The right of rural communities in Sarawak to equitable development should be one of the main issues of the 11th Sarawak state GE

The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s condolences yesterday to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones in the Belaga boat disaster is most appropriate although made two days after the tragedy and after I had made adverse comments on the “silence and indifference” of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister as they “had not said a single word on the Belaga boat disaster in the past two days”.

However, I am very disappointed that apart from calling for “a detailed investigation to determine the cause of the boat tragedy in Sungai Rajang, Sarawak on Tuesday”, both the Federal and Sarawak State governments have continued to ignore the problem of rural road access in Sarawak especially to Kapit and Belaga – which is the root cause of the tragedy of express boat disasters in upriver areas of Sungai Rajang.

The Women, Family and Community Development Minister, Datuk Rahani Abdul Karim yesterday visited Belaga to convey the condolences of the Prime Minister to the families of victims of the Belaga boat tragedy, and a Bernama reported quoted her as saying:

“Yesterday, during the weekly meeting of the Cabinet, the prime minister was so sad over the incident, and he directed me to come (today) as a representative of the federal government.”

This raises the question why Najib or the Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin or the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the Malaysian Security Council (MKN) Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim had not visited Belaga themselves to get first-hand information of the Belaga boat tragedy – which they would have done if the Belaga disaster had occurred before the 13GE polling date on May 5.

Why should a difference of 23 days between May 5 and May 28 when the Belaga boat tragedy occurred make such a great difference as to whether the PM, DPM or the Minister in the PM’s Department, would have made a personal trip to Belaga themselves?

In fact, if the tragedy had happened before May 5, even the Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud would have personally visited Belaga himself, instead of just leaving it to Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang.

Yesterday I raised the question whether the Belaga boat disaster was on the agenda of the weekly Wednesday Cabinet meeting two days ago, and whether the Cabinet made any decision to ensure road access between Sibu, Kapit and Belaga – and if not, then what difference has the appointment of seven ministers and four deputy ministers from Sarawak to Najib’s post-13GE Cabinet made to development for the rural population in the state?

Dayaks, Sarawakians and Malaysians are entitled to answers to these questions, or they will be raised by Pakatan Rakyat MPs in the first meeting of the newly-elected 13th Parliament on June 24.

Undoubtedly, the right to equitable development by rural Sarawak 50 years after the formation of Malaysia, including road access to rural areas like Kapit and Belaga, will be one of the major issues in the 11th Sarawak state general elections which will be held in 18-24 months’ time.

There are 28 Dayak-majority seats out of 71 in the Sarawak state legislative assembly.

The Dayaks, comprising the Iban, Bidayuh, Kayan, Kenyah, Murut and other non-Muslim ethnic groups, are the majority race in Sarawak, forming over 40 percent of the total 2.6 million population.

After Tuesday’s Belaga boat disaster, with 12 persons still missing after three days’ fruitless search and rescue operation, the right of the rural folks, particularly the Dayak communities to equitable development 50 years after the formation of Malaysia, including rural road access, should bulk large in the forthcoming 11th Sarawak state general elections.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah