Datuk Peter Minos has high hopes and expectations for Samarahan’s rapid development in the coming years.
First appointed as Walikota of Samarahan District Council (SDC) in 2015, he later became chairman of the Kota Samarahan Municipal Council (MPKS) upon Samarahan’s upgrade in 2016.
Located approximately 30km from Kuching city, the area was once a small village known as Muara Tuang.
In past years, it has experienced significant growth and transformation, being now known as an education hub while also housing various government offices and significant organisations, including the Sarawak Heart Centre and Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra).
Minos took some time off his busy schedule to sit with New Sarawak Tribune (ST) for an exclusive interview, during which he shared his views on Samarahan, including areas that need to be addressed and the division’s vast potential.
ST: How satisfied are you with the level of development and progress in Samarahan thus far?
Minos: Speaking as chairman of MPKS, I would say I am satisfied, but the growth has been a bit too fast for us.
Let me make a comparison. In 2000, there were only about 20,000 residential houses in Samarahan, but now we have about 45,000 – not counting the shops, shopping malls, government offices and medical centres.
Due to this growth being a bit too fast, challenges have arisen, such as the severe traffic jams in Samarahan. However, I am happy and I do hope that it will keep growing.
At the moment we are growing at six percent per year according to the State Planning Unit (SPU). This makes us the fastest growing town in Sarawak.
Why is the traffic congestion so severe in Samarahan?
Traffic jam peak times are from 5 to 8 in the morning and then again from 5 to 8 in the evening. The jam is very terrible, and there are reasons for it.
Firstly, now we have the Batang Samarahan Bridge connecting the area to Asajaya, Sadong Jaya, Sebuyau, and Simunjan. All these people, civil servants and those working in Kuching, would go via that bridge towards one particular roundabout, the one near Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).
The same goes with those driving in from Serian, Siburan, and Tapah; they would also end up at the same roundabout in Samarahan on their way to Kuching.
This means we have three groups – the locals, the one from Asajaya/Sadong Jaya, and the one from Serian – all converging at the same roundabout.
Then, once you enter the roundabout, there are no diversion roads. So, they get stuck and this creates the traffic jam.
What are the efforts which have been undertaken by the state government to resolve these traffic issues?
In 2018, at our MPKS second anniversary dinner, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg approved RM60 million to put in traffic lights at five roundabouts to alleviate the traffic problem. These included three of the main roundabouts in Samarahan including the one near Unimas, and the Stutong and Tabuan Tranquility roundabouts.
Unfortunately, there have been some delays.
The latest I heard was that within the next one or two months, the Public Works Department (JKR) will be tendering the project out. Hopefully it will be carried out soon.
Another proposal that our Chief Minister has announced is the Autonomous Rail Transit (ART) and he is very serious about it. It will take some time; I do not expect that it will be ready yet within the next four to five years.
Next is the new expressway which will lead from Batang Samarahan Bridge to the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) area. We met JKR recently and they confirmed that this will be done by them.
Do you think these three projects will resolve the problem?
Likely partially, but not 100 percent.
There is another long-term solution which I believe would easily solve 80 percent of the traffic problem: a flyover which could go directly from the Unimas roundabout to Stutong.
This is because a lot of the people coming from Serian, Asajaya, and even Samarahan itself are heading to work in Kuching – meaning they are not going to stop along the way at places like the Sarawak Heart Centre or Unimas. So, a flyover would solve a lot of the problem as it would be a direct route to Kuching.
With Kota Samarahan being an education hub, what is the student population like at the moment?
The number of students in Unimas is nearing 20,000. If you include the teaching and administrative staff, this would be over 20,000.
Universiti Technologi Mara (UiTM) Sarawak is slightly smaller; they have about 15,000 with their two campuses here.
Then, we have Institut Pendidikan Guru (IPG) Kampus Tun Abdul Razak, which has a maximum of about 5,000 and Institut Latihan Perindustrian (ILP) with about 3,000.
Besides this, there is Kampus Institut Kemajuan Desa (Infra) Sarawak branch – a federal training centre for rural community leaders. Occupancy is not regular but when it is occupied, there can be about 1,000 there.
Coming up, we are going to have two new schools, namely Chung Hua Primary School and St Joseph Private Secondary School. We are giving the necessary support.
You could say the student and teaching population in Kota Samarahan is about 50,000 and it is expanding as well. Perhaps the preference of parents and students is to study locally, as we have Unimas and UiTM here and they are up to standard.
We even have students from outside Sarawak coming to study here as well.
With all these figures, are the student facilities such as hostels going to be improved?
This is quite an acute problem. Priority is given to first years to stay in the residential hostels, but there are not enough.
What I have heard now is only about 50 percent of students have accommodation on campus, while the other 50 percent has to stay in the surrounding area or drive in from Kuching.
This is an issue we will have to look into to solve the big hostel problem being faced now.
It seems that with the fast progress in Samarahan, the standard and cost of living are going up as well.
For those with a combined income (from husband and wife) of RM5,000 and below, it is tough. It is also difficult for those students, particularly those from families which are not very well-off, and for the lower income group.
All of us Malaysians are facing this challenge.
What are the projects you have in mind for the people of Samarahan?
One of the projects is to upgrade the roadside stalls in the Samarahan area.
When I first came in in 2016, there were lots of people making a living by selling food produce such as vegetables and fruits along the sides of the roads. They had no choice but to sell at roadside stalls as the shop rental was too high.
In Kota Samarahan itself, there were about 100 roadside stalls. However, we had received public complaints and also witnessed a few accidents as buyers used to park along the road and block half of it; it was dangerous for these stalls to be so close to the road. So, they had to be resettled.
So, last year, Abang Johari gave us RM2 million to build these stalls. If you go to Batang Samarahan Bridge now, parallel to the road we have the new stalls not directly at the roadside. We built the new proper stalls first with all the facilities before we relocated 77 of them.
There is another group on the way to Kampung Entingan that we will settle as well, in addition to the over 100 roadside stalls between Batang Samarahan Bridge and Batang Sadong Bridge.
Now, JKR is doing the coastal road there so they have to move out.
Thankfully, our Chief Minister allocated us RM21 million last year so we are building the Kampung Tambirat roadside stalls.
He gave us quite a large piece of state land – almost 10 acres – with a waterfront, so we are going to use RM7 million for the over 120 stalls. We are also going to develop the waterfront with a boulevard.
Another challenge we face is waste collection. Now, our waste dumping ground is full.
The state government has given the council a piece of land of 340 acres, and this has been earmarked for a waste management park. We call it Kampung Soh, and it is around the border between Samarahan and Serian.
Last year, Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian brought a number of us to Tokyo and Taipei and we saw the incinerator they were using. It was very good, clean, and safe – but expensive.
The one in Taipei, 10 years ago they spent about US$700 million just for one incinerator. It could process two or three thousand tonnes in a day. However, this size is for a big city, we do not need such a big one.
If this incinerator is available in Samarahan, could it serve surrounding areas?
In my opinion, if we combined its usage to process the waste from Kuching South City Council (MBKS), Kuching North City Commission (DBKU), Padawan Municipal Council (MPP), MPKS, Serian, and Simunjan, then I think that could justify spending that large sum of money on an incinerator.
What is the tonnage of waste collected in Samarahan alone?
Not very much; about 1,000 tonnes in a day. We are paying RM5 million per year just for the collection of the waste. We get just enough from the rates.
Assessment rates are still very low. A typical single terraced house would pay no more than RM200 for six months.
What is the population of Samarahan?
Based on State Planning Unit (SPU) figures, four years ago it was 200,000. Now, I would say it is probably 220,000 to 230,000. At the rate of six percent growth, by the year 2050, we may even hit 500,000.
This would qualify us to become a city.
How are the health facilities in Samarahan?
Very good, we have the Sarawak Heart Centre, and it is probably the best in Sarawak and one of the best in Malaysia. It does not just cater to heart matters; it also covers other diseases like cancer. They also have a clinic.
