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By Lian Cheng
KUCHING, Nov 13: Kota Sentosa assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen says Miri Port is an 18-year-old issue and the Pakatan Harapan (PH) federal government should not be held responsible for its failings.
He said it was a state project and Infrastructure and Port Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing should not “push” it to PH.
Chong who is also PH Sarawak chief reminded Masing and the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government that the Miri Port issue did not just happen today and since as early as 2001, Democratic Action Party (DAP) supremo Lim Kit Siang had commented on it after he visited Miri.
“In the past week, the Sarawak state government has failed to give a satisfactory explanation to my query in Miri as to why it had built the biggest “white elephant” project in the country, the RM350 million Miri port in Kuala Baram, which was as good as abandoned on its completion as the new port is not deep enough for most vessels to navigate.
“The new Miri Port at Kuala Baram was planned to have a deeper approach channel to receive bigger vessels as compared to the old Miri port, i.e. a channel 150km long and five-metre depth at lowest tide, but the wrong siting and the siltation of the river means only shallow draft craft can use the new RM350 million port facility, as vessels with drafts greater than two metres are unable to pull alongside,” Chong said, reading out part of Lim’s statement dated April 3, 2001.
Chong said back in 2001 which was 18 years ago, DAP had highlighted the issue where the Sarawak government had chosen a site to build Miri Port which was built at RM350 million but “cannot be used for bigger vessels”.
“It (Miri Port) was initially planned to have the depth of five metres at the lowest tide. And now, as confirmed by James Masing, it is three metres in depth, maximum, that is high tide — three metres.
“This problem has existed for two decades, for James Masing to push it to say that this is the problem by PH, this is most irresponsible and trying to cover up the folly and mistake of the Sarawak state government.
“This is a state project and well, the state government has to resolve this. But all these years, when BN (Barisan Nasional) is both the federal and state governments, they have failed to resolve this issue. And the annual dredging amount is close to RM100 million, to spend to dredge and the problem persists,” said Chong at a press conference on the sidelines of the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting today.
He said there was a proposal to build an alternative canal which will cost RM500 million to solve the issue but no action has been taken on the proposal which was made 20 years ago,
“This is the problem with our state’s indiscreet, improperly-planned, and wasteful spending of the taxpayers’ money — RM300 million spent but you cannot use it,” said Chong.
He said the issue was highlighted 18 years ago and nothing was done except that every year, RM100 million was given for dredging to resolve the siltation problem which is a recurring problem.
“But James Masing comes to this House and puts the blame on the new PH government which is in office for only 18 months (whereas) the problem (has been) existing more than 18 years.
“So this is most irresponsible. I think he is trying to hide the truth. He is covering up for the grave mistake of the Sarawak government, and that is what happen to GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak) which always blames it on the new government when the problem has existed for years,” said Chong.
Chong was responding to Masing who said the Sarawak government will pursue the issue of alleviating heavy siltation at the port with the federal government under the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP).
He said the port has failed to realise its full potential due to severe siltation.
“As the feeder port which links trade for Sarawak’s northern region, Miri Port has not been able to realise its full potential, operating at only 30 per cent of its design capacity.
“Severe siltation at the Kuala Baram river mouth has been the main obstacle. It is understood that the channel depth is now only less than 3-metres during high tide and only about one metre during low tide.
“This will be one of our agenda (sic) to pursue with the federal government under the 12th Malaysia Plan to alleviate this condition,” said Masing in his winding-up speech at the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting here today.
The Baleh assemblyman said as a temporary measure, the Miri Port Authority (MPA), with the support of his ministry, is planning to dredge certain areas identified along the access channel to an acceptable depth.
“However, it would still require a capital dredging for bigger vessels to be able to call at Miri Port,” he said. — DayakDaily