The full text of Ba’ Kelalan Assemblyman, Baru Bian’s
address at the Sarawak State Assembly
I wish to begin by expressing my sadness and anger at the senseless murder of Bill Kayong on 21 June this year in Miri. This assassination is the consequence of the state government’s policies in issuing timber licences and provisional leases over NCR land without regard for the rights of the natives. Bill Kayong was shot because he had been helping Tuai Rumah Jambai and landowners at Bekelit, Bekenu in their struggle to defend their lands from encroachment by Tung Huat Niah Plantation.
Since as far back as 2008, the villagers had been subjected to harassment and acts of violence from gangsters hired by the company. Despite the countless police reports lodged, there had been no action taken by the local police against the gangsters and the company. In fact, the company was known to have paid off-duty police officers and immigration officers to enter the village with the plantation manager to threaten the villagers.
Although several men have been charged and are standing trial for murder, Bill Kayong’s family and friends are still waiting for the mastermind to be caught and returned to Miri to answer for his crime. The alleged mastermind (name of suspect and the company he worked at deleted) ran away to Australia 2 days after the murder and it appears that the authorities are unable to successfully extradite him.
Business goes on as usual for the plantation company while Tuai Rumah Jambai and the villagers are still battling for their rights, and Bill Kayong’s family are left without their husband and father, still waiting for justice to be done. Such is the lot of the ordinary people in Sarawak.
Last month, in Balingian, there was another death resulting from another NCR land dispute when a group of gangsters went into the village to create trouble.
By ignoring legitimate NCR claims over pemakai menoa and pulau galau, and allowing the land authorities to continue issuing leases and provisional leases over NCR land, the government had set the ground for potential disputes between native landowners and the companies.
The government must now take steps to ensure that no more deaths result from NCR disputes. I urge the government to respect the court’s ruling that pemakai menoa and pulau galau are part of NCR land and suggest again that the Sarawak Land Code should be amended to reflect this. The government must also review its policies and practice of issuing timber licences and provisional leases over NCR land.
I reiterate my call for a Land Rights Commission to be set up, or a Land Tribunal, as suggested by the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Tan Sri Richard Malanjum in January this year. Having been given a strong mandate by the people, I hope the Chief Minister and his cabinet will see fit to give the native landowners this avenue for registering their claims and swift resolution of their disputes.
I also welcome the call by the honourable DCM that the government suspend the licences of plantation companies who employ gangsters in NCR disputes. This is an excellent suggestion and I earnestly hope it will be implemented by the government without delay. I wish to ask what action has been taken against the Tung Huat Niah Plantation owners for their involvement in Bill Kayong’s murder. They may not have pulled the trigger but they are responsible nevertheless.
Mr Speaker, the allocation from the Federal government for the 2017 budget was a huge disappointment for Sarawakians, especially after all the promises made by the Prime Minister and his cabinet members during the election campaign. In total, they had promised RM561,895,000 in projects and allocations. Sarawakians voted for BN again and true to form, the Prime Minister has conveniently forgotten all the promises made.
As usual, Sarawak is treated like a fixed deposit. I sincerely hope that the State government will fulfill their promise of RM698,980,000 worth of allocations and projects made by the BN candidates who had won their seats.
I was glad that the Chief Minister had announced that he will dip into the state’s reserves to fund development for the rural development, being ‘sick and tired’ of asking Putrajaya for funds.
It is commendable that the budget focuses again on rural development. Infrastructure is crucial, especially roads, as this connectivity is always a catalyst for economic activities like opening of lands for agricultural development, tourism etc, attracting young people to go back home to develop their villages thereby reversing the rural-urban migration.
I wish to propose that the access road from Lawas through Lg Semadoh-Bakelalan-Bario-Lg Lama eventually linking Miri and Bintulu town should be seriously considered as a priority. If this were done, it would open up one of the best rural places where the three known peaks in Sarawak are found, ie Mount Murud, Mulu and Batu Lawi. This augurs well with our effort to increase interest in our tourism activities.
NON-ISLAMIC AFFAIRS UNIT / CONVERSION ISSUES
Mr Speaker, I was deeply encouraged by the announcement of a Non-Islamic Affairs Unit by the Chief Minister in June this year to provide a platform for religious issues to be discussed. Likewise, many leaders of the various religious communities welcomed the setting up of this Unit. However, it is of great concern that up until today, there has been no further announcement of a leader or the members of the Unit. I hope the Minister in charge of Non-Islamic Affairs will update us on the progress.
