KUCHING, August 21: The planning and justification for the proposed Coastal Road project and Second Trunk Road project should be seen in terms of their overall purpose to benefit the people of Sarawak, asserted Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri James Masing.
In an exclusive statement to DayakDaily, Masing refuted a number of concerns raised by Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How in a press conference yesterday. See has just been appointed as a special officer to the Works Ministry.
Masing who is also Minister of Infrastructure Development and Transportation pointed out that the road portion of the Coastal Road project is actually an upgrade to the existing Coastal Road to improve the state’s infrastructure and connectivity to cope with the growth that the state has experienced.
“I am glad that YB See pointed out that it is an embarrassment to him that the Coastal Road project approved 32 years ago commencing in 1986 is still on going work today. I would like to stress that the road portion of the Coastal Road project planned in 1986 was actually completed in the 1980s to 1990s. They are being upgraded now that Sarawak has grown over the years. The balance of work is to complete the Coastal Road connectivity network by building bridges to replace ferries.
“Based on initial state planning, the whole Coastal (Road) connectivity (bridge connectivity and road upgrading) was supposed to be completed within the next 5 years. Unfortunately, based on policy and official circular issued by the present PH (Pakatan Harapan) Federal Government, infrastructure development is no longer a priority while rural development is deemed as non-critical. Bridges contained within the Coastal Road connectivity network are Batang Rambungan, Batang Igan, Batang Kemena and Batang Lupar. Since YB See’s bosses in the Federal Government are not interested to build these 4 bridges (these are new infrastructure), Sarawak government has no choice but to utilise our own money to build these bridges,” said Masing.
He added that See should feel embarassed because the PH government is denying Sarawak her rightful development, and the required funding for basic infrastructure development and that he hoped the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Sarawak leader is making the case for Sarawak to receive the needed funds at the federal level.
“If I were YB See, I would be embarrassed too if it is policy of government I represent and am a part of. I hear YB See’s emphasis on the importance to complete building these bridges. I am therefore keeping my fingers crossed that he is already lobbying for the funding with his bosses in the federal level. Rest assured that the Sarawak government welcomes and will not be embarrassed to accept the reimbursements of the original funding supposed to be allocated to Sarawak.”
Meanwhile, in response to See’s comments about the length of Second Trunk Road which would increase travelling distance, Masing said the comments were ‘illogical’.
“The total length for existing coastal road (to be upgraded) from Kota Samarahan to Sibu is 330km. As for the Second Trunk Road, the length from Kota Samarahan to Sibu is only 235km. As for the suggestion made by YB See to drive from Kota Samarahan to Sibu via Coastal Road and exit through Debak up north and use the Pan Borneo Highway, the length will be approximately 291km, which still requires longer driving time than the proposed Second Trunk Road.
“In reference to Betong and Sri Aman, this particular stretch (section) of road under the Second Trunk Road stretches inward towards the direction of hinterland and rural areas. It serves a different purpose and the main objective of this road is to ultimately join it to another interior highway that can make the interior of Sarawak from Ulu Sg Layar, Pakan, Julau, Kanowit, Song, Kapit and Baleh accessible. Accessibility to the interior bordering Kalimantan will also allow for better protection of our border regions with Indonesia.”
Masing also clarified that he spoke on savings of traveling time in the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) session in November last year and not the previous DUN session in July as claimed by See, and the reference Masing made was from Kuching to Sibu and not from Kota Samarahan to Sibu, and using the Pan Borneo Highway which is 400km.
The deputy chief minister said See should not overlook the interests and needs of Sarawakians living in the state’s vast hinterlands and how greater infrastructure development and connectivity will greatly improve their livelihoods and standard of living.
“I do understand that he is very much an urban guy, but YB See needs to understand that efficient supply of treated water, utilities and development of infrastructure such as road often go hand-in-hand as accessibility and availability of technical manpower are required for development and often than not, accessibility is the key factor,” said Masing. — DayakDaily