Liwan, the outspoken and zealous leader of Belaga

Liwan, GPS candidate from PRS for Belaga.

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Datuk Liwan Lagang has been Belaga assemblyman since 2006. He was plucked by Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) from among the commoners of the Kayan community whereby only the maren or the noblemen would normally be chosen or elected as community leaders.

In his own words, Liwan had said, he never thought he would one day be an elected representative, much less appointed as an assistant minister, as he was eager to pursue his profession as a teacher and later as a district education officer of Belaga district.

Liwan promises, Liwan delivers

As it seems, it is his trait as a teacher that has enabled him to get along well with his people and his experience as a former district education officer has enabled him to mingle well with most of the people in Belaga district.

And because of his easy-going nature and down-to-earth approach to problem-solving, it has earned him the respect from his people.

During a recent trip to Belaga, community leaders and ordinary folk were asked their opinion about Liwan. Their response was simple and spontaneous. They all wanted him to continue leading them.

“He is our voice that we need to represent us in the government. And there is no way that we will allow anyone to kacau (disturb) him in the coming State election,” Kapitan Teo Hee Tong told DayakDaily.

Besides Teo, others who came to make their stand for Liwan to continue his service were PBB Belaga Youth Chief Awang Abdul Halim Awang Robert, Wakil Maren Uma Merang Jok of Uma Apan, Long Menjawah, Belaga, Ketua Kampung Datah Layang, Belaga Awing Igo and Pemanca Unak Akah.

From left: Kapitan Teo Hee Tong, Pemanca Unak Akah and Ketua Kampung Awing Igo.

Liwan is a simple person, well-liked by his constituents for a very simple reason: he keeps his promises and he dares to speak his mind for the sake of his people.

That is the reason, as to why when one just mentioned Liwan’s name in Belaga, everyone will take off their hats.

A politician for all 

One particular case in point was when he bravely requested from the State government to build a mosque for a small Muslim community in Belaga.

That small gesture has touched the hearts of many including Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, who announced a RM10 million allocation to build a new mosque in Belaga during the latter’s recent visit to officiate at Belaga’s new waterfront.

Most of the projects such as the RM80 million Menjawah-Belaga Road (together with YB Kennedy Chukpai and pastors of Belaga), the RM10 million BEM Central church in Sg Asap, and the proposed RM23 million Belaga Town Square which also includes a heritage centre proposed by Liwan had been approved by Abang Johari.

View of the newly completed Belaga waterfront from the wharf.

And having been the elected representative for Belaga for the past 15 years, Liwan is now embarking on the next level of development for the district.

Belaga needs more communication towers

In the next five years, Liwan hoped to see his constituency being developed to be on par with other rural constituencies with better road and internet connectivity.

“This is the digital era, we cannot afford to be left behind. So, I hope that there will be more telecommunication towers to be built from Bakun HEP right downstream to Kapit,” said Liwan.

Liwan, who is also Assistant Minister of Utilities (Rural Electricity Supplies) reiterated that the telecommunication towers will not only provide the much-needed internet coverage but also ensure that the Emergency Response Plan (ERP) could be carried out from time to time.

“The ERP must have a standard operating procedures (SOP) in case the inevitable does happen,” he stressed.

He also hoped that the upgrading of Jiwa Murni road stretching from Belaga right downstream to Merit could be implemented under the 12th Malaysia Plan, to provide the much needed road connectivity for the riverine folks who currently depend on river transport.

Upgrading works still ongoing on the Menjawah-Belaga Road.

“It is only fair for those living downstream of Bakun HEP Dam should get what they need, similar to those living in urban centres. After all, they have sacrificed so much for the implementation of the Bakun HEP,” he asserted.

Liwan: It is my duty to be the voice of my constituents

Liwan pointed out that to be the people’s elected representative means that the person has to be fair and just to all races and adherents to various religions, especially for his constituents in Belaga.

There have been instances where Liwan has personally highlighted issues pertaining to the needs of his people much to the dismay of the State top leaders. But nonetheless, he was fearless and outspoken as he said it was just the right thing to do.

Upgrading works still ongoing along the Menjawah-Belaga Road.

Among some of the cases where he fought hard for his people which were highlighted by the media and received immediate responses were:

  • Requesting for immediate intervention from the State government over the exorbitant charges of RM250 per vehicle per crossing at a bridge near Tegulang Resettlement Scheme.
  • Requested immediate assistance from the State government to assist the Penans whose livelihood were affected due to resettlement.
  • Requested immediate assistance from the State government to improve water supplies in Sg Asap Resettlement Scheme.
  • Requested for immediate improvement of the 34km Menjawah-Belaga Road which was often affected by flood and landslide
  • Requested for immediate compensation for the Penans who have staged a blockage near Murum HEP Dam.
  • Requested for free housing for residents of Sg Asap Resettlement Scheme (affected by the mammoth Bakun HEP Dam). After the request was approved, those who have paid their dues were reimbursed (prior to 2016 State election before the Murum constituency was created).
  • Requested for a new SMK Bakun
  • Requested for new dormitories for SMK Belaga which has been damaged by termites
  • Requested for new Belaga health clinic
Local community leaders at the newly completed Belaga waterfront.