In the meantime, the woes of former Muslim converts continue unabated. Recently, 3 applicants had their appeals to leave the religion rejected by the Court of Appeal. It has been a long and hard journey, and it is truly a shame that for them, the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion is still but an illusory ideal that is out of reach.
The Court had suggested that the appellants could turn to the State Legislature for redress. This is indeed the way to solve this problem and to make it easier for other applicants in the future. The Sarawak Syariah Court had admitted in writing that it has no jurisdiction over matters of apostasy. It cannot be left for the civil court to interpret jurisdiction ‘by implication’ when the Syariah Court itself has disclaimed jurisdiction. This leaves the applicants in a catch-22 situation through no fault of their own.
Syariah Courts in Malaysia are creatures of statute, deriving their powers from the respective state Syariah laws. I propose that the Sarawak Syariah Court Ordinance 2001 be amended to make clear provision that when a person has declared by a statutory declaration or any other legal method that he/she has converted out of Islam, the Syariah Court should have no jurisdiction over that person, the jurisdiction resting with the Civil Court pursuant to section 25(2) of the Courts of Judicature Act 1964.
This is consistent with the guarantee of freedom of religion under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.
Our freedom to choose our religion should be really free, and the people concerned should not have to suffer this frustrating and lengthy administrative and legal battle to claim this right.
This is the very thing that many of our people were worried about when considering joining Malaya to form Malaysia over 50 years ago – our religious freedom being disrupted and curtailed. I hope the Chief Minister, as a strong advocate for religious freedom, will take the opportunity this DUN session to propose the amendment as a solution for those who wish to exercise their freedom to leave Islam.
KEMAS SYLLABUS / DRUGS AND CYBER GAMBLING IN LAWAS
- Please see separate story in BORNEO section
ENGLISH AS A MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION
I should be grateful if the Minister could enlighten us as to what the government intends to do to address the problem of poor English language skills among the younger generation, and whether there are plans to bring back English as a medium of instruction in Sarawak, in view of the fact that the honourable Chief Minister had publicly said that changing the medium of instruction to Bahasa Malaysia was a ‘stupid’ move.
Mr Speaker, Sarawakians rejoiced when the Chief Minister announced the cancellation of Baram Dam. In early May, he was reported to have said that there was no need to have another big dam but we could have mini dams. Disappointingly, in September, the government gave its approval to SEB for the construction of the Baleh Dam.
At the ASLI Business Summit held in Sarawak recently, the federal Works Minister said that the 12 proposed dams are still within the government’s plans, giving us reason to believe that the government is not really serious in rethinking its energy strategy.
I had spoken at length previously about the dangers of mega dams and I will not repeat myself, except to urge the government to pursue other alternatives such as solar, biomass and mini hydro projects as advised by experts such as Dr Daniel Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy from the University of California, Berkeley.
I wish to express my displeasure over former SEB head Torstein Sjotveit’s speech at the ASLI Business Summit last month where he questioned why the Penans should live in the jungle without electricity, water, education, or proper roads. He added that we should help them to live like real people – like us.
This derogatory comment exposes his real attitude towards the native community – an attitude of disdain and contempt. The way the Penans choose to live their lives does not make them any less real; in fact one could say that their way, being close to nature and living off the land is more real than the lifestyle of people like Torstein.
It is wrong for these foreigners to come and try to impose their ways on our people. The natives are the original people of the land and deserve to be treated with respect. I hope that the government will not spend exorbitant amounts of money to hire more people like Torstein whose so-called contributions to Sarawak are questionable.
MOTION ON AMENDMENT OF ART 1(2) FEDERAL CONSTITUTION
Mr Speaker, I am disappointed that my Motion for the restoration of Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution to its original form was rejected yesterday by a clever twist of the Deputy Chief Minister in invoking Standing Order 11(1)(i) read together with Standing Order 22, to issue a statement purportedly explaining why my motion, together with two other motions from Ahli Yang Berhormat for Batu Lintang and Kota Sentosa, should not be tabled at all.
The gist of the rejection of our motions, according to Mr Speaker, was that the matters raised in our motions had already been included in the on-going discussion with the Federal Government for the devolution of powers from the Federal Government to the State Government.
