By Alan Ting
KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 (Bernama) -- When Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak visited a longhouse near Sibu in Sarawak last month, he noted that many of the roads there needed repair.
Such an effort could cost RM34 million, and Najib said he would consider including it in the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) to be unveiled next week.
Overall, he said, the government had outlined a detailed plan on what needs to be done to help the people living in the under-developed regions of Sarawak and Sabah.
"We want to improve those areas that are still left behind. I have plans to put in a lot of money to develop rural districts.
"We want to provide the basic amenities of water, electricity, roads and proper houses to all the people," he told a gathering at Rumah Sebastian Ugoh, some 20km from Sibu town.
Even though Najib's visit was during the Sibu by-election campaign, what the prime minister said was an expression of his desire to narrow the disparity between the more developed peninsular Malaysia and the two states in East Malaysia.
In fact, the people in Sabah and Sarawak have long been waiting for this to be implemented as they have placed strong confidence in Najib's leadership to make improved amenities a reality.
While infrastructure is not a major issue for most people in the urban areas of peninsular Malaysia, it is still a top priority for the people in these two states, especially in the interior, which are still largely undeveloped and inaccessible due to the lack of good roads and communication links.
With the New Economic Model (NEM) and the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) set to be unveiled next Thursday, the people there are hoping that the federal government would pay more attention to their needs.
The government is expected to pay heed to what the people really want. For instance, when Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop was in Kota Kinabalu earlier this year, he said issues pertaining to basic infrastructure and facilities in rural areas were still the main concern. "Resolving them is vital in our efforts to reduce poverty."
"Sarawak and Sabah are (relatively) big states. We really hope that the government can give more equitable distribution in terms of development projects. Apart from that, we hope that they would take into consideration the peculiarities of the communities there to ensure that development reaches the intended targets," said the Member of Parliament for Kapit, Datuk Alex Nanta Linggi.
For example, Sarawak has many ethnic groups and these people tend to reside in certain areas, such as the Bidayuh community mostly in Kuching and Samarahan and the Orang Ulu in areas such as Kapit, Belaga and Baram.
"When you come out with any economic plan, you have to take this into consideration. You just can't prepare a general and overall plan as some of these people are not even residing in certain places," said Alex Nanta.
As a member of the Dayak community, he also hopes that the government will come out with more affirmative action to help his community by offering them more business opportunities.
"Many Dayaks are able now. However, they are late-comers in the business world, which means they still require special attention from the government," he explained.
Alex Nanta said he also hoped that the government could come out with a comprehensive policy and action plan for rural communities since it is aiming for a high-income economy.
"The government must think about having effective systems to assist the people, particularly the rural and low-income groups. It is not enough to say that 'we will give them better education' as we really need more socio-economic projects," he stressed.
Alex Nanta suggested that in order to provide better incomes for the rural communities under the 10MP, more should be done to establish more smallholdings for oil palm and rubber cultivation.
"The government must come out with an economic system to empower rural communities as the current wage system for general employment is not attractive enough," he said.
Alex Nanta also stressed that if Malaysia really wanted to be a country that was serious in uplifting the standard of living of its people, it must ensure that they were able to use the opportunities available under the NEM and 10MP.
Therefore, he felt that issues of upholding human rights and fighting corruption must be high on the priority of the country's policies and action plans.
"The economy must be seriously expanded so that there would be more to be shared amongst the people. To do that effectively, some level of pain may have to be felt. Therefore, the reduction of subsidies is the right approach.
"On top of that, Malaysians must be serious in understanding the meaning of high productivity, and the NEM and 10MP must work towards nurturing high productivity at all levels," he said.
This view was also echoed by the MP for Kanowit, Datuk Aoran Dagang, who said the government must put more focus on eradicating hardcore poverty, particularly in the rural areas of Sabah and Sarawak.
"We haven't seen details of the 10MP, but we hope the government would not neglect this aspect as we are gearing towards a high-income society. No point talking about a high-income society if the issue of hardcore poverty in the rural areas is not addressed," he said.
The MP for Santubong, Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Bujang, said the 10MP should be a plan that would realise the prime minister's aspirations, especially the realisation of the promise to upgrade all basic infrastructure in Sabah and Sarawak.
"Every rural or semi-rural area should be given fair and proportionate assistance," he said, adding that assistance should not be concentrated in one or two areas and that it should be about providing for their basic needs and upgrading the standard of living.
Wan Junaidi, who is Deputy Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, said: "There must be a balance between Sabah, Sarawak and the other states in peninsular Malaysia. Not just only in terms of infrastructure, but also in the social and economic aspects as well as access to information technology.
"As an example, Sibu is (said to be) a relatively rich town, but why did the people reject the BN (Barisan Nasional)? We must look into the social needs and the issue of jobs and employment. The riches or wealth of several individuals (in this town) cannot be used as a yardstick," he said.