Belaga needs a youth centre and sports complex 

Due to the vastness of the Belaga constituency, the overall development has been rather slow. And based on the interviews of the local grassroots leaders recently, there are more that needed to be done to transform Belaga into a vibrant town.

First, there is a need for a youth centre to develop the skills of the local youths as they are the future leaders. This issue was highlighted by community leader Awang Abdul Halim Abang Robert.

Wakil Maren Uma Merang Jok

He said without such facilities it is challenging for local youths to develop their skills, especially to prepare them for the job markets.

“I honestly think that if we have a youth centre, we can provide various basic training for our youth to better prepare themselves to seek job opportunities in bigger towns such as Bintulu, Miri, Kuching and beyond,” said Awang Abdul Halim.

He also pointed out such a youth centre could be built next to a sports complex which is still lacking in Belaga.

“As for now, our youth has no place to develop their sports prowess. Belaga is known to produce excellent athletes, so in order to develop their skills and talents at a younger age, we really need a sports centre,” he said.

Involve local community to expedite perimeter survey

Whenever land issue is raised it will definitely create uneasiness and suspicion. As such, Belaga Orang Ulu community leader Pemanca Unak Akah suggested that native customary right land must be surveyed under Section 6 (communal title) and subsequently under Section 18 (individual titles).

He said the effort must be expedited to avoid misunderstanding and conflict between the people; and between the people and the government.

Unak suggested that the Land and Survey Department should allow the local community to be involved by assisting the department to conduct the perimeter survey under Section 6 first as they know best where the boundaries are.

“As for individual lots under Section 18, individuals from each village or longhouse can assist the Land and Survey Department to examine the demarcation evidence before the Department endorses them. There is no reason why we don’t cooperate on this important matter as long as we are empowered to carry on the task,” he said.

Among others, he highlighted the fact that Belaga Town is still depending on old generator sets which are prone to breakdown every now and then.

“We are supposed to be connected to the grid and enjoy uninterrupted electricity supply but we haven’t seen it coming to our longhouse yet even though we should be the first to benefit from Bakun HEP as it is located just near our doorstep,” he said.

Abang Abdul Halim Abang Robert

Road network needed to be extended to connect villages

Meanwhile, Wakil Maren Uma Merang Jok urged the government to upgrade the water treatment plant in Belaga to cater for its increasing population.

“Besides that, Belaga also needs better road connectivity to the rest of Sarawak,” he said.

Merang added that two road projects that are now being implemented should be further improved as in the case of the 34 km Mejawah-Belaga Road which the locals found to be too narrow.

“Additionally, we hoped that the spur roads from Menjawah-Belaga Road could be connected to our respective longhouses as promised by the Chief Minister on his previous visit here,” he said.

The other road which needed to be expedited is the Jayong-Simpang Kakus Road which will cost RM60 mil announced by the Chief Minister in Sg Asap last year.

“The overall road network in Belaga district is still limited and we hope that the government will continue to expand it so that all the villages will be connected to create better mobility,” said Merang, adding that currently most of the villages and longhouses are only reachable by boats.

Belaga should not be a ghost town 

Besides basic amenities, Ketua Kampung Awing also wanted the government to provide better social security and welfare for the people in Belaga and not be left out.

“We also need more housing projects in Belaga to cater for the growing population. As of now, there is no housing scheme to cater for the low-income group in town,” he said.

As for the Chinese community in Belaga, Kapitan Teo Hee Tong hoped that there will be more business opportunities being created such as the implementation of more projects so that Belaga will not become a ghost town.

“In most cases, the younger generation has migrated to town as business and work opportunities here are very limited,” said Teo.

Teo also hoped that the relevant authorities will conduct the ERP regularly as Belaga is just downstream of the mammoth Bakun HEP Dam.

“If you ask me, I would definitely say, yes, there is fear and the fear is real and present and it must be addressed,” said Teo.

Belaga bazaar.

A masterplan to build a vibrant Belaga 

However, it’s not all gloom and doom for Belaga as there is a comprehensive masterplan for the development of the town in the next five to ten years.

Belaga District Officer Juan Ubit revealed that a masterplan will be implemented by URDA (Upper Rajang Development Agency) and among others, there is a plan for a new township in Belaga itself.

“Besides that, the master plan will also include Bakun HEP Lake which will be turned into an ecotourism, aquaculture and water sports hub,” he said.

Liwan, a third-term assemblyman for Belaga is seeking to be re-elected to be a fourth term representative for the constituency.  Liwan entered politics full time in 2006 and his majority has been increasing over the years.

in 2016, he defended Belaga with a majority of 3,686 by garnering 4,149 votes against Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) challenger Alexander Lehan who polled 463 votes. — DayakdDaily