Abang Johari speaking in Belaga. Photo: Ghazali Bujang

ONLY with a new mandate to govern can Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) state government continue to implement development projects desired by the people.

In making this point, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg pointed out that the state government’s term is expiring. As such, he and other state leaders are unable to make promises in response to public requests for projects needed by the people.

“Our (government) time is almost due. Unless we are given a new mandate, we will be able to continue with fulfilling the needs of the people.

“These include roads to connect Belaga to Kapit and Bintulu,” he said when he declared open Belaga Waterfront last Saturday (Oct 17).

The following is an abridged version of the speech that he gave that day.

Abang Johari speaking in Belaga. Photo: Ghazali Bujang

I AM THANKFUL to be here again with the local people. This time, I can see changes that have taken places, specifically the Belaga Waterfront where there used to be just open space. Now it is even more beautiful than Kuching Waterfront.

I also thank you especially the local elected representatives — Datuk Liwan Lagang (Belaga assemblyman) and Datuk Wilson Ugak Kumbong (Hulu Rajang MP) — for organising our meeting this afternoon.

Having listened to Liwan’s speech, it would be hard to fulfil all the wishes on his list. However, there is no denying that Liwan, as a former teacher, knows how to do a good job of it. He is a good leader because all the things he requested are for his people.

I have only been your chief minister for three years during which I have taken over Bakun Dam from the federal government. It is now fully owned by the state government. We in the state Cabinet have been working hard to increase the state’s income for us to implement our projects.

It is true that we are developing Bakun, Murum and Baleh dams in collaboration with the people and their elected representatives. To implement these projects, require large funds that we have to borrow. They cost billions of ringgit, meaning we create debts which we must be able to pay. To do that, we must have well-balanced financial management, and after a certain time, we will settle our debts. By that time, whatever you wish to have, just say it. This is our way. Thