CONCERNS were raised over the on-going construction of the multibillion ringgit Pan-Borneo Highway project at the end of the Sarawak Legislative Assembly Sitting last week.
On the last day of the sitting — the first assembly held after the 11th Sarawak Election last month — the august house was told that Sarawak’s annual infrastructure development budget was slashed to make way for the development of the RM16 billion dual-carriage highway project.
In his winding-up speech, Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, in responding to an interjection by state DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen, promised that the state government would pursue the matter with the Federal Government.
“I expected the allocation for the project to be above and beyond the usual development effort. I will pursue the matter.”
Several ministers and political leaders expressed dismay that the annual budget to develop infrastructure in Sarawak had been slashed for the construction of the mega project.
There were also concerns that Sarawak would not be able to achieve its long-term goal of becoming a developed state by 2030 if the funds from the Federal Government for infrastructure development was slashed.
Adenan’s deputy, Tan Sri James Jemut Masing, who is in charge of infrastructure development, contended that Sarawak’s annual allocation for infrastructure development should be untouched and that the Pan-Borneo Highway project must be executed to realise the dreams of Sarawakians for better road connectivity.
The highway project, involving the upgrading and construction of new roads from Telok Melano to Merapok, was launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in Bintulu on March 31, last year.
When completed in early 2022, the 1,089km-long highway will be the catalyst of growth in the state, thus changing the economic landscape to one of a prosperous Sarawak, leading to developed-state status by 2030.
The project will be carried out in 12 phases, with the fourth phase involving the construction of a 76.2km dual carriageway from Bintangor in Sarikei to Sungai Kua in Selangau in Sibu. This phase was launched in April last year.
While concerns have been raised on this issue, an assistant state minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity, believed that the matter would be resolved in favour of the state government.
“Budget for infrastructure is crucial for the state to develop rural areas, an agenda repeatedly announced by the state government. I am sure he (Adenan) will get a positive outcome for Sarawak over this,” he said.
To prove his point, the assistant minister said Adenan’s seriousness about developing the state was reflected in him imposing key performance indicators (KPI) on all members of the state cabinet.
“The chief minister is serious about his cabinet meeting the aspirations of the people, and having non-performing ministers axed from their posts.”
Since the 1st Malaysia Plan until the 11th Malaysia Plan, the Sarawak government had allocated RM80.3 billion, with the Federal Government contributing RM70 billion, for development in the state.
The amount, however, was still insufficient, Adenan has said on previous occasions. Bigger allocations were needed since Sarawak is a big state with its population scattered across it.
To accelerate growth, Sarawak needs better infrastructure to attract more investors which, in turn, will benefit everyone in the state as well as the country.
The writer, Adib Povera was born in Kuala Lumpur, raised in Perak, is NST Sarawak bureau chief. A nature lover, he never tires of discovering new sights in the Land of the Hornbills