Masing to Chong: Your allegations on URDA ‘unfounded, speculative and irresponsible’

Tan Sri Dr James Masing

KUCHING, Sept 24: Upper Rajang Development Agency (URDA) has denied any confirmation or appointment of only three consultants to bring road and water development to the Upper Rejang as alleged by state DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen.

In replying to Chong’s allegation that URDA reeked of cronyism, its chairman, Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing, said what Chong uttered was “unfounded, speculative and irresponsible”.

Yesterday, Chong said the initiative to develop the Upper Rejang consisted of 20 packages of road construction projects with a total estimated value of RM1,181 million, 15 packages of water supply projects with a total estimated value of RM277 million and one bridge project with an estimated value of RM14 million.

“URDA intends to appoint only three consultants for the construction of the road and bridge projects and one consultant for the water supply project,” Chong claimed.

URDA was set up in April last year, and a special lab was held in February this year with the report submitted to the Regional Corridor Development Authority (RECODA) in March.

Masing said further discussions were carried out in July and the proposed projects were only finalised last month, adding that prioritisation of projects, according to needs, was still being worked out with the relevant state assemblymen.

“This is to ensure that the correct urgency is accorded to projects that could give URDA the best return potential in respect of development, connectivity, growth potential and socio-economic benefits to the community.

“Because of the prioritisation exercise, URDA has not confirmed nor appointed only three consultants like what Chong speculated,” Masing said today.

The proposed projects would bring road and water development to the Ngemah, Machan, Pelagus, Katibas, Bukit Goram, Baleh, Belaga and Murum state constituencies.

While everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, Masing said he and his ministry certainly welcomed suggestions, especially constructive ones.

He believed Chong knew that nothing was confirmed, which is why the latter used the word ‘intends to’.

“While he is speculating and playing his guessing game, he has no qualms in giving a false impression to the public by using a strong, negative description like ‘reeks of cronyism’.

“His formula is simple. Speculate on what URDA did not do, make it sound like we did and give us a bad name,” said Masing.

In addition, he said it was important to note that although there were many sizeable consultants in Sarawak, it was crucial that URDA select only those with proven track records as most of the projects were in the rural areas.

The consultants must know the rural conditions, community needs and local lifestyles to be able to propose projects that are practical. These cannot be achieved just based on a few interviews with the locals.

The consultants, therefore, must have prior experience in proposing, monitoring and handling projects in the rural areas. Consultants who fare well in urban areas might not necessarily be ideal for the rural settings.

“There may be a lot of consultants who are academically qualified but are not practical in dealing with rural conditions. Results? Failures.

“As a result, URDA and its officers-in-charge need to be selective, or else we will end up with a lot of proposals and plans that do not work. That will be a waste of public funds,” Masing added.

On the suggestion that civil engineering firms be awarded jobs as URDA consultants because their business is affected due to the economic downturn, Masing said it was impractical.

“While the government would like to save the firms that Chong were referring to, we cannot do so at the expense of URDA and taxpayers’ money and betray the trust of the rural communities, who have been waiting and looking forward to development in the Upper Rajang areas,” he explained.

Masing is currently with Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg in London. The delegation was briefed by the owner of Bailey Bridge Company (steel bridge maker) and had a meeting with Sarawak students studying in London. — DayakDaily