With respect Mr Speaker, my motion has nothing to do with the devolution of powers. It is purely a motion to make an official stand on the status of Sarawak, which was derogated from being equal partners with Malaya in the federation of Malaysia to being merely 2 of 13 states of Malaysia by the 1976 amendment without the consent of the State Government of Sarawak.
It is therefore very crucial and legally correct that the State Assembly should first pass this motion to make official our stand on the illegality of the 1976 amendment and thereafter to sponsor a bill in Parliament to restore Article 1(2) to its original form. The honourable Chief Minister had agreed that the 1976 amendment to Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution was illegal and by disallowing my motion, it appears to me that the State Government is not serious in wanting to restore our status to its original form prior to the 1976 amendment.
The Prime Minister had personally approved RM35 million for the proposed SMK Long Semadoh during the last elections in May. I had asked at the last DUN session when this money would be handed over for the construction. The honourable Minister for Welfare, Woman and Community Wellbeing kindly sent me a reply that the construction of SMK Long Semadoh had been requested for implementation in Rolling Plan No 2, 11thMalaysia Plan, but it was however subject to allocation from the Finance Ministry. We should not be surprised that this has turned out to be yet another empty promise by the Prime Minister.
The land for both SMK and SK Long Semadoh had been acquired in 2003. SK Lg Semadoh is in bad condition and unsafe for the students and staff. Since the land had been acquired and the people have been waiting for so long, I request that the schools be built immediately.
I wish to also ask what the latest update is on the construction of SK Lg Sukang since the original contractor was unable to complete the administration and canteen building because of ground instability.
I am puzzled as to why construction of what should be a 50-60km Lg Sebangang to Lg Sukang road is only for 2.8km, as disclosed by the Minister for Infrastructure Development recently, and request that the construction be continued for the whole stretch.
I am also requesting for the road between Lg Sukang and Lg Luping to be considered since the stretch between Lg Luping and Ba’ Kelalan had also been officially gazetted. This will definitely improve the infrastructure for tourism since the Lg Semadoh Valley is recognized as a hidden paradise for tourists, as described by a visitor in last Sunday’s Borneo Post.
Although the Assistant Minister of Tourism had said last year that there were no plans to build a bigger airstrip at Long Semadoh or Ba’ Kelalan, he had indicated a willingness to consider reopening the airstrip at Long Semadoh. I found out that the airstrip has recently been cleared and is rumoured to be reopening. That would be welcome news if it were true. I should be grateful for a response from the honourable minister.
I have been informed by Agricultural officers that it is possible to plant specialty coffee like Arabica and tea at the Lg Semadoh and Bakelalan highlands due to the suitable conditions and elevation of the area. I know for a fact that other coffee species had already been introduced to this region in the 60s and were growing very well, but marketing was always the problem. I wish to propose that the government assists locals in this endeavour as it will help them earn extra income from their fertile lands and boost their living standards.
I thank the honourable minister for Local Government for his answer to my question on the Lawas Hospital at the last sitting of this Dewan, that the approved amount for Phase 2B is not sufficient to complete the project, and an additional RM72 mil is needed.
I am concerned that if the additional funding is not approved, the project may not see completion. I should be grateful for an update as to whether the additional funding has been approved and when we can expect the hospital to be operational.
SOLAR HYBRID SYSTEM MAINTENANCE
Since early this year, no maintenance or checks have been done at the Solar Hybrid power stations at Lg Semadoh Naseb and Lg Sukang in Ba’ Kelalan, and the workers from the villages employed to maintain the solar farms and systems have not been paid their salaries by the contractor.
The reason given by the contractor is that the Power Stations Operations and Maintenance has been handed over to SEB. I wish to ask the minister why SEB is not maintaining the system after the Government had spent millions of ringgit for the project and why SESCO is not paying the salaries of their workers. Why is there no proper maintenance system in place for all these Federal Projects?
In conclusion may I take this opportunity to wish all Christians a blessed Christmas, and to all, a Happy New Year.
May God Bless Sarawak, and I pray that ‘justice rolls on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream’ from this august house to the whole state of Bumi Kenyalang. ~ Amos 5:24
Thank you Mr Speaker.
Assemblyman N81 Ba’ Kelalan