THE recent public outcry over the alleged suggestion by Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing that the Sarawak government use up its entire reserves of RM31 billion within three years was rather flabbergasting.
Due to his alleged comment, which was spun by a local daily, Masing was crucified by his critics from both sides of the political divide, including his own Cabinet colleagues.
While many were left wondering, the million dollar question is this: Did he or did he not make such a stupid remark that would surely invite criticism and trouble not only to himself but also to his party and the entire Sarawak government?
Knowing Masing over the years, the remark could not be true as he is a man who has been raised in a longhouse deep in rural Kapit but managed to beat the odds to make something out of his life through sheer hard work.
When I called him, he said he had been misquoted. He stressed that what he meant was that there was an urgent need to provide basic amenities such as roads, treated water and electricity to all Sarawakians, many of whom have never enjoyed such facilities after 55 years of independence.
Just imagine, there are some 5,000 villages and longhouses scattered all over Sarawak. It is almost impossible to provide all these basic amenities within the next decade or so with the ‘normal’ amount of allocations from both the federal and Sarawak government.
Herein lies the biggest question: Where can the Sarawak government obtain the necessary funding to hasten the pace of providing treated water, electricity and roads to all nooks and corners of Sarawak?
Hence, Masing suggested that Sarawak should use some of its reserves to implement these basic necessaries due to the long-drawn and overwhelming cries from the rural populace: from the Malays and Melanaus living in the coastal areas to the Dayaks — Iban, Bidayuhs and Orang Ulus — who dwell in the interior of the state. Even the Chinese living on the fringes of major towns and cities have not been spared of such lacking.
In short, there is an urgent need for Sarawak to implement these basic amenities to benefit its people — the sooner the better.
When contacted, Masing, who is also Minister of Infrastructure Development and Transportation, reiterated that he did not suggest the government squander all the RM31 billion reserves, but to use some of it.
“We really understand the needs of our people, especially those who are living in the rural areas. In my speech, which was misquoted, I was saying if we don’t use some of our reserves, it would not be easy to provide what our people have wanted us to do within a shorter time frame.
“You know how scattered our communities are all over Sarawak? It has been very challenging for our Sarawak government to provide what our people need. We know there are genuine cries for basic necessities, but due to budget constraints, we have not been able to provide what our people have requested and wanted us to do for them,” he stressed.
Masing explained that with its huge reserves, it was therefore timely, and rightly so, that Sarawak should use part of it to finance these basic amenities for its people.
“If we don’t do it, then who else will do it for them?” Masing asked.
As Sarawakians, we should honestly ask ourselves whether we should use some of the reserves or just leave these folk who yearn for these basic amenities to continue crying.
We are all advocating transparency. Of course if the reserves are to be used, surely there must be transparency on how the money is spent because any corrupt practice is always a corrupt practice. There cannot be a double standard.
And yes, we should also not be too fast to jump to conclusions and condemn the messenger, otherwise, we will remain where we are for the rest of eternity.
Likewise, we must be proactive and learn to criticise less and learn to work more. It doesn’t matter which government, whether it is Pakatan Harapan or Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), because, at the end of the day, it is all about serving the deserving rakyat who have been crying and waiting patiently for these basics amenities for decades. They deserve decent and more humane lives, too.
So, yes, the huge reserve should be touched a bit, for, after all, it belongs to all Sarawakians. — DayakDaily