Was the Belaga boat disaster on the agenda of the Federal Cabinet yesterday?

The questions that should be uppermost in the minds of Malaysians when the Dayaks celebrate Dayak Gawai is whether the Belaga boat disaster on Tuesday, with 179 survivors while 11 others are still missing, was on the agenda of the Federal Cabinet yesterday.

The second question is whether and what did the Cabinet decide to rectify the 50-year failure in equitable development in Sarawak by ensuring road access to Kapit and Belaga.

If the answers are negative to one or both, the third question is what difference has the appointment of seven full ministers and four deputy ministers from Sarawak to the Federal Cabinet made to the thrust of national socio-economic and infrastructure development so as deliver belated socio-economic justice to the rural populace in Sarawak?

In fact, if the tragic Belaga boast disaster had happened before May 5 - the polling day of the 13th general election - either the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister would have visited Belaga with 24 hours to personally convey the condolences of the Federal Government, as compared to the indifference shown by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, who have not said a single word on the Belaga boat disaster in the past two days.

It is heart-wrenching that despite the express boat tragedy in the middle of the Balui River which is feared to have claimed 11 lives, the Kapit jetty yesterday was as crowded as ever with people desperate to go home for the Dayak Gawai harvest festival this weekend.

There are a limited number of boats going upriver to the Belaga area and most of the people cannot afford to stay overnight in Kapit until tickets are available.

Everyone is afraid of using an express boat as the river currents could be very unpredictable but they have no choice as they cannot use land transport.

It is estimated that there are about 100,000 people living within Kapit area and both the Federal and Sarawak state governments cannot continue to abdicate their responsibility to ensure road access to Kapit and Belaga.

I have received email from Dayaks and Sarawakians about the Belaga boat disaster, and their complaints and pleas must be heard and acted on by the Federal and Sarawak State Governments.

I will just refer to two of them:

(1) "This latest tragedy is just like all the other tragedies that have taken place the last 30 to 40 years. I have been very often taking river transport on this Rajang river from Sibu to Song to Kapit to Belaga and almost very close to the Bakun dam further up. Dangerous and swift rapids can easily topple and overturn express ferries and smaller boats.

"I have been doing this the last 5 years and seen these tragedies with my own eyes. Problem is the local people who are Dayaks and Ibans etc consider these as very normal and acceptable accidents or tragedies. They simply don't and won't panic when such things occur.

"So the authorities just take it easy. And no one is charged as the ferry or boat owners are well connected. The locals are so poor that they do nothing but wait for the corpse to rise and bury same.

"And you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. They only know BN. They keep voting BN despite all their sufferings and hardships, poorly educated and in bad living conditions up to now."

(2) "Kit Siang, you are the man. You speak up for us, Dayak when our own Dayak leaders are so afraid, too coward to voice out, to admit the real ROOT CAUSE, which is the non-existence of Sibu-Kapit-Belaga road - as they are also part of the big conspiracy that prevent the Sibu-Kapit-Belaga road construction for the last 50-years. In recent news statements, the Dayak leaders are firing the surface causes, like SRB, boat operator, but don't dare to admit the root cause & demand for Sibu-Kapit-Belaga road. The Ulu Rejang YBs especially always say that the government don't have enough money to build Sibu-Kapit-Belaga road. What a poppycock lie. The cost is "peanut" if compared to the cost to build Putrajaya, KLIA, Bakun Dam, Murum Dam - also a few "cents" compared to the total money made from logging & express boat business at Ulu Rejang. Somemore, if JKR can't do it because contractors are demand an hellish price, let our army's engineering division do it (Blue Ocean Strategy).

Root cause isn't the Gawai,
Root cause isn't the river,
Root cause isn't the rock,
Root cause isn't the boat,
Root cause isn't the engine,
Root cause isn't the SRB,
Root cause isn't the passengers,
Root cause isn't the boat operator,

ROOT CAUSE is the non-existence of Sibu-Kapit-Belaga road - even after 50 years of independence & 6 more years to Vision 2020.

This will repeat again & again as long as the root cause is not solved."

Will the cries of the rural people in Sarawak, particularly in Kapit and Belaga over the latest Belaga boat disaster in this year's Dayak Gawai, be heard and acted upon by the new Federal Cabinet now that it has seven full ministers and four deputy ministers from Sarawak after the 13GE?

Will a special programme to ensure road access to Kapit and Belaga feature in the first policy speech of the post-13GE Najib Government when the Yang di Pertuan Agong officially declare open the 13th Parliament on 25th June 2013?

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah