‘Why are Sarawakians poor even though Sarawak is rich?’

Dr Kelvin Yii

KUCHING, Oct 24: The billions in revenue generated by the state through the exploitation of its natural resources stand in stark contrast to the high number of poor Sarawakians as well as the dire lack of infrastructure in the state, says Democratic Action Party (DAP)

In a statement yesterday, Dr Kelvin Yii who is special assistant to Bandar Kuching MP Chong Chieng Jen questioned whether this revenue has been properly utilised and distributed to the benefit of the people.

He said that Sarawak United Peoples’ Party’s (SUPP) criticism of Penang’s socio-economic governance is ‘downright ‘comical’ and exposes the shallowness of their understanding on the matter of governance as well as their lack of a holistic view and ignorance of other parameters to good governance’.

“In comparing both the median and average monthly household income, by their own admission that we should not compare Sarawak with other industrialised states like Penang, Selangor and Johor. This begs the question that even after all these years of governance by the Barisan Nasional (BN) government even with the riches of our resources, why have we yet to reach such a standard?

“How long more will SUPP and BN Sarawak try to hide behind the excuse of demographics and land size of Sarawak? Such excuses may be justifiable if they were in power for maybe 20 or even 30 years.

“As much as demographics and population density is a factor in Sarawak, the reality is that we are a rich state and important to take note that Sarawak has higher revenues due to our rich natural resources as well as timber and oil palm revenues. Oil and gas royalties, mining and quarrying and timber have generated more than RM31.5 billion in revenue for the state on top of other federal allocations.

“However, questions need to be asked whether such revenue has been properly utilised and responsibly distributed for the benefit of the people?”

He pointed out that in 2014, Sarawak had the largest number of poor people in Malaysia based on figures by E-Kasih with a total of 102,549 people registered. In 2016, there was even a slight increase to 109,605 to reflect the still high number of poor in the state.

“This is of course of top of the lack of basic infrastructure including electricity and even treated water especially in the rural areas. Figures show that only about 61 per cent of rural areas has coverage of water supply,” he added.

Yii said an important measure of good governance is the proper and equitable distribution of wealth which will benefit the people of the state, especially the lower income and needy groups.

“Due to the administrative competency and prudence in debt management of the Pakatan Harapan government in Penang, since 2008, they have distributed a total of RM412.63 million to a total of 1.6 million people for their different welfare needs including to the elderly, OKU, single mothers and housewives. Even special aid is given to taxi drivers, school bus drives and fishermen. On top of that, they have one-off aid to help with funeral arrangements, local universities admission and even aids for baby born in Penang.

“The Pakatan Harapan government in Penang has managed to reduce the state’s debt to the federal government by 95 per cent and now Penang has the lowest debt among all the different states. Sarawak on the other hand has the third highest debt to the federal government standing at RM2,552,529,080.79, just after Sabah and Pahang.”

He said SUPP in an earlier statement had conveniently left out the fact that Penang registered the highest level of total investment totalling RM7.7 billion worth of investment which is 45.29 per cent of the total RM17 billion investment in the country. This is even though there is a plunge in the number of approved investments in Malaysia based on a report by the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA).

“The aspect of accountability is also an important measure of good governance. Based on the recent Auditor General Report 2016, Penang registered the highest accreditation in country, with 80 per cent of the governmental agencies and departments getting a “Cemerlang” (Excellent) rating in comparison to Sarawak which is in the eighth position out of the 13 states with 48.1 per cent of its agencies and departments receiving “Cemerlang”.

“Based on the same Auditor General report, the Penang State government managed to complete 99.7 per cent of its development projects and only spent a total of 55.4 per cent of the budget for it. That speaks of efficiency, prudence and good management on the side of the state government.”

Yii also said SUPP which had accused the Penang government of selling state lands had conveniently forgotten than when BN was in power in Penang, it had also done so, as it did here in Sarawak. However, the difference is that Pakatan Harapan had derived better deals for the people from the sale of land in Penang compared to when BN was in power.

“For example, in Penang during BN’s rule, they sold a total of 3,661 acres of land for a total of RM1.05 billion in comparison to the state government under Pakatan Harapan who sold 106 acres of land for RM1.11 billion due to the practise of open tender. The revenues from this goes straight in for the development of the state.

“Even in Sarawak as exposed by DAP, land is being sold for way below market price including the case where a total of 14,000 acres of state land in Bintulu and Miri were sold merely for RM300 per acre. Such practices have not only deprived the Dayaks of their NCR land, but also enrich the different elites and cronies at the expense of the people.

“Penang government is in no way a perfect government, but these are just a few examples that show how good governance and accountability by Pakatan Harapan can make a big difference to the welfare of the people in the State. We Sarawakians have the right to good governance and for the riches of the state to be responsibly distributed to the people rather than just being plundered by the minority elites and cronies.” — DayakDaily