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By Karen Bong
KUCHING, Oct 25: Sarawak allocating substantial funds for rural infrastructure like roads, electricity and water is a positive move as it will increase accessibility to the rural areas and also spur socio-economic growth.
Emphasising that inaccessibility has hampered development in the rural areas, Minister of Infrastructure Development and Transportation Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing said it was for this reason that the state government had been focussing on its Rural Transformation Programme.
“My ministry has been tasked by the chief minister (Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg) to create more accessibility to the rural areas with an ‘eye’ to areas where Native Customary Rights (NCR) land can be developed for agricultural purposes as well as for semi-industrial purposes.
“To maximise the assets of the rural population, the chief minister has allocated Upper Rajang Development Agency (URDA) a sum of around RM1.5 billion to develop basic infrastructures like roads, electricity and water,” he added.
The same amount, he believed, would be allocated to Highland Development Agency (HDA) under Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas to improve infrastructures to allow for greater accessibility.
“A sum of RM2 billion has also been allocated to provide water in the rural areas of Sarawak. The chief minister has given instructions that the implementation of these infrastructure projects to commence in 2019,” he elaborated.
With such focus in developing the rural areas, he said rural folk, including the Ibans, would have a better tomorrow in many aspects.
He highlighted this at the Iban Symposium themed ‘Optimising our resources: Leveraging on the digital economy for greater prosperity’ in Bintulu today.
Masing, who is also a Deputy Chief Minister, pointed out that the Ibans are the biggest ethnic group in Sarawak and occupy the biggest land area, but according to statistics, the Dayaks, including the Ibans, are the poorest community in Sarawak; but under normal circumstances, landowners are among the most well-to-do group.
“The real GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by economic sectors in Sarawak (in 2017) showed that agricultural productivity contributed RM15 billion in 2017 or 13.2 per cent, while mining was 23.9 per cent and manufacturing was 31.2 per cent.
“What these figures show is that land in Sarawak is not fully utilised yet, and the community that depends on land for their livelihood is also affected. The question we must ask ourselves is why is our land not productive?” he pointed out.
Most of the land belonging to the Iban community were inaccessible, he lamented, thus affecting rural people’s ability to improve revenue earning capacity and tap into the potential of the land.
“It is our hope that the federal government will assist us. But, unfortunately, the new government doesn’t think that rural roads are among its priority; thus, many road projects in Sarawak have been put on hold,” he said.
Masing, however, assured that the state government would continue to build rural roads with its own funds in order to link isolated settlements and develop suitable agriculture land.
Research carried out by ministerial staff, he shared, indicated that Sarawak needs no less than 4,000km of new roads, with the total cost of about RM20 billion, to link the various settlements in the state.
“Roads accessibility is the greatest leverage to improve our rural people, and if we have the required funds for this purpose, we can and will develop settlements scattered all over the state.
“I am confident that we can, provided of course, that our resources like oil and gas are within our full control,” he opined. — DayakDaily