by Lian Cheng
If you take Jalan Akses FAC or Matang Highway from the big roundabout in front of Wisma Adenan, you will come to a long stretch of a well-built coastal road. Along the way, there are mangrove swamps on the right and some unique sandstone formations on the left.
Almost towards the end of the Matang Highway, take a left turn into Jalan Selang. It is again a pleasant ride with most parts being lush green secondary forests except for some scattered pockets of cultivated land and isolated farmhouses that only serve to make the sight even more pleasing.
About three kilometres along Jalan Selang, or about three kilometres before reaching the Rambungan Ferry Point, you will see what appears to be a Roman arch on a small hill slope!
A Roman arch? Yes, a Roman arch that looks very much like the famous Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile located at the western end of the Champs-Élysées in France. Its size perhaps is not as huge as the Parisian structure but closer to the size of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which stands west of the world-famous Louvre Palace, also in Paris. It is nonetheless majestic.
On it, there is an inscription: “1957 Jubili Delima Malaysia 1997”.
Where did this arch come from? Well, it was part of the Federal Administration Centre (FAC) which was planned in 1997. The FAC was a project initiated during the time of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and one initiated in commemoration of the Ruby Jubilee of Sarawak joining the Federation of Malaysia.
The project was planned due to the lack of operational space for the federal agencies which at the time were located at the multi-storey Bangunan Tun Datuk Patinggi Tuanku Haji Bujang and Bangunan Sultan Iskandar at Simpang Tiga where there is a lack of simple facilities such as a multi-storey car park.
The FAC was to be the new administration centre to house all the federal offices where the state government agreed and alienated an area of 2,020 acres at Rambungan, about 20 kilometres away from Kuching, where the arch is situated, for the setting up of this mini Putrajaya.
To materialise the plan, the Matang Highway was commissioned in July 2001. At the same time, the Jubilee Arch was constructed with a grand earth-breaking ceremony taking place.
By April 2006, however, the Federal Government indefinitely deferred the FAC proposal.
Six years later in 2012, Federal Secretary Tan Sri Dato Sri Dr Ali Hamsa announced that the federal government was reviving its plan to build the FAC where a new site at Sampadi about 25 kilometres from Kuching was identified instead of the previous location at Rambungan.
The then State Planning Unit’s director Datuk Ismuni Ismawi who was at the same function explained that the FAC project was shelved in 2006 because of the prohibitive cost of sand filling at the Rambungan site.
Meanwhile, a search for the Jubilee Arch yesterday took time because it is situated a short distance off Jalan Selang. If it is missed by people who are searching for it, it is most probably missed by most travellers plying the road.
However, missing it while driving past does not mean it has left the public’s consciousness. Occasionally, there have been posts on social media, questioning the existence of the arch and for those in the know of its origin, the efficiency of the government.
Judging from the size of the arch, it is safe to conclude that a sizeable amount was spent to build it. According to the villagers living just beside it, it was a concrete arch. Even after years under the rain and sun, it still looks intact and solid. Architecturally, it is actually quite visually impressive especially if you were to stand at a short distance away to admire it.
As for the 20-kilometre Matang Highway, this road which consists of two lanes of dual carriageway costs RM124 million and it is obviously under-utilitised.
Every taxpayer thus has the right to question what was the federal government doing by initiating a project of such grand scale and then abandoning it like a discarded useless old car? The next question is, what is the government going to do about it?
It is even more ironic that the FAC as an obvious failed project of the federal government, has somehow created a thriving, vibrant and well-populated Malay village in the form of Kampung Jaya Bakti.
“There were only a few families here before. But then slowly many people started to move in. Now there are more than 100 families in the village,” a villager told the DayakDaily recently.
He said the arch was of no use, but stood idle day and night. The villagers are so used to its existence that its presence is practically ignored.
“Only the stingless bees find it useful as they are building their colonies inside the arch. There are many stingless bees there. But we dare not harvest the honey because they will come after us in swarms,” said the villager.
The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile has a beautiful story attached to it. It is a monument for the remembrance of those who have fought and died for France especially those in the Napoleonic Wars. It is a sign of victory, as the name suggests, and it is a world class monument that France is proud of.
Looking back at our very own arch — the Jubilee Arch of Rambungan — it is but a sad sight. It suggests nothing great, a reminder of a big failure on the part of the federal government.
However, as Sarawak is now fighting hard for its lost rights as enshrined in the Malaysian Agreement 1963, perhaps, we Sarawakians may turn the arch around.
Perhaps it could be made into a new tourist spot, where the failure of the federal government can be perpetuated through story telling to the tourists. And why not? It bears good tourism potential. It could be packaged as part of tours to the Matang Wildlife Centre or becomes part and parcel of an enjoyable tourist trip along the Matang Highway, via the Rambungan ferry, to scenic Lundu where there is plenty of sunshine and beautiful beaches. — DayakDaily