The suffering of our rural kinsmen


This is the holiday season where the well-to-do are away with their wives, children and grandchildren for their family gatherings. Imagine this — the elderly enjoying the sight of snow softly falling on the trees and historical European buildings over a glass of hot mulled wine, while their grandchildren enjoying their hot chocolate, snugly and warmly esconded between layers of thick jackets, pampered by their well educated and poised parents.

This is in stark contrast with what happened in Sarawak yesterday morning just four days before Christmas, where news surfaced of an elderly Penan lady who has been diagnosed with cancer. She is old, weak and frail and has not been given long to live. She is only skin and bones, praying and hoping she can make it home in time to catch a glimpse of her loved ones before she draws her last breath. Those who know of her situation, pleaded for a mercy flight home to Long Seridan, Marudi. Unfortunately, the twin-otter engine planes which fly to Marudi are all fully booked as everyone else is rushing home to see their loved ones during this Christmas season.

The frail elderly Penan woman (right) accompanied by a relative as they travel in a vehicle.

Approximately one week ago, an old man in Long Kajang, Belaga found himself in a similar predicament. He was very sick. He desperately needed to reach the hospital in Bintulu. In his weak, ailing state, the Penan headman had no choice but to endure two hours of walking, carried by his family members. He had no choice. His re-settlement area is inaccessible to vehicles due to undesirable road conditions.

The elderly Penan man (back, right) braving the journey from his rural home to reach Bintulu Hospital.

Three weeks ago, there was an outbreak of typhoid cases in Long Sibau and Long Urun, Sungai Asap affecting six Penans. Sad to point out (but true), this is not the first time typhoid has affected the area. Typhoid is classified as a ‘third world disease’ but seems to occur on an average of once every two years in the same area. Records gathered show that there were similar breakouts (same area) in 2012 and 2014. The culprit? Contaminated water.

Boxes of water being dispatched to the typhoid outbreak area.

Then there was an incident in Rumah Mering Madong, Murum where rural folks have been forced to continue staying in longhouses located next to a 40-feet high cliff affected by landslide. This case was first highlighted to the government in June 2016. These folks live in constant fear. Whenever there is heavy rain, they have no choice but to gather their family members and some valuables and sleep outside the longhouse they call home. Day by day they see the land supporting their longhouses disappearing more and more, eroded by rain.

Today is Dec 21, 2017. Four more days to go to Christmas and we are now on the cusp of a brand new year. These people are still waiting for help although funds were approved immediately by the late Chief Minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem in June 2016. What has gone wrong and where, nobody seems to know, and the local YB is equally frustrated.

As a Sarawakian, it is heart-wrenching to see this happening to our people, our friends, our relatives. It is sad to see how Sarawak can be so rich, and yet so poor. It is disgusting to see how our people from Batu Bungan, Long Bedian, Belaga, Ulu Kapit and other rural areas in Sarawak have to live day after day without access to basic necessities.

Women and children pitching in together in a ‘gotong-royong’ along a river.

We have rural roads that are impassible to vehicles. We have electricity transmission towers bypassing rural resettlements. We have rural health clinics without doctors. We have rural boarding schools without mattresses. We have water treatment plants failing to provide rural families with clean water.

To these fellow Sarawakians, all they ask for is just basic infrastructures. Some of us Sarawakians understand (but not necessarily agree) when some so-called wise people claim that these wretched souls deserve poor treatment as they have voted for the wrong government! “It’s time for Sarawakians to show the BN Government that we are more than just convenient savings to BN!” As these people are politicians, the argument is usually followed by some political rhetoric …

Their wise argument will usually be countered by another equally knowledgeable group that claim it’s the fault of the Federal Government who have denied Sarawak its required share of development.

“Look at how much the Malaya-centric people spent on building the Twin Towers, North-South Highway and high speed train when Sarawakians do not even have basic roads! The lives of Sarawakians are as common as sawdust around a sawmill!” they claim. This argument is again, followed by another equally convincing political pitch urging Sarawakians to be united in facing the ‘bullying’ Malaya.

While progressive leaders argue, the lives of our rural friends and relatives seem to have gotten worse (in some areas) over the years. Looking across the board, it is easy for all of us to point fingers at politicians and scream for their blood.

However, the real question that Sarawakian need to look at is how to improve the overall delivery machinery by our government to Sarawakians, as Sarawak has got so much more potential to grow and areas to explore. For Sarawak to even to have a future, the concept of accountability and not just key performance indicators (KPIs) has to be embedded into our delivery structure.

While some politicians get booted out by the people’s power every five years or so, some of the same consultants are still allowed to propose one failed project after another. These consultants are sometimes given clearance by some of the same technical officers in charge of the project, hence giving us a very good picture of what ‘harap pagar, pagar makan padi” (getting let down or betrayed by the very people entrusted with a duty) means.

Maybe it is time for Sarawak to think of how best to plot the civil servants and government administrators into the ‘blameworthiness’ equation. Whatever it is, this will not be an easy feat as it requires an entire revamp of the civil service sector who are voters as well. — DayakDaily