KUCHING: One of the most pertinent questions in Sarawak now is should we be deprived of the Second Trunk Road (STR) just because some naysayers don’t agree to its construction?
Infrastructure and Port Development Assistant Minister Datuk Julaihi Narawi posed this question in response to a call by Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) president Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh for the state government to cancel the project.
He said roads were a catalyst for land development and creation of business activities, leading to economic returns.
“The STR traverses the rural areas sandwiched between the Coastal Road Network (CRN) and the Pan Borneo Highway. It is considered a vital project which can contribute to rural development.
“The implementation of the STR project is part of the state government’s long-term plan to improve Sarawak’s road networks with focus on generating opportunities for socio-economic growth, new economic growth areas and also development of local technical talents and to significantly boost the socio-economic development of major towns,” he said.
Julaihi said incomes of people living along the coastal regions would increase, thus raising their living standards to the level of Malaysia’s wealthier states by 2030, while closing the rural-urban income gap.
On the whole, the development of roads would permanently improve the people’s quality of life and move their socio-economic status up the value chain. So PSB’s proposal to cancel the STR project had caused unhappiness among the elected representatives of the rural people.
Among them are Asajaya assemblyman Datuk Abdul Karim Hamzah, Datuk Snowdan Lawan (Balai Ringin), Datuk Len Talif (Kuala Rajang), Gerald Rentap (Layar), Aidel Lariwoo (Sadong Jaya), Razi Sitam (Saribas), Razaili Gapur (Beting Maro), Simoi Peri (Lingga), Dr Hadzland Abang Hipni (Demak Laut), Datuk Dr Juanda Jaya (Jemoreng), Datuk Idris Buang (Muara Tuang) and Wilson Nyabung (Pelagus).
The collective voice of the people that they represent was loud and clear proving that infrastructural projects such as the STR and CRN were among the most wanted projects, he said.
Julaihi said visiting and talking to those living in the affected areas would give a clear insight into their high hopes and expectations.
“I cannot imagine the reactions and frustrations of our rural people if the projects are cancelled as proposed by PSB.
“The anger and frustration of our rural people are evident when Batang Rambungan, Batang Lupar and Batang Igan bridges were cancelled by the previous federal government which forced the state government to bear the costs alone.
“This frustration could be exacerbated if the STR project were to be cancelled,” he said.
Julaihi said it was most regretted that when the government needed to balance rural-urban development, PSB proposed to cancel the STR.
“It is disheartening that they opposed the project the moment they were no longer part of the state government,” he said.
The assistant minister said the STR and CRN and the Pan Borneo Highway would be the game changers for Sarawak.
The projects would give rise to a more balanced rural-urban development, in particular in the Sadong, Samarahan, Batang Lupar and Saribas River basins as well as towns such as Betong, Saratok and Roban and beyond in Sarikei and Sibu regions.
“Therefore, it is timely and deserving for the rural areas to be provided with good roads. We may argue that RM6 billion is a huge amount of money to be spent on infrastructure alone.
“In reality, this mega project is helping Sarawakian contractors and consultants under the guidance of project management consultants,” he said.
He said with experience gained in collaborating with international/non-Sarawakian players in project management and monitoring, in the future, Sarawak would have its own experts independent of outsiders.
He said the state government’s goal is to improve Sarawak GDP by 2030 and the state’s economy needed reliable infrastructure to efficiently move goods and services.
“One of our state initiatives is to focus on the agricultural products. That is why we really need the Second Trunk Road.
“We have to be serious in developing our infrastructure if we want to be on par with other states or countries,” he said.