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IT WAS LATE in the afternoon when Murum assemblyman Kennedy Chukpai Ugon — affectionately monikered YB Chok by his constituents — to visit a Seping community at Uma Seping, Long Bala, about 10km from the Sungei Asap Settlement Scheme in Belaga District.
The entire Seping tribal community of about 500 people is among the smallest in Sarawak and their settlement in Uma Seping, Long Bala, is one of the reminding two Seping longhouses in the Sarawak, found on the periphery of Sungei Asap Resettlement Scheme.
Chukpai has been instrumental in uplifting the livelihood of the Sepings — from a miserable, abandoned and almost extinct community to one that’s thriving, modern and progressive.
It all started with a phone call
The transformation process at Uma Seping, Long Bala, started four years ago after Chukpai was elected Murum assemblyman. Knowing that the Sepings are the natives of Sungei Asap, he embarked on a bold and life-changing plan to help them catch up and be on par with the other communities.
Before this, the Sepings at Uma Seping, Long Bala, had been living in a dilapidated longhouse. What made matters worse was that the elderly had been left behind to fend for themselves as the younger generation moved out in search of greener pastures.
But things started changing for the better after Chukpai won the Murum seat in the 2016 polls.
It all started with a phone call. Chukpai called one of his old friends, Louis Nyagong Lenjau, a well-educated Seping and the son of the Uma Seping headman, asking Louis who was then working at the Borneo Highland Resort, to come back and help him to transform the Seping community.
“Although he was reluctant at first, I managed to convince him. He is the only one I think who has the vision to help his own community,” Chukpai told DayakDaily.
With sheer grit and determination, both men put their shoulders to the yoke to plan and fulfill what the community needed most — housing, electricity and water supplies as well as roads.
Priceless Christmas gifts
On Dec 23, 2020, the Seping community at Uma Seping, Long Bala, received a couple of priceless Christmas gifts – a 24-hour electricity supply from the main grid and a 4.5km link road to their longhouse from the main trunk road.
When Chukpai alighted from his vehicle during his recent visit to the 26-door longhouse at the settlement, the Seping community gave him a very warm welcome and feted him to a sumptuous dinner, capped with tuak and beer, to express their gratitude.
Chukpai promised he would return soon to declare open both projects, costing about RM3 million.
After dinner, two Seping men stepped forward to pledge the community’s support for Chukpai to be re-nominated as YB for Murum as they strongly feel he has done a tremendous job.
“We had many YBs before Chukpai but he is the one who really cares about us. Besides bringing in the two projects, he has also helped build our new longhouse and transformed Uma Seping into a modern village,” said 50-year-old longhouse resident Joseph Tali.
Another longhouse resident Angau Betek, 60, said Chukpai had also brought other projects to the settlement such as a new jetty and a futsal court.
Terung assam, chillis and lemon
In terms of economic well-being, Chukpai encouraged the Sepings to plant cash crops such as terung assam, chillis and lemons under Agriculture Facilitation Fund (AFF) initiatives.
“It’s a great idea worth following up on,” Tali exclaimed, promising to double his efforts to diversify into agricultural pursuits supplementary to his more than 500 already flourishing oil palms.
Currently, Uma Seping, Long Bala, consists of a 26-door modern longhouse with a six-door longhouse still under construction.
The Seping community now can look forward to better days with Louis as their leader, especially now that he has been appointed as a councillor.
“I hope the success story of Uma Seping, Long Bala, will be a role model to the other Seping longhouses, especially Uma Seping, Long Koyan. I hope to transform them as well but there must be cooperation and support from the longhouses themselves. I can’t do it alone,” Louis said.
Chukpai has divided the Murum constituency into three zones according to the three polling districts or Pusat Daerah Mengundi (PDM) of Tubau, Sungei Asap and Long Murum to facilitate his outreach programmes.
Tubau is no more neglected
The Tubau PDM consists of 73 longhouses and populated mostly by the Ibans and the Orang Ulu with a small number of Malays and Chinese.
To develop Tubau, once a “blind spot” area, Chukpai has rolled out a masterplan to elevate it to a sub-district.
Overall, Tubau has more than 90 per cent electricity supply — an increase from a mere 30 per cent four years ago. About RM57.56 million worth of Rural Electrification Scheme (RES) projects have been completed with another RM68.5 million worth still on-going.
As for treated water supply, it will be increased to about 70 per cent from a mere five per cent four years ago once the new RM145 million Tubau water treatment plant is completed. The project is now under tender.
As for roads, a sum of RM6 million under the Ulu Rajang Development Agency (URDA) and another RM17.4 million under JKR Sarawak have been allocated to upgrade the 88km Jalolong-Tubau Road. Work is ongoing.
As this road connects 70 per cent of the longhouses in the Tubau area to the main Bakun Road, it has been proposed under the first rolling plan of the 12th Malaysia Plan that a sum of RM320 million be allocated by URDA to further, upgrade it.
Besides roads, Chukpai has also brought in telecommunication facilities. Six towers have already put up and will be operational soon.
CONNECTme NOW to be launched in Tubau
“During the Movement Control Order (MCO), I managed to raise about RM75,000 to facilitate WIFI coverage with ‘CONNECTme NOW’ broadband for 35 settlements throughout Murum constituency, including Tubau PDM.
“In this connection, I’ve allocated RM2,000 worth of airtime to each settlement. To sustain the programme, I have advised the residents to top up the airtime for their own needs,” he said.
Plans are also in the pipeline to build a Rural Growth Centre (RGC) in Tubau equipped with a commercial centre, an agriculture station, a school, a health clinic as well as a village extension programme, consisting of 200 lots for the Muslim community.
Additionally, an agriculture station, costing RM5 million, has been approved for Tubau. The site has already been identified.
Sg Asap on its way to becoming a booming town
The Asap PDM consists primarily of the residents from the 15 longhouses in Sungei Asap (Sg Asap) Settlement Scheme who were affected by the implementation of the mega Bakun HEP Dam project in the 1990s. It also includes the longhouses in the Sungai Belaga and Long Urun areas. Most of the inhabitants are Kayans, Kenyahs, Lahanans, Ukits and Penans.
For the Sg Asap Resettlement Scheme, Chukpai is confident this sub-district will be elevated to a full district soon. The district office is now under construction in anticipation of the elevation.
“With the elevation of Sg Asap to a district, we can expect more funding to improve the livelihood of the people who have sacrificed so much by agreeing to be resettled,” said Chukpai, who himself is one of those uprooted from their original longhouse in upper Balui River.
Theological centre and Catholic Church to be set up in Sg Asap
Besides having good amenities such as roads, electricity and water supplies and telecommunications linkages, Sg Asap will soon have one of the biggest BEM churches in Sarawak with the completion of the RM10 million Apau Koyan BEM Church. A theological centre will also be set up there to train pastors.
Chukpai also disclosed Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg had approved a RM10-million allocation to build a Catholic Church at Apau Koyan.
Under him, Sg Asap will soon see its own Cultural Heritage Centre where the local community can celebrate the biennial Pesta Apau Koyan. The RM15-million centre will have a permanent gallery to showcase the rich heritage and cultures of the local Orang Ulu communities.
Feeder road network to link all farms of Sg Asap
For the economic growth of the settlers, Chukpai has started laying an all-weather-surface feeder road network leading to their agricultural land. It will be a massive project whereby he intends to connect all the agriculture lots over the next few years. Under Phase One, RM9 million has been spent under the Chief Minister’s Projek Rakyat initiative on building 11km of the estimated 135km-long road.
For Phase Two, RM86.4 million has been allocated under URDA to build about 50km of the road network and a few bridges. The remaining 76km will be built once Phase Two is completed.
“For the social development of our youth and young generation, YAB Chief Minister has agreed to our request to build a Youth Excellence Centre at Apau Koyan, costing RM10 million, and allocate another RM15 million for a Hawkers’ Centre to cater to the needs of our entrepreneurs,” Chukpai said.
On land issue at SgAsap, especially the status of Tanah Payung or communal land for the 15 longhouses, he said the Sarawak government had issued land titles to facilitate the Village Extension Programme for extended families.
“Furthermore, the State government has agreed to pay the land premium for both agriculture and housing to all the 1,639 lots amounting to RM3.2 million.
“The land titles will also be issued. Those who have paid their land premium will receive a reimbursement of RM1,910 from the government soon while those who have not paid will get their land titles free.”
According to Chukpai, the Sungai Belaga and Long Urun areas which comprise 18 longhouses, including Uma Seping, have been incorporated into the government’s development and transformation plan.
Overall, these areas now have over 95 per cent electricity supply and coverage will reach 100 per cent by year-end. About RM11.7 million worth of RES projects has already completed while another RM7.7 million has been set aside for related on-going projects.
Some 90 per cent of the treated water supply will be made available once the new RM20 million Long Urun water treatment plant is ready. The project is now under tender.
A RM2.5 million road project is also being planned under URDA, linking the longhouses to the school in Long Urun.
“And with the construction of the Penyuan Bridge by JKR, costing about RM3 million, the journey to Long Urun will be shortened by half an hour. We have also built a Rural Service Centre with telecommunication services, among others, for the Long Urun community,” Chukpai said.
Developing Long Murum
The Long Murum area is an area so large with a not-so-big population that is widely scattered. Chukpai acknowledged it but it did not pose to be an issue to him as he knew how to set his priority.
Major projects like the construction of bridges and culverts have to be implemented in the vast hinterland to facilitate the upgrading of roads. That he knew was the essentials. And this is what Chukpai has done to improve the road leading further inland to the settlement at Lusong Laku — an eight-hour drive from Bintulu.
Towards this end, RM20 million has been allocated to change all the timber bridges and culverts along this former 35km-timber road in Phase One of the project under URDA.
Phase Two will see the quality of the road upgraded to R1-modified standard — tar-sealed or surface reinforcing – at cost of RM60 million. Previously, the Penan community at Lusong Laku often suffered the direness of being cut off after heavy downpours as the road would become impassable whenever any of the wooden bridges was swept away.
Moving forward, an allocation of RM15 million has been allocated to URDA to build a water treatment plant at Lusong Laku to serve the longhouse, the primary school, the health clinic and an agriculture station there. The project is under tender.
Improving physical connectivity to Tegulang and Metalun
Apart from the road to Lusong Laku, the artery road to both Tegulang and Metalun Resettlement Schemes is also under construction, funded by URDA. Under Phase One, RM28.35 million and RM14.25 million will be for road upgrading in Metalun and Tegulang respectively.
Additionally, RM112 million will be allocated to Metalun and RM61 million to Tegulang under Phase Two of the project to be implemented by the Sarawak Works Department and funded by the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development. The project is now under tender.
The residents of Tegulang and Melatun who were affected by the implementation of the Murum HEP Dam, were not only given with free housing, they have been provided with land and other amenities such as schools, community halls, places of worship and sports facilities. Most of those resettled are Penans with some Kenyah Badeng.
To date, the Sarawak government has approved a Rural Service Centre for both Metalun and Tegulang resettlement schemes. Site preparation is on-going. Construction of the agricultural station to uplift the socio-economic well-being of the people in the areas is also underway.
All the longhouses in PDM Murum are connected with WIFI via CONNECTme NOW broadband.
Serving Murum with a smile
Chukpai revealed that over the past four years, the government had approved some RM1 billion worth of projects for Murum, focusing mostly on infrastructural development such as roads and bridges, electricity and water supplies, housing, places of worship, sports facilities, community halls, schools and the village extension programme.
In the next five years, he envisions Murum to experience greater progress for its diverse communities of Orang Ulus, Ibans, Malays and Chinese. And he promises to work even harder to bring in more development.
During the interview, Chukpai expressed satisfaction that he had done his level best for his people over the past four years as YB for Murum.
“You know how I managed to do what I did. It’s not just about working hard and sacrificing but also putting all my heart into serving my people,” he said, smiling broadly.
He recorded his deepest appreciation and gratitude to the people DUN Murum for their support, encouragement, advice and prayers as their wakil rakyat.
“The people’s kindness is greatly appreciated and will be remembered forever. Their advice will serve as a guiding light in my life. I cannot repay their kindness and I can only pray God will continue to bless us all and Murum constituency.
“The success we have achieved in DUN Murum all these years is not due to my efforts alone but also to the spirit of camaraderie and cooperation to move forward together at all levels by embracing unity in diversity and showing mutual respect for our differences,” Chukpai said.
Chukpai made his debut in 2016 Sarawak Election in the new constituency of Murum. He was the Parti Rakyat Sarawak candidate for Barisan Nasional Sarawak and won the seat in a four-cornered fight with a majority of 2,200 by garnering 3,265 votes.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) candidate Abun Sui Anyit polled 1,065 votes, Democratic Action Party (DAP) candidate Mathew Silek 687 votes and independent candidate Stanley Ajang Batok, 1,029 votes. — DayakDaily