Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this august House on the occasion of debating the Motion of Appreciation on the address of His Excellency the Governor of Sarawak given on 14th May 2012.
Straight to excerpt:-
3. THE SARAWAK ECONOMY
Mr Speaker, I am deeply concerned about the future of Sarawak – the outlook for the average Sarawakian is not as rosy as it is painted to be by the media. Witness the frantic chaos when the RM500 handout to the people was being distributed. What proportion of the population was eligible for the handout? Judging from the hordes of people scrambling for the money, Sarawak is in serious trouble. This handout was for households with low incomes. Does this mean that the people of Sarawak can be categorized as poor? It is no secret that Sarawak is one of the four poorest states in Malaysia, despite being the richest in resources.
Perhaps if we could see what the sources of the investments were, we may better understand the picture. We were told by the Minister for International Trade and Industry that RM6.7 bil of the investments were from Petronas, while SCORE registered an investment of RM8.2 bil. These two figures add up to RM14.9 bil covering the whole of the total investments in the State. Petronas being the major oil and gas explorer or perhaps for an appropriate term ‘exploiter’ from the state should rightly invest some of its funds in Sarawak; the investment is to help them to continue their exploring activities in the state. The million-dollar question to be asked here is: who benefits from Petronas’ activities the most? It is most definitely not Sarawak or Sarawakians.
Then the investments in SCORE. It has been reported that the investments are predominantly in the energy-intensive industries such as aluminum smelting plants, polycrystalline silicon, metallic silicon and Ferro alloy projects; and that four of the companies, namely Press Metal Bintulu SDN Bhd, Tokuyama Corporation Japan, Asia Minerals Ltd (HK) and OM Holdings Ltd (Singapore) have already commenced construction works. What these companies may have the advantage is that they are in some sort of joint venture or other connection with bigger companies like CMS, which has no connection with the ordinary Sarawakians. Even in the newpapers on Monday 14 May, the Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) lamented on their being excluded from SCORE, being left as bystanders while non-Sarawakian companies are given all the opportunity of developing SCORE. It was noted that of the 15 companies involved in SCORE, only 3 were Sarawakian companies.
Again, what are these sorts of investments going to mean for the average Sarawakian or even to the local entrepreneurs?
4. ECONOMY & EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES
The lack of jobs and poor salaries are two other factors, which impede the growth of Sarawak. Firstly, because a few major players control the market in Sarawak with connections to those in power, other businesses find it difficult to penetrate into the market. These companies and their subsidiaries take government contracts. Sarawak in effect is run by a few companies with monopolies in every sector, allowing them to control their prices and the wages they pay, which are generally very low. Hence, the outflow of Sarawakian labour. There are not enough jobs to keep the youths gainfully and meaningfully employed here, resulting in migration to Peninsula Malaysia and other countries. Salaries and wages are low for what jobs are available. In fact the Labour Department reported that unattractive salaries are the cause of unemployment in the state (Borneo Post 13 May 2012) and that the salary of RM500 offered by some employers was not enough to even cover daily expenses.
The bitter pill for our people to swallow, is the fact that not only content with grabbing their lands for huge plantations, leaving them with no source of income or survival, the plantation companies are not willing to offer decent wages so that these displaced folk can have the means to survive. The wages of RM18 a day attract workers from neighbouring countries, who live extremely frugally to be able to send their wages home. The injustice is being allowed to continue, as these big companies are the few players who can control and dictate the market wages at will.
What we need are policies to break monopolies to encourage healthy competition, to promote small and medium industries. However, the RM800 for Sarawak is still below our poverty line index of RM830, which is insufficient for an average family to make ends meet. That is bad enough but what is worse is there is a difference between Peninsula Malaysia and Sarawak and Sabah where the minimum wage of RM900-00 is higher than Sarawak and Sabah. I don’t think that is fair because the basic controlled items like sugar, salt, petrol and other household items are the same throughout the country. In fact some household items are more expensive when they get to Sarawak. The PR minimum wage of RM1,100 would be a more manageable wage for Sarawakians, bearing in mind that the cost of living is higher here than it is in Peninsula Malaysia.
Therefore, we need to stem the tide of Sarawakians moving away from the state and to reduce our dependence on foreign workers.
On the subject of foreign workers, I wish to ask why it is that we only seem to attract the unskilled workers from poorer countries than Malaysia. Why is it that we do not attract professionals into the state? As an example, we have a shortage of medical specialists, such as oncologists and yet we cannot attract such professionals to come to Sarawak. We are lacking in basic healthcare for many in the more remote areas of the State; do not even have a hospital or fully staffed clinics. And yet we are promoting medical tourism for foreigners to come and have their treatment here. This is another case where we are putting the needs of our people below the moneymaking motive of the private hospitals. Our priorities need to be re-evaluated. We must take care of our own first.
6. 50TH YEAR AFTER INDEPENDENCE
With all that is happening in Sarawak at the moment, from the struggle of the natives with the government over their land rights and the Dams, the high incidence of labour migration, poor educational opportunities, poor healthcare and basic needs, poor infrastructure (especially roads), and some alleged weaknesses in administering the State, the 50th year of our independence offers us little to celebrate. The rights of Sarawak as stated in the 18-points agreement I believe have been slowly and insidiously eroded without anyone realizing it until this stage. It is time we take heed of what is rightfully ours. In this regard, I wish to highlight several points of concern under the said18-Points Agreement for the State Government to look into:
a. Borneonisation: Although I do not have the exact numbers, I believe that only about 10% of senior state and federal governmental positions in Sarawak are held by Sarawakians. This is not in the spirit of the Agreement and as there are more than enough Sarawakians capable of filling these positions, I urge the State Government to enforce and give effect to this clause in the Agreement.
b. Representation in Parliament: The Cobbold Commission, which was set up to determine whether the people of North Borneo (now Sabah) and Sarawak supported the proposal to create the Malaysia consisting of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo, and Sarawak stated in their report under paragraphs 165 and 190(g) that there was strong support for the merger and that the representation of the Borneo States in the Federal Parliament should make up 34% of parliamentary seats and take account not only of their populations but also their size and potentialities. In addition, the Commission hoped that the Election Commission would also take account of the distance from the centre, and the difficulty of internal communications. Article 161E of the Federal Constitution provides for the protection of this quota for the two States in that no amendment is allowed without their consent. Sarawak is a huge state and many of her parliamentary constituencies are as big as any of the states in Peninsula Malaysia with accessibility only through jungle tracks and logging roads. The increase of representatives from such an area in the Federal Parliament would definitely augur well for the constituents and for national integration. I urge the State to call on the Election Commission or Federal Government to restore this 34% of seats to Sabah and Sarawak.
c. Religion: This is one of the safeguards, which we must jealously guard. Sarawak being of a different ethnic composition from Peninsula Malaysia, it was agreed that ‘While there was no objection to Islam being the national religion of Malaysia there should be no State religion in Sarawak, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya should not apply to Sarawak’. The absence of a state religion is a hallmark of Sarawak agreeing to join in the formation Malaysia in 1963, due to the wisdom of our forefathers who acknowledged that Sarawak is a land for all creeds or beliefs to mutually prosper and grow with respect for each other’s rights and freedom. It however disturbs me greatly to note that in its latest publication entitled Sarawak Facts and Figures 2010, the State Planning Unit of the Chief Minister’s Department states clearly on page 2 that Islam is the Official Religion of Sarawak. I respectfully ask for a clarification on this matter from the Chief Minister and I hope for a reassurance that this most fundamental agreement has not been amended or taken away subtly from us.
d. Official Language: The 18-point agreement preserves for us the use of the English language as one of the official languages of the State for all purposes, State or Federal, without limitation of time. This right is further safeguarded in Art 161 in Part XIIA of the Federal Constitution. Again I was disappointed to read in page 2 of the State Planning Unit’s Sarawak Facts and Figures 2010 that Malay is the official language. Again, I would like to get clarification from the Chief Minister as to whether there is an official language for the State of Sarawak, which we are unaware of. Mr Speaker, you are aware that we are perhaps the only State Assembly in Malaysia, which allows any language spoken in Sarawak to be used in this august house. On that premise, there cannot be an official language for Sarawak.
e. Education: The Education policies of the Federal government have been counter-productive; I believe the standard of education has dropped tremendously over the last two or three decades. Even the Minister of Education is not sure exactly how good or bad the educational system is. In April, he was reported to have claimed that Malaysia’s education is “one of the best in the world and that it is better than that being provided in the United States, Germany and also the United Kingdom”. However, in Sunday’s papers, he was reported to have said that the government's 10 to 15-year target to achieve an education system on par with, or better than those of developed countries, was realistic. Given the confusion at Federal level, and the constant changing of goalposts to achieve an acceptable percentage of passes perhaps for public consumption or perhaps for political reason, I propose that Sarawak takes ownership of our Education System again and strive to achieve the level of education which we once made us proud.
f. Sarawak’s Legislative List: This list includes land, under which oil and gas belong. Let us insist on receiving more than the meager 5% of the oil and gas revenue that the Federal Government takes from us through Petronas. With this money, much can be done to develop our neglected Sarawak. Proper dual carriageway roads, public transport systems, healthcare, affordable housing and free education will help us to make some progress towards lifting Sarawak out of its impoverished status. With proper and prudent management and the end of leakages and unwarranted commissions, there is much that can be achieved for Sarawak with this amount of funds.
Amidst the negotiations for the formation of Malaysia, the late Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng was said to have made a prophetic comment; he said in Iban ‘Anang anang Malaysia sebaka tebu, manis di pohon, tawal di hujung.’ [“Let not Malaysia be like the sugarcane that is sweet at the head or base and less sweet at the end”].
Yes, over the last 30 years or so, the sweetness has indeed turned sour. It is time for us to reclaim what is rightly ours and let all the people taste the sweetness of this Fair Land Sarawak.
May God bless Sarawak and His Excellency the Governor and Toh Puan with joy, happiness and good health.
For all those who celebrate Gawai may I wish you prosperity and bountiful harvests in the years ahead.