Year-ender: Events that grabbed eyeballs in Sarawak in 2018 

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By Lian Cheng and Karen Bong
Video by Nigel Bolly

THERE is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens. The year 2018 is coming to an end, and it is time for us to look back and do some reflection and contemplation on what had happened in Sarawak this year.

There were joyous occasions where Sarawakians achieved something remarkable that made us all proud and there were sorrowful moments that tugged at our heartstrings.  

As Sarawakians, we have certainly gone through an emotional rollercoaster ride in an eventful year together, even though sometimes we differed in our views but most of the time we shared the same outlook.

Regardless of whether you perceive 2018 to be a good year or a regretful year, things have come to a pass and will soon pass. Let us all put 2018 behind us and move on to ensure a better Sarawak in 2019. 

Here are some of the highlights that happened in Sarawak in 2018.

Triumph amid trial and test

Archbishop of Kuching Archdiocese Simon Poh was heckled by a group of Muslim youths, who shouted ‘Allahuakbar’ at him, as he left the courthouse after a Federal Court ruling on the jurisdiction of apostasy cases on Feb 27. 

Archbishop of Kuching Archdiocese Simon Poh was heckled by a group of Muslim youths at Mahkamah Kuching while at the same time, another group of Muslim tried to shield and protect him.

The court had dismissed the appeals of three Muslim converts and a Muslim by birth to have their apostasy cases heard in a civil court, ruling that the Sarawak Syariah court has jurisdiction to hear the apostasy applications. 

However, when the heckling started, other Muslim youths quickly threw a cordon around him, shielding and protecting the Bishop to his car. 

Poh called on all Sarawakians to understand the nature of the Federal Court apostasy decision, which was not a case of Christianity vs Islam. As he was in the courtroom, he testified that the judges were very neutral and fair. 

The formation of GPS

The 14th General Election (GE) on May 9 ended with Pakatan Harapan coming to power. Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) only managed to retain 19 out of 31 parliamentary seats. It not only failed to recapture urban Chinese-majority seats but lost six rural Bumiputera-majority seats, too.

Abang Johari (seated centre) speaking to reporters during the press conference earlier today to announce the formation of GPS.

In response to the upheaval in the political landscape, Sarawak BN chairman Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg decided that the time was ripe for Sarawak to determine its own destiny. Hence, the state pulled out of BN and formed local alliance Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS). He announced the birth of GPS on June 12, but it received the nod from the Registrar of Societies (RoS) only in November.

To date, GPS comprises four component parties: Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).

The passing of two significant bills in Sarawak Legislative Assembly

The Sarawak Legislative Assembly passed two significant bills in July –  the controversial Sarawak Land Code Amendment Bill 2018 (Land Code amendment) and the Oil Mining Ordinance (Amendment) Bill, 2018 (OMO amendment).

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas claimed that the Land Code amendment passed would allow native communities to have ownership in perpetuity for their territorial domain (Pemakai Menoa) of more than 1,000 hectares which is over and above the existing native customary rights (NCR) land as well as communal forest reserve (Pulau Galau).

Uggah (seated, centre) at a press conference on the sidelines of the Sarawak Legislative Assembly sitting today (July 11, 2018). Seated on his right is Dennis and on his left is Rentap. Standing at right is Machan assemblyman Allan Siden Gramong while standing at left is Serembu assemblyman Miro Simuh.

Sarawak Pakatan Harapan and some Dayak NGOs however opposed to the bill, claiming that the term “usufactuary rights” in the bill meant “the right to use but not to own. To them, instead of owning the land, they lose their NCR land totally.

Meanwhile, the passing of OMO amendment bill went smoothly and with the passing of this Bill, Sarawak has been able to strengthen regulatory controls over the exploration and prospecting for petroleum and the mining thereof on the land in the state, both onshore and offshore in the Continental Shelf.

Sarawak bid farewell to Dayung Sangon Catherine Janet Tiwi

Teacher Catherine Janet Tiwi, 25, passed away on July 25 after dashing into a burning teachers’ quarter at SK Bungan in Mulu, Miri, in an attempt to save her colleagues whom she thought were trapped inside. She never emerges from the burning building, but her colleagues did. Her heroic act and death put a heavy weight on the hearts of many Sarawakians.

Catherine’s graduation photo.

Young and pretty, Catherine, who was fondly called `Cate’ by her relatives and friends, was doted by her parents as she was their only rose in a family of boys. She was gifted academically and was just one year away from obtaining her master’s degree from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) when she met her fate. She and her Sabahan boyfriend, Hilary Dius, 28, had even planned to get engaged by March next year.  

Baru Bian appointed a minister

Baru Bian (photo courtesy of Works Ministry)

Sarawak Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chairman Baru Bian created history as the first Lun Bawang to be appointed Minister of Works on July 2. 

The Selangau member of parliament (MP) and Ba’Kelalan assemblyman pledged to do his best to ensure that the Works Ministry is efficient, transparent and accountable in all its dealings. 

The cute doggies of K9

Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba)’s dream of having a canine detection unit (K9) materialised in October.

Some of the K9 handlers at the Old Klang Road, KL unit.

The United Kingdom (UK)-trained dogs comprises four English Springer Spaniels named Wilf, Sue, Bella and Cliff, a Border Collie named Daisy, and a Labrador named Bailey. Acquired from Lincoln in the UK, these cute doggies are each about 18-months-old.  

