kampung Gayau Baru in Pantu said, the locals have seen many changes and development taking place over the years, which she attributed to having a responsible and caring government that prioritises the people.
“Throughout my two years as ‘ketua kampung’ and 14 years as a female chief, our assemblyman through the state government has provided for the rural areas and not just limited (their attention) to towns and cities.
“Many improvements have been made, assistance given and all sorts of aid channeled accordingly. Snowdan never fails to sit down and discuss with the penghulu, ketua kampung, tuai rumah and of course, the villagers themselves.
“Through him, the Sarawak government has also developed human capital in the rural areas including building up the youths of Balai Ringin, which I wholeheartedly agree with,” Saloma said.
Elected as village chief at the age of 39, Saloma said she is grateful to be given the trust to lead her village as a young female leader in a job and leadership role which is male dominated.
“It is tough, with loads of challenges, but I learned how to tackle problems from the elders and other leaders.
“I call on the youths to work hard as well, because poverty must never be let to become a hindrance to success and at the same time, to help Balai Ringin elevate its status to greater heights,” Saloma said.
She remembers she had a big smile on her face when she heard Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg giving the green light for the construction of the RM15 million-Balai Ringin mini stadium to serve as a dedicated sports centre equipped with facilities for local students and youth.
The stadium is currently being constructed and expected to be completed by next year.
Among its facilities are badminton courts, a sepak takraw hall, futsal court, football field, running track, as well as areas for shot put, high jump, triple jump and a rock climbing wall for those who love extreme sports.
Aside from that, there is also a hall that can accommodate up to 1,500 people and a grand stand for 800 people.
Incubating young sports talent
With the Sarawak government emphasising on youth development and encouraging the youth to take part in various leadership and capacity-building programmes, Snowdan is a vocal proponent of the importance of nurturing their potential so they are ready to assume the mantle of leadership from the present crop of leaders.
This is why the mini stadium will also be used for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) .
One may ask, why is this mini stadium so important? What makes it stand out from other mini stadiums?
Firstly, the mini stadium is located at the centre of the ‘golden triangle’ formed by Serian, Simunjan, and Sri Aman.
Snowdan explained, there are nearly 50 schools in surrounding areas, including those in Siburan as well.
“Therefore, having a stadium although mini but with proper facilities, will give our students and youths the opportunity to use the facilities and carry out numerous sporting or youth activities.
“Did you know that 15 of our Malaysia Games (Sukma) athletes hailed from Balai Ringin? Hence, conducting youth training here will also assist in identifying new talents in sports,” he added.
Sub-district dream becomes reality
Since 2017, it has been Snowdan’s goal to upgrade Balai Ringin into a sub-district and he has pushed hard to achieve it.
His efforts finally saw sweet success and his dream became reality when Abang Johari gave his stamp of approval to elevate Balai Ringin in December last year.
Apart from the fact that Balai Ringin has been elevated to sub-district, Pandu is also being elevated to be a full district, a remarkable development for the constituency of Balai Ringin.
Underlining the expanding population and rapid pace of development in the constituency, Snowdan asserts that the elevation will bring constituents better and more efficient administration services in the three zones under his watch, which he calls zone A (Serian), B (Simunjan), and C (Sri Aman).
Differentiating them according to their unique potential, Snowdan said Serian zone has been identified as an education, youth and sports hub because it hosts 19 primary schools and one secondary school with approximately 2,000 students.
For Simunjan, Snowdan has set his sights on growing and developing its tourism and handicraft potential.
As the saying goes, action speaks louder than words. Snowdan has approved a RM350,000 allocation under his Rural Transformation Programme (RTP) fund to build a handicraft centre in Simunjan to enable local craftsmen and wowen to to sell their handicrafts.
As for tourism, Snowdan has identified a lake and submitted a proposal for the construction of ecotourism infrastructure to Integrated Regional Samarahan Development Agency (Irsda).
He has also shortlisted a number of scenic waterfalls which he foresee has great potential as ecotourism sites.
Meanwhile, the focus for the Sri Aman zone will be on agriculture, plantations and livestock sectors.
“This is because under Lachau and Pantu area, there is a collection, processing, and packaging centre (CPPC) which has been approved by the State government.
“The fact that this zone has vast paddy fields, as well as palm oil and pepper plantations, therefore, we can collect products from agriculture, plantations and livestock and export them out,” Snowdan explained.
Seeing their wishes come true
Balai Ringin’s coming elevation into a sub district is a wish come true for the late Pemanca Peter Mooney Linggau (The interview was done before the passing of Mooney).
Although it will be an uphill task with much administrative ground work still to be done, he agreed with Snowdan that the elevation in status is very important for Balai Ringin in the future as this will enable residents to benefit from efficient administration services, more development funds and most importantly, give them the ability to be more competitive in the agricultural and tourism sectors.
“For many years, villagers had to travel to the Serian district for official and administrative matters. Back then, it took about 60 minutes for us to commute to Serian. Now, with the Pan Borneo Highway, our traveling time is shortened to about half of that, which is a relief for us as well.
“Our assemblyman has in fact done a lot for the people of Balai Ringin. Although it may not be 100 per cent from A to Z, he has helped with facilitating various infrastructure projects including house repairs, village roads and electricity supply throughout his three terms (15 years) of service,” Peter said.
“As regards to water supply coverage, it is already in the planning and schedule to achieve 100 per cent coverage by 2024 and I am certain that the government will get it implemented as soon as possible, given that many villagers have yet to enjoy clean treated water while at the same time, our population here is growing,” he added.
Carrying the responsibilities of a village chief for almost 30 years, Robert Gana expressed gratitude for Snowdan’s efforts and continuous assistance not only for his village but also other villages nearby since the latter was elected as the Balai Ringin assemblyman.
“We recently got a new multipurpose hall in Kg Spaoh Raba and this is something which we’ve wanted in the past. Of course, he has helped us to obtain other facilities as well.
“He will do what he can and provide what he is able to to meet the people’s requests and needs,” Robert said, adding that he understands the challenges as Balai Ringin is a considerably large area.
Moving towards a brighter future
Meanwhile, Idris Manap from Kampung Melayu Balai Ringin asserts that throughout his six years as a village chief, he has seen many people benefit from Minor Rural Project (MRP) grants which he feels proud of as it is the best he could wish for.
“Alhamdulilah, all the rural projects allocated for Balai Ringin are running smoothly and God-willing, we will continue to prosper with many more to come,” he said.
‘Countless’ was how longhouse chief Lawrence Luda from Kampung Isu in Pantu described the various infrastructure improvements and contributions Balai Ringin residents have benefited from, thanks to Snowdan’s efforts.
Explaining further, Lawrence said Snowdan has helped improved the standards of living for many people, not just in his area but also in other areas.
“In terms of infrastructure, from those days when we had no roads, now there is no longhouse in Balai Ringin that is not connected to a road, whether it is gravel or tar. With road access, our farmers can take their produce out to sell in markets nearby.
“I would say there are no longhouses in Balai Ringin today that are still using or relying on longboats like before as their only means of transportation,” he said.
As for electricity supply, Lawrence proudly mentioned that when Snowdan first became assemblyman, only 30 per cent of Balai Ringin had coverage.
Now, there are only two villages waiting to be connected.
Lawrence explained that the two villages are actually new settlements.
“The authorities and related agencies are currently working on the connection which will be completed before this Christmas.
“Once that is done, then every constituent in Balai Ringin will have access to electricity,” Lawrence said.
Meanwhile, Snowdan said the party’s election machinery has been set in motion. He is ready to charge forward because he believes he has delivered his best together with Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) as the government of the day.
“Our preparation has been ongoing as well. In fact, it is an ‘every day’ thing. I do not stop even on weekends, moving around in my constituency even after the last election (2016) was concluded.
“I strongly believe voters in Balai Ringin can judge for themselves my track record and performance for the past five years. Our people are not blind, they can see what has been done, what is right and wrong,” he stated.
Snowdan first stood as a political candidate and won in the 2006 State election with 3,075 votes against Sarawak National Party (Snap)’s Ibi Unding (1,559) and independent candidate Cobbold Lusoi (742).
He successfully defended the seat in the 2011 state election, by garnering 4,145 votes in a six-cornered fight against Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s Ibi Unding (1,260); Snap’s Dan Giang (765); Parti Cinta Malaysia (PCM)’s Lipeh Mawi (126); and two independent candidates Cobbold Lusoi (85) and Sujal Gansi (32).
In the 2016 State election, Snowdan pulled off another victory with 4,478 votes in a four-cornered fight against independent candidate Entusa Imam who polled 2,439, PKR’s Nicholas Mujah Ason (700) and Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak Baru (PBDSB)’s Pok Unkut (90). — DayakDaily