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SELANGAU’s abundant availability of land is seen as its ace-in-the-hole which could elevate the district into one of Sarawak’s main players in the industrial sector once the Pan Borneo Highway is completed by 2022.
Tamin assemblyman Christopher Gira Sambang said once finished, the Pan Borneo Highway will halve traveling time from Selangau to various ports in the state at least and this would make more economic opportunities available to the people of Selangau.
“So, once the Pan Borneo Highway is completed, we not only will have easy access to the industrial players in Samalaju, but we can also bring some of the industries and businesses into Selangau because we have plenty of land there.
“Any demand or any product in the overseas market, we can do it (meet the conditions) in Selangau. It’s the same in Sibu as well, because it is quite near to Rajang Port and Tanjung Manis Port,” he said.
Underlining the central importance of ports to transport goods and materials by various sectors, only roads from the factories to the ports are lacking at the moment. Once there are roads to ease the movement of people, potential lies everywhere in the district of Tamin, especially in terms of creating more job opportunities.
Water, electricity and road
No doubt, water and electricity supplies, and road connectivity are among the main concerns in Tamin which has a population of approximately 30,000 in its 367 longhouses.
In Stapang, Gira said, there is one water treatment plant but it is over 40-years-old. It was constructed in the 1970s and there were not many people around at that time, but it is now an issue as demand has exceeded supply.
“The water treatment plant in Stapang is not sufficient to supply water for the people anymore, in areas like Sekuau and Stapang.
“However, the government has already approved the project worth RM117 million to upgrade the water treatment plant and improve water supply to the surrounding areas especially Sekuau, Ulu Oya, Ulu Pakoh and also to Nanga Tajam, Batu Tiga Penam, Jalan Sibu-Bintulu and of course to Sungai Kua,” he said.
Noting that the project is now being tendered, he expressed hope the upgrading and construction work will start soon. In the meantime, the people there will have to depend on gravity feed, rivers and rainwater tanks for water supply.
Thus, it’s little surprise that the people of Stapang are delighted with this upcoming project as they have waited a long time to enjoy water supply from the taps and not have to rely on rainwater.
On electricity, Gira who is also the Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) Tamin branch chairman, revealed that a project with a total cost of RM34.2 million under Projek Rakyat is under construction. This will benefit about 60 longhouses or 10,000 doors.
“When I was elected, I asked for electricity in Selangau, and now it (project) is under construction. I think we have been given a budget of about RM34 million by the state government and it will benefit a lot of people.
“So, the project is ongoing now and it is expected to be completed by March 2021,” he explained.
Adding on, he said upgrading works for Jalan Pasai Siong and Jalan Bawang Kemena have also been approved by the government and are under way. These 20-year-old roads will be upgraded from gravel roads to tar-sealed roads.
As for logging roads in the constituency, many of them are being reconditioned from earth to gravel roads. This includes a 14km-long road in Ulu Balingian at Jalan 10 Balingian, as well as roads in Ulu Selangau, Ulu Mukah, Ulu Oya, Ulu Pakoh and Ulu Punao.
“These are all logging roads abandoned after logging activities have stopped, but are still being used by longhouse people and the public. So, now we are now putting gravel on them for temporary use.
“I have submitted proposals to the government to upgrade these roads to JKR (Public Works Department) standards for long-term use, and I hope they can be approved under RMK12 (12th Malaysia Plan) that runs from 2021-2025.
“As for the ongoing projects, I can say it is about 70 per cent completed,” said Gira.
Among other projects that are in progress in Tamin are the RM5 million Selangau District Office, RM5 million Selangau Waterfront, RM4 million Stapang Agricultural Office and the RM8 million Selangau Mini Stadium.
Nurturing national athletes in Selangau
Selangau is set to see its first Olympic standard mini sports complex within the next couple of years. The RM8 million stadium which is expected to be completed by July 2022 will be equipped with running tracks, a grandstand, a football field and other facilities to cater for track events including the steeplechase, javelin, discus, hammer throw, shot put, pole vault, and long and high jumps.
“When we have the sports facilities, we can maybe even produce national athletes from Selangau. Of course, it is our hope to achieve that,” Christopher said, adding he was overjoyed for Selangau when when the project was awarded by the Sarawak government and approved by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg during the Walkabout Programme in the district in May 2018.
With the project’s completion, Selangau will have its first stadium and public sports facilities of this nature, mirroring similar facilities in Pakan and Julau.
Gira noted that Selangau’s youth who have completed their schooling have no place to play sports or organise any other activity because facilities in schools are meant only for students. Therefore, he felt grateful that the mini sports complex, when completed, will not only benefit the young people, but will also facilitate public gatherings, assemblies and celebrations.
‘I want the youth to stay’
With half of Tamin’s population comprising youth, Christopher said there is a need to take note of their concerns and needs as he wishes for them to stay and develop the area. Otherwise, he noted, all the young people will in future be forced to leave their villages to find jobs in urban areas due to lack of employment opportunities back home.
“So, I hope that we can plan something so that the young people will stay because there are job opportunities for them. Most of them are working part-time in big towns such as Bintulu, Sibu and Kuching, and only on the weekends they return back to the longhouses.
“Then, they would help the families in the oil palm plantations but this is a very small job for them. We need to have modern technology to attract the young people.”
To get the youths to stay, Gira opined, Internet connectivity is a must. This was requested by the young adults in Tamin as they are interested in getting into the online business and trading sector. Even in agriculture, online connectivity is crucial for the implementation of modern technology and offers an upgrade from traditional farming.
Touching on digitalisation in Sarawak, Gira specifically pointed out that rural areas in Tamin are in dire need of wider and better Internet coverage as it not only benefits the business sector, but also enhances education for students.
The issue of bad or no Internet connectivity in rural areas has been under a recurring spotlight since the Covid-19 outbreak last year as students could no longer attend face-to-face classes in schools. Unlike urban schools where teachers were able to transition to online teaching, this proved to be a luxury for many rural schools.
“Now during the Covid-19 pandemic, students cannot go to school. What other schools do is to move studying online, but unfortunately in the rural areas, the Internet coverage is very bad. This means lost opportunities for rural students to keep in touch with teachers and friends.
“There is only about 50 per cent Internet coverage in my constituency, and even where there is Internet access, the speed is very slow. Sometimes, it is so bad that you can’t even download pictures or whatever in WhatsApp,” he explained.
‘I am a quiet person and I prefer to listen’
The thing that Gira feels most proud of as the assemblyman of Tamin is being able to listen to its people, understand their problems, think of solutions and then find ways to make them happen.
It is his routine to visit different places in his constituency almost every week, where he will sit down in the longhouses and villages to have discussions with the longhouse headmen (tuai rumah), the village chiefs (penghulu), district officers (DOs) and not forgetting the villagers as well.
These visits are when and where the assemblyman gets his inspiration and motivation to consistently improve his services for the people.
“That is where I gather information about the people’s problems, because I told them, ‘If you don’t tell me your problems, I won’t know’.”
He admits that he has a quiet disposition by nature, and prefers to listen to his constituents. To him, to be a good people’s representative, he must be able to feel the pulse of his people and grasp their inspirations.
Serving a constituency made up more than 50 per cent of young voters, Gira finds himself in a position which he truly enjoys. And the young constituents also reciprocate by openly showing their support for him.
Being able to serve his constituents well thus became a source of pride, and this is evident by the large smiles he can’t help but give whenever he speaks about them. It seems the warm feelings are mutual as he is well-liked in his constituency which consists of 367 longhouses with approximately 30,000 residents.
He revealed that every year, he receives plenty of invitations from the people to visit them.
“Can you imagine, there are 367 longhouses in my ‘kawasan’ (area), so even if I can visit one longhouse each day, in one year I also cannot finish (visiting them all).”
“He (Gira) will definitely win in the next election. This is for sure, because in Tamin, there has never been a YB who can implement projects exactly,” said a community leader in Tamin when met.
Penghulu Surang, the community chief overseeing Batu 36 Tamin, Stapang Oya and Batang Oya Hilir also gave testimony that there have been many developments and changes ever since Gira was elected as Tamin assemblyman.
‘I know what they want’
Gira, when asked about his confidence in depending his seat in the upcoming Sarawak State Election (PRN12), could only give a sheepish grin and said, “I have been working from Day One until now. I know what the people want, what they request and I deliver it.”
Believing that success in serving the people is to deliver what the people actually want and need, he is certain he has gotten it right even as a first-term assemblyman in making sure what he can provide is able to meet the people’s requests and needs.
There was a firmness in his tone as he elaborated on the promises he has delivered to his constituents so far, which softened as he expressed his hope that the rakyat could judge for themselves his performance over the last five years.
Without mentioning a word about ‘winning’ or ‘continuing to lead’, Gira willingly placed his fate into the hands of his constituents.
“Let the rakyat choose after comparing the report cards. It’s up to them.”
Gira made his debut in 2016 Sarawak Election. He emerged victorious in a three-cornered fight by he garnering 6,230 votes against Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) Simon Joseph who polled 954 votes and independent candidate Ali Puji’s 4,145 votes. — DayakDaily