Under their handlers, the six canines will handle fire, wilderness and cadaver cases. Since their arrival in Kuching, they have been of great help to the firemen, especially in searching for missing persons in the wilderness.

Sarawak announces 2019 budget of RM11.914 billion — the biggest in its history

Sarawak tabled a record budget of RM11.914 billion for 2019, the biggest in the history of the state. Its focus is on rural development to stimulate economic progress. At the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting on Nov 5, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said the state would continue with its expansionary fiscal policy with six key strategies and tapping into a new major revenue stream — imposing a five per cent sales tax on petroleum-based products meant for export effective Jan 1, 2019. 

Abang Johari is seen delivering his winding up speech today (Nov 14, 2018) during the Sarawak Legislative Assembly sitting, in this screenshot from the media feed.

He also announced that every newborn Sarawakian baby will be given a one-off incentive of RM1,000, irrespective of ethnicity, religious beliefs and social status. This incentive is for Sarawakian children to further their education or as capital to pursue their career. It can only be withdrawn upon attaining the age of 18. 

On Nov 6, the state government set up a 14-member Sarawak Consultative Committee with representatives from GPS, Democratic Action Party (DAP) and PKR to draw up and advice Sarawak representatives in the Special Steering Cabinet Committee on Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). 

The consultative committee served to advance and safeguard the special interests, rights and position of Sarawak as enshrined in MA63 and the Federal Constitution and also to meet the expectations of Sarawakians for greater autonomy and devolution of powers to the state.

Outstanding Sarawakian – Franklin Lingga Abun

Franklin Lingga Abun from Kapit has put the Iban community and Sarawak on the world map.

Franklin in Austria, where he did his presentation on his project.

This 20-year-old third year engineering student of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) has secured a place in European automobile giant BMW as an automotive technology specialist at their headquarters in Munich, Germany, from 2021 to 2031.

He achieved the feat after a panel of judges from the automobile firm accepted his working paper and presentation on ‘semi-solar electric generation’.

Bersatu Sarawak launched

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) Sarawak was officially launched by Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Bintulu Civic Centre on Dec 1. The event was attended by ministers from Bersatu as well as local supporters. 

Dr Mahathir delivering his speech at the event.

Bintulu was chosen for the launch to reflect the continuity of Dr Mahathir’s leadership. In Mahathir 1.0, he brought industrialisation to the booming division. 

At the launch, Dr Mahathir openly admitted that the party was ‘racist’, as it was only set up for natives (pribumi), including Malays because only indigenous groups could understand their plight and, thus, can fight better for the community. He, however, said it did not mean that the party would make enemies out of other parties.

CityOne Megamall blast 

A file photo of Bomba and Civil Defence Force officers checking the rubble and debris from the explosion site inside CityONE Megamall.

An explosion rocked CityOne Megamall at around 3.30pm on Dec 4, killing three people and injuring 41. 

The three who died were O Kui Lim, 49, and Tchee Kiam Jong, 24, (both from Kuching) and Chin Hsien Loong, 29, (from Butterworth, Penang). 

The explosion was believed to be caused by a gas leak in a newly renovated food outlet on the mall’s ground floor. The outlet was to open on Dec 5.

Five Sarawakians kidnapped 

Five Sarawakians were held at gunpoint on Dec 11 and were transported across the border by Indonesian soldiers, who had encroached into the Malaysian border.

The five, aged between 15 and 64, were harvesting wood at the Wong Rangkai forest near Kampung Danau Melikin, some 400m from the Serian-Kalimantan border when they were accosted by two men in battle fatigues.

The villagers speaking to Malaysian police and army personnel at the worksite where they were allegedly confronted and taken by TNI personnel, in this undated photo.

The two strangers were armed with 5.56mm Pindad SS-1 assault rifles, the standard primary weapon of Tentera Nasional Indonesia (TNI). The five were forced to get into their Toyota Hilux parked nearby and were ordered to drive across the Kalimantan border to the Indonesian command post in Sg Enteli.

The kidnappers demanded ransom, but it is unsure whether any were given. As of the final week of December, police have closed the case while the Royal Malaysian Army were still investigating the case.

According to sources, every so often Indonesian army personnel from a nearby command post would encroach the border and threaten villagers wandering too close by apprehending them and demanding payment.  Politicians have advised villagers to be on the alert and not to tread too close to the border.

Death toll due to rabies rises to 15

Sarawak recorded nine human rabies deaths this year. The rabies outbreak in Sarawak in July 2017 has so far claimed 15 human lives from 16 recorded cases. The only survivor is a seven-year-old boy from Kampung Kuala, Serian, but he is now suffering from severe neurological complications and is being treated at home. 

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah warned that the death rate due to rabies infection is very high. In Sarawak, it was recorded at 93.8 per cent. The chance to fully recover is very slim if the victim did not clean the bite wounds properly and seek medical treatment immediately. 

Poster Cegah Rabies

In Oct 22, Assistant Minister of Local Government Datuk Pengguang Manggil announced that the new Local Authorities (Dog Licensing and Control) By-Law 2018 will be enforced beginning Dec 1, 2018, and applicable throughout the state. 

Under the law, all dog owners will be required to obtain licences for their dogs and the number of dogs per property is limited to three for landed properties or one small breed dog for flat and apartment properties. 

This is to ensure more effective control over the dog population in Sarawak and that dog owners will be more responsible towards their pets. 

As at Dec 23, 2018, the state government has declared 59 areas across Sarawak as rabies-infected, except Limbang Division.— DayakDaily