[Letter to the Editor] Budget 2023 should be more rural-friendly, narrow devt gap between S’wak, Malaya

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Letter to the Editor

By Lating Minggang

When it comes to the Federal budget, Sarawak has already been subjected to a short-changed agenda for years. Thus, when Sarawak received less than Sabah in terms of development allocations in the recently revised Budget 2023 tabled by Prime Minister Dato Sri Anwar Ibrahim, it did not come as a surprise at all for the Sarawakians.

However, lest we forget, Sarawak, with a vast geographical landscape, especially in the rural areas, still lacks basic infrastructure development. Thus, rightfully, Sarawak’s rural infrastructure development needs should have been taken into consideration by the Federal government.

However, to Sarawakians’ dismay, the region was not only being ‘short-changed’ in terms of allocation, but Sarawak also received the least amount compared to Malaya and Sabah.

In the eyes of the Federal government, it seems that the equal partner status being accorded to Sarawak in the constitution does not carry any weight at all, as though like window dressing that looks good on paper but with no value added.

In the recent budget allocations, Sarawak merely got RM5.6 billion, whereas Sabah got RM6.5 billion. Malaya, as always, is in a different class of its own, and hence, it is beyond comparison, as it brought the biggest chunk of the budget allocations. The total amount for the Budget 2023 was RM388.1 billion.

For Sarawak, the allocation is only a marginal increase of less than RM1 billion. Thus, there is nothing much for the Sarawakians to shout about, considering that Sarawak is considered an equal partner with Malaya and Sabah.

Thus, failure to highlight this and to continue with the ‘status-quo’ mode, with no drastic remedial actions being taken by the region, would mean that Sarawak would continue to play the game as a follower in accordance with the Federal government’s tune.

It’s the thought of being short-changed all this while and then being made to undergo a winding process, i.e. with respect to the restoration of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) to get equal treatment, that hurts Sarawakians’ feelings.

Furthermore, the disparity gap with respect to the infrastructure development between Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak can be construed as being subjected to the ‘catch me if you can’ game. Therefore, with the current budget allocation rate, Sarawak can never be on par with Malaya since it will always play the ‘catching up’ role.

However, all is not lost as long as Sarawak leaders have the political will, and with the able leadership of our Sarawak Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, we have high hopes that Sarawak can still narrow the differential gap with respect to infrastructure development.

Being from the rural part of Sarawak, where there are areas still in need of infrastructure development, allocating an equitable distribution for the rural areas in the budget expenditure is the main aspiration of rural folks whose areas are still lacking in the basic infrastructure facilities, like electricity and water supply, telecommunication, and roads.

Thus, Budget 2023 should have been more rural-friendly and prioritised narrowing the infrastructure development gap between the rural and the urban, as well as between Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.

Therefore, the budget should have encompassed the rural areas’ development needs, where priority should have been given more towards rural infrastructure development so as not to be left behind.

By embracing a transformation change journey that focuses more on the rural folks’ needs, this move by the Federal government will also be seen as reciprocating towards the trust being accorded to them by the rural folks.

Being a part of the workforce in the Kapit District Council, one of the council’s jobs is to implement infrastructure facilities for the rural communities and being at the front line interacting with the general public, I do place high hopes with the Federal government in helping to provide more funds to help in narrowing the gap with respect to infrastructure development between the rural and the urban.

An increase in the budget allocation for Sarawak to cater for rural infrastructure development needs is what Sarawakians, especially rural folks, want to see. Therefore, a good start will be for the Federal government to provide budget allocations of at least five per cent of the overall budget of RM388.1 billion and then to increase it gradually every year until the development gap between Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak is narrowed.

For us from the rural area, what we want to see is the realisation of ‘walk the talk’ by the Federal government.

That should be the way for the Federal government to move forward in its transformation journey for Sarawak, as one of the stakeholders in the Federation of Malaysia, to be treated as one of the equal partners. — DayakDaily

Lating Minggang is the Walikota for Kapit District Council.

This is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of DayakDaily. Letters to the Editor may be lightly edited for clarity.