We have quite a number of private clinics, so the people in Samarahan are well catered for.
However, we are still lobbying for a proper general hospital in our area. We cannot keep leaning on the heart centre as they are more specialised towards heart-related issues.
Three years ago, there was active talk between a private sector group in Kuching and Tianjin City Medical Centre. They have a huge medical centre in Tianjin where they have specialised hospitals, a training centre for medical personnel, shops, hotels, and they also do medical tourism.
They wanted to replicate that in Samarahan, and Dr Sim and Abang Johari were keen. However, the talk has died down, perhaps due to the cost involved. It would have cost a minimum of RM3 billion at the time.
Hopefully, this idea will be revived. If this is done in Samarahan, it would be the first truly integrated hospital in Sarawak.
It was also approved by the federal government then that Unimas would have its own teaching hospital, which could also be used by the public. However, it has not materialised yet.
What community projects has MPKS carried out for the people of Samarahan?
We have already built two large gardens and we have mini ones all over the housing estates.
If we had the money, we want to make every land reserve vested to the council have playgrounds.
Our idea is to make Samarahan a place that is very liveable.
Money is a challenge as the council has to survive with 80 percent of our income coming from rates and the other 20 percent from the ministry. This 80 percent would amount to about RM20 million per year, which is not much.
MBKS and DBKU have more funds as they are bigger. Give us time, Samarahan will catch up. As we get more government or private sector buildings, the funds will build up.
In the next few years, we hope that we can have a high-class hotel in Samarahan as so far, we have to rely on those in Kuching.
We also keep our students in mind as Samarahan is an education hub. When I first came in four years ago, I demanded this new mall called Aiman Mall. I said the food centre should cater for students with affordable food under RM10.
For the first three years it was a bit quiet, but now it is always full. Many students and lecturers from Unimas and UiTM go there to eat.
In the future, we hope to have more malls coming up to cater for the students.
We would definitely want to have some community entertainment centres where the people of Samarahan can relax and have recreational activities in the evening.
We have a lot of things in mind but these are subject to having the funding to make life better and cheerier in Samarahan.
What are some of the obstacles faced in making Samarahan a progressive and developed division?
Samarahan does not just refer to Kota Samarahan. About three quarters of the division, including Asajaya and Sadong Jaya, are still rural, and we have to focus on these areas as well.
Fortunately, now there is an agency called the Integrated Regional Samarahan Development Authority (IRSDA) which will be doing many things to make life better in Asajaya and Sadong Jaya – namely the two wings of rural Samarahan.
Last I heard, RM1.5 billion was allocated to improve the roads, feeder roads, water supply, electricity supply, and telecommunication towers for the rural regions of Samarahan division.
There will be agricultural stations and projects as well. The land in these rural areas is fertile and produces some of the best pineapple in Sarawak, in addition to bananas, coconut, and even palm oil.
So, there is a lot of potential for development in rural Samarahan.
The time frame is around five years, and our Chief Minister is pushing for some of these to be done as soon as possible.
Samarahan will soon house Borneo’s very first virtual reality theme park called D-Virtual Park by Serba Dinamik Holdings Berhad. How will this benefit the people of Samarahan?
I think this is a very good project. We are very happy; we want the private sector to take the initiative to do such projects to make life better in Samarahan.
It will certainly keep the youths busy. In Samarahan, we have many youth problems. Samarahan has among the highest sex-related social issues in Sarawak, as told to us by a medical professional here.
This includes sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies among the younger generation.
Apart from that, there are also issues such as house-breaking, stealing, and drugs.
These issues are not so much seen in the university students, but among school leavers who do not have jobs or income.
They become drug peddlers to get money and they steal their parent’s money as well.
On weekends, MPKS conducts community development programmes where we go from kampung to kampung and educate the youths and their parents.
We educate parents on their duty to take care of their children, especially those still under the age of 18.
We also appeal to the religious institutions to guide the younger generation.