Sunday, February 21, 2010

Najib on another whirlwind tour of Sarawak

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will begin a two-day visit to Sarawak tomorrow, yet another of his frequent trips to the East Malaysian state which, along with Sabah, he has pledged to develop to be on par with the states in the peninsula.

This time, he will be travelling again to the Sarawak interior, calling at several remote longhouses. He has kept to his pledge, made when he took over as the prime minister in April last year. He has followed up with his frequent visits to the two states.

“Not only have I visited big towns like Kuching, Miri and Sibu (in Sarawak)but I have also visited the villages,” he had said when officiating at the Malaysia Day celebration in Padang Merdeka in Kuching, the Sarawak capital city, last September.

He had also said at that function that he would visit every nook and cranny in Sabah and Sarawak, describing them as places where the 1Malaysia concept was actually conceptualised.

A hectic schedule is awaiting the prime minister in Sarawak over the next two days. A visit has been planned for tomorrow to the remote Iban longhouse, Rumah Juliana, in Kamidan Jaya in Ulu Awik, Saratok, where he is expected to launch a rural electrification project.

He will also call at Rumah Radin, another Iban longhouse, in Lachau Ulu in Sri Aman where he will launch another rural electrification project.

Then, he will move on to Simunjan where he will be briefed on a flood mitigation project in Kampung Nanas and Kalaka. After that, he will go on a walkabout in the town market.

On Tuesday, he will visit Iban resettlements in Nanga Tada, Nanga Ngungun and Nanga Jagau in Kanowit in the central region of Sarawak where there are over 200 longhouses.

The Iban community there was resettled during the communist insurgency in the 1960s and 1970s in Sibu, Kanowit and Kapit in the central region which was placed under the Rejang Area Security Command (Rascom) to protect the people from the communist terrorists.

Penghulu Ugap anak Seribu, 49, leader of the 16 longhouses in Nanga Tada, now 90 minutes by road from Sibu, had never in his wildest dream thought that Najib, as the prime minister, will visit them one day.

Nevertheless, it would not be Najib’s first visit to Nanga Tada. He was there on Aug 18, 2000, in his capacity as the defence minister when he called at the Meruan longhouse to convey condolences to Medan Nunying, father of army commando Mathew Medan, 25, who was killed on July 2 of that year in the infamous Al-Ma’unah arms heist and hostage incident in Sauk, Perak.

Ugap said Najib might want to trace the footsteps of his late father Tun Abdul Razak Hussein who, as the country’s second prime minister, had visited the Dadom longhouse in Nanga Bugau, Sungai Kajah, in early 1972. Sarawak was then facing the serious threat of the estimated 500 communist terrorists who intimidated, terrorised and even killed the Ibans living scattered in the deep interior as they coerced them into supporting their cause as well as for food supplies.

Ugap, who had then accompanied his late father Penghulu Seribu anak Repong on the visit, distinctively remembered Tun Razak calling on the Ibans to not give any kind of support to the communists and to remain firm behind the government.

Later, on March 25, 1972, Tun Razak announced in Kuching the setting up of Rascom, a bold experiment where, for the first time in the country, a joint civilian, police and military establishment joined forces in combating the communist terrorists.

The Rascom was extended subsequently to three other areas in the then Third Division of Sarawak – Nanga Sekuau, Nanga Ngungun and Nanga Jagau, besides the smaller Nanga Dap and Rantau Panjai.

The longhouse folk deep in the interior were regrouped in new resettlements where the government provided security posts, new longhouses, health clinics and schools. The concept was a huge success for Sarawak and for Malaysia. It was officially called off on Nov 9, 1994.

Now, 38 years hence, the longhouses are occupied by the elders with the youths having moved to the towns and cities all over Sarawak and in Johor and oil rigs overseas in search of a better life.

Nanga Tada, with its 16 longhouses, has a population of about 3,000, Nanga Ngungun has 23 longhouses and 3,364 occupants while Nanga Jagau has 21 longhouses and 1,833 people. Nanga Jagau can only be reached by boat, the trip taking between seven and 12 hours.

Ugap, Penghulu Ambrose Digat of Nanga Ngungun and Penghulu Johnny Masam of Nanga Jagau hope the government could step in to transform their sleeping hollow.

“Perhaps the government can first and foremost provide job-generating economic or land development programmes in order to retain our population,” said Johnny, 53.

For him and Ambrose Digat, 62, it is also their big dream for the government to consider building a road linking both Nanga Ngungun and Nanga Jagau to Kanowit town, besides bringing in communications coverage as well.

The three leaders too want the government to consider extending power supply to 24 hours from the present 12 to 18 hours.

Najib is to be accorded a traditional Iban welcome upon his arrival at Ugap’s longhouse where 3,000 people are expected to greet him. He will be invited to perform the Iban traditional “miring” (offering/thanksgiving) ceremony. Kanowit Member of Parliament Aaron Dagang said the houses in the 38-year-old resettlement area were now in bad shape.

“Every time I meet the people there, they will ask when we can replace the old roof and electrical wiring. They are mostly farmers who earn barely enough to cover their daily expenses.

“We have been highlighting these problems for some time. We were really delighted when the prime minister said he would visit and see for himself the condition of the longhouses,” Dagang said when contacted.

He described Najib’s visit as “very significant to those in the rural areas” and expressed the hope that the prime minister could visit Kapit and Belaga as well.

“There are still many rural areas that need attention. We are positive about what the prime minister is doing now as it is in the right direction and very much in line with the 1 Malaysia concept,” he said.

From Kanowit, Najib will fly to Sibu for lunch with the Chinese community before visiting the town’s central market. This will be Najib’s second visit to Sibu as the prime minister. He visited the town in July last year to officiate at the 26th National Chinese Cultural Festival. Then, he had made an unscheduled stop at the night market, much to the delight of the traders and shoppers.

Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam said the frequent visits by Najib showed that he wanted to bring more development to the rural people.

Serian MP Datuk Richard Riot said Najib’s first visit as prime minister to the Sarawak interior was to Kampung Pichin, about 75km from Kuching. Coincidentally, Tun Razak had visited the village in 1966 when he was the deputy prime minister.

Riot, who hails from the village, said Najib’s frequent visits to the interior would augur well for the rural folk in Sarawak as they still lacked basic infrastructure and facilities such as clean water supply, electricity and roads. – Bernama

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