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Speech by SA for Pelawan David Wong Kee Woan on the Sarawak Budget 2018 in the Sarawak State Legislative Council, Kuching, Sarawak

Tuan Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to debate on Budget 2018.

I waited in anticipation for our CM to table his budget on the 8/10/2017 as I thought it would be a budget for all with emphasis on reducing the rising cost of living.

Our CM did table an 8.226 billion budget for 2018 but sadly it wasn’t a budget for the many as most Sarawakians can’t see what’s in it for them at all.

Our CM likes mega projects and likes to impress the people by showing how tech-savvy he is, talking about digital economy and eCommerce, high speed internet and LRT project and Sarawak Pay. He forgot that Sarawak needs a caring government that takes care of the people especially the poor and the less privileged first before we embark on other agendas.

Yes, we have a rich state government but how about our folks? With the implementation of the GST, the devaluation of the ringgit and the so called rationalization of the BN where subsidy for fuels, cooking oil, sugar and even flour were cut, many are finding it difficult to keep up with the rising cost of living.

While announcing the RM8.226 billion budget, did the CM address the issues of rising cost of living?

The late CM Tok Nan is remembered for his many “people-centric” policies during his tenure as CM of Sarawak. Among his most notable contributions is that he had revised electricity tariff structure for the domestic, commercial and industrial sectors to cushion the rising cost of living of the people. He had also abolished payment of certain land-quit rents which have brought a huge impact on the people. During his stint as the CM, he has implemented people-friendly policies. He has won the hearts (of Sarawakians), especially those in urban areas, through moves like the abolishment of toll for the bridges, acceleration development in the suburban areas as well as reducing the premium payments for agricultural and residential land, among others. This is the kind of leadership that Sarawakians put their faith and willing to work together with.

Penang government and Selangor government are giving out assistance to help people struggling against rising cost of living although their budget is only RM 1.3 billion and RM3.12 billion?

Did our CM give any thought to the students who are accepted into vocational schools or local university by giving aids to them like what the Penang government does with RM300 for vocational students and RM1000 for college students? How about the senior citizens aid or healthcare services for families with household incomes of RM5000 and below and RM300 in “child care assistance” for mothers with children below six(6)? Penang also gives RM400 cash vouchers for fishermen along with free nets twice a year, how about Sarawak?

The Selangor government has a heart for the poor by addressing Cost of living and affordable health care into their budget 2018. The “skim peduli sihat” or medical healthcare coverage to address the rising cost of living for the B40 income group, which cover approximately 1 million people with income of RM3000 and below. The Selangor government announced a new program in its 2018 budget, dubbed “kasih Ibu Smart Selangor” (KISS), which provides a monthly assistance of RM200 for food supplies to mothers whose families earned below RM2000, how about Sarawak?

Or did the CM mentioned about the ever worsening business environments in Sarawak since the implementation of the GST? While Penang and Selangor government tabled a budget to reduce the impact of the rising cost of living for the people on the street and the families struggling to stay afloat, what do we have for our Sarawakians? The Chinese has a simple saying, “不一樣就是不一樣!”which means “no comparison at all”.

Sarawakians would like to see the CM taking care of the ordinary people, the men and women on the street and the working families and not taking care of mega projects that may not be viable at all, such as the LRT and DBoS. Bearing in mind that the Development Fund Account (cmd. 7 of 2017) will be reduced to RM952, 930 (est. bal. at 31.12.2018) from RM5, 339,456 (31.12.2015).

With RM8.22 billions, why can’t Sarawak government emulate the Penang (RM1.3 billion budget) and Selangor government (RM3.12 billion) in tackling the rising cost of living for the less fortunate and table a budget for all?

A good budget is more than just numbers or the reserve we hold but how it affects and helps the peoples to be financially independent, care for the less privileged and be able to achieve a balanced distribution for all sectors of society through the government ministries.

There has been an over centralization of power and fiscal allocations in the hand of the Chief Minister and yet the BN law makers do not utter a single word of concern or cast any doubt on the distribution of power and that is why the rakyat has placed all their hope on the PR’s elected wakil to speak out for them in this Dewan.

In the 2018 State Budget, out of the estimated Operating Expenditure of RM2,481 million, RM646.2 million (26%) was allocated to the three ministries headed by the Chief Minister, leaving the remaining 74% are to be shared by the other 8 ministries.

Out of the estimated Development Expenditure of RM5,744 million, RM4,048 million (70.5%) was allocated to the ministries headed by the Chief Minister, leaving the remaining RM1,697 million (29.5%) to be shared by the other 8 ministries.

Such concentration of power defies the principles of economic efficiency and accountability and maybe that’s why we are still the poorest state in the country.

The state government budget over the years has the following characteristics; Structural flaws

1) Over centralization of power in a person.

Nothing in the Barisan Nasional spending plans indicated any political will to tackle structural problems blamed for the state’s lack of developments. The CM decision is final and his cabinet and the BN’s Aduns can only toe the line. There are 10 ministries and the CM controls more than 60 % of the annual budget which is evidence of the over centralization of power.

2) Corruption, poor governance and political patronage remain widespread.

Recently on the 2nd November, the Borneo Post carried a front page reporting on the Forestry department releasing logs and machinery worth some RM 7 million from illegal logging operations.

More than 3,500 logs and 14 units of heavy machinery were handed over to the Forest Department by SFC for appropriate action, the report said. Yet the second minister for natural resources didn’t know about it while another minister called for a investigation by the anti corruption agency.

Commenting on this, Sarawak Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Abdul Karim told The Borneo Post: “Even the director of forests has to make a statement that the decision is not his but (that of) the committee. I smell a rat here and wish to see a more thorough investigation. MACC should also look into this matter and whether there is any element of officials acting beyond their powers. I am just not happy when I read about this matter.”

Tuan Speaker, I also smell rat as well as many Sarawakians and we would like the minister in charged to give this House and the people a full account of the incident or be removed from his office.

3) Insufficient time and chances for debate on the budget

Often, the government Bills and Budget is passed in a hurry without allowing sufficient time to debate which is most unacceptable as the Bills and Budgets passed has a direct impact on the peoples and yet their representatives are not given the time and chances to deliberate on and probe on the rationale behind the critical choices and allocation.

This has happened again in this session where the opposition law makers were given the Bills at the eleventh hour and we want the CM to respond to this in his winding up speech whether it was done deliberately to stop the opposition law makers from having sufficient time to do research and making sure the Bills are not challenged in this Dewan.

The House clearly lacks the bipartisan spirit that puts the interests of the rakyat above politics and that’s why there is never a healthy debate on the Budget for the past decades as the BN law makers are seen as the mere rubber stamp of the executive branch. How can we have good governance under the circumstances?

4) Poorest not getting access to aids

According to the Malaysian Economic Monitor April report to the Economic Planning Unit, only 27% of the country’s poorest 10% had received help from the government.

This is especially serious in Sarawak as we have one of the highest poverty rates in Malaysia and many of our folks in the rural areas are without basic public utilities such as piped water, electric power and clinics not to mention fire fighting facility which are the common themes of the backbenchers’ debate speech as well. And yet our CM is talking about LRT and all those mega projects.

Tuan Speaker, I would like to raise the following issues affecting Sibu:

1) Sibu Otter Link Proposal

Tuan Speaker, since 2011, I have raised many issues about the developments of Sibu or rather the lack of them. Over the past 10 years, there is no new road or link being built/constructed in Sibu and Sibu’s development has basically come to a standstill.

I have submitted a Sibu Outer Links’ proposal to the CM’s office in October 2015 and urged our CM to have it adopted into the 2016 budget. The 70 million proposal will ease the heavy traffic jam and solve the problem of the lack of connectivity among the densely populated residential and commercial areas in Sibu as well as pave the way to develop a low cost housing hub in Sibu.

After one of our press release about the proposal, member for Bawan Assan told the press that he has a better plan which cost some 100 millions but until today we have not seen his plan at all. If he has one, for the benefit of the people of Sibu, I can assure him and the government that DAP will give 100% support.

Tuan Speker, to deny Sibu the necessary budget in 2016, 2017 and again in 2018 is to totally cut Sibu out of the state development, the BN state government is in contempt of the people of Sibu as we don’t see any reason for the CM to refuse a proposal which is good for Sibu even if that proposal was initiated by the DAP.

I must put on record that member from Bawan Assan, Dudong and Nangka have failed the people of Sibu in allowing Sibu been marginalised while holding the position of a state cabinet minister, the Chairman of the SMC and an assistant minister respectively.

2) Economy of Sibu and central region of Sarawak.

Over the past decades we have seen Sibu slid from the past glory of the timber hub in Sarawak, the town which owns the most number of Sarawak local banks, the second biggest town in Sarawak. and even worst hit were the smaller towns in central region of Sarawak such as Sarikei, Meradong, Kanowit, Pekan, Julau and Selangau.

There seems to be no hope at all for these towns in central Sarawak as they were been ignored and marginalized by the BN governments, youths start leaving their hometown looking for employment, companies start leaving for other parts of the country and overseas.

Tuan Speaker, look at the logging companies in Pupua New Ginea, Solomon Islands, Africa and elsewhere, most of them came from central Sarawak!

We must seek other industry to replace the sunset logging industry in central Sarawak and to bring jobs for the locals and create a second economy boom for Sibu that will also spill over to the smaller towns in central Sarawak.

I am talking about the rubber wood and rubber-based industries. Our deputy CM Datuk Amar Douglas has on 20th March 2017 spoken of the need to set up a Master Plan for the rubber industry and stated that tire manufacturers are keen to invest in Sarawak, if the state has sufficient rubber plantation to support the industry. He said he was informed of this by the Malaysia Rubber Board D-G during a meeting. I would like the deputy CM to address this House during his winding up speech on this issue.

Tuan Speaker, our previous deputy CM Datuk Patinggi Alfred Jabu has stated in 2013 that another 20,000 hectares of land has been opened up for rubber plantation in the state in addition of the existing 16,000 hectares of matured plantation and 8,250 hectares which had been cultivated in 2012. He further stated the government has targeted to open up 250,000 hectares of rubber plantation across the state by 2020.

Tuan Speaker, I met a Malaysian who tried to start off the Rubber wood processing factory in Sibu. He has obtained the export license, but he can’t get the license to build a rubber wood factory or mill in Sibu. In order to obtain the production and processing license, the government want the company to go to Tg. Manis to buy an industrial lot.

The assistant minister for Industrial development in his oral reply to my question on the 10th October 2018 has said that this industry needs to be driven by the private sector not knowing that the private sector has approached the ministry and was turn away by the bureaucrats and red tapes of the government.

The private company’s spokesman disclosed that the government expect every small plantation owner to go to the Forest Department to apply for a clearance license. This burdens the small plantation owners immensely. He questions the need of the small plantation owners to obtain clearance license from the Forest department since own rubber trees were planted unlike the natural wood.

Sarawak has abundant supply of rubber wood which all these while has been left to rot simply because the state government does not have any idea how big is the industry.

The main usage of rubber wood is the rubber wood furniture, when it comes to rubber wood furniture; the most famous is Muar in Johor. Muar is a furniture city, 60% or more of the country’s annual export of furniture is from Muar. The main furniture export is the rubber wood furniture because of its beauty and generous grains, annual revenue of the Rubber Wood Furniture and rubber wood is estimated to be in the region of RM 8-10 billion.

Each year the export and local demand of rubber wood raw materials is up to hundreds thousands cubic meters, every each cubic meter the government tax RM120, bringing in millions of tax revenue for the government.

The exports of rubber wood products also bring in billions in revenue. Hundreds of thousands of jobs opportunities can be created the various sectors along the way.

At one time, all the factories in West Malaysia can only be set up at industrial area but now all the rubber wood processing factories were allowed to be set up near the rubber plantation instead of industrial zone, rubber wood factories are allowed on agriculture land. Our state government can ascertain the truth of this by giving their colleague in west Malaysia a call.

Tuan Speaker, instead of what the assistant minister given in his reply to me that to set up a processing mill, one has to go to ICC, SEIDC, Forestry department and department of environment, it is the job of the government to cut red tapes and coordinate and help the investors to get all the necessary ministries, departments, authorities to work together to make it easy for the investors.

3) Local Authority of SMC and SRDC

Tuan Speaker, the ordinary people really are not that demanding and just want the government to deliver the basic services and amenities that can be delivered through the local authorities and local councils.

In Sibu, there are two local councils, the SMC and the SRDC, these two councils are tasked to provide the basic services from providing street lighting, disposal of garbage, cleaning of drains, maintenance of roads and general hygiene of the town and residential district.

Yet, the two councils have failed to deliver the basic and people are generally angry at the government because they perceive the local council’s performance as a yardstick of the state government’s.

I have dealt with the local councils and know their predicament although I don’t sympathize with them. Their basic problems are the lack of funds which made them unable to respond positively.

Tuan Speaker, let’s look at the 2018 budget, how much did the state government grants to these two local councils? SMC gets RM 1.5 million while SRDC gets RM 1.8 million.

Tuan Speakers, do you think that’s sufficient? Our local councils have limited channels of funding and the fund they collected from the assessment rates, licenses are definitely insufficient to provide for the services that they are tasked with.

While the BDA is allocated RM215 million in the 2018 Budget, where is social justice? We all know the BDA is Chaired by our CM and this again proves the over centralization of power that defies efficiency, accountability as I have mentioned earlier.

However, we are totally disappointed that our second finance minister and member for Bawan Assan, the Chairman of the SMC and member of Dudong, and the assistant minister for Local Government and Housing who is also the member for Nangka, they have failed to live up to the expectation to bring more funding for the local councils of Sibu.

But no thanks to the president of the SUPP and Minister in charge of Local governments who had delivered some very eloquent speech about wanting the local councils not to worry about funding when he was appointed the minister last year. What a shame! I urge him to put actions where he puts his big mouth.

Tuan Speaker, Sibu folks are not interested in the political squabble between the SUPP and UPP but please don’t let this affect the performance of the local councils.

With that I conclude my address and I hope the CM and the relevant ministers will respond to the issues brought up and have the wisdom to amend the budget to address the problems raised by the opposition members of this House.

David Wong Kee Woan
SA for Pelawan
Speech by David Wong Kee Woan on the Sarawak Budget 2018 in the Sarawak State Legislative Council, Kuching, Sarawak on Tuesday, 14th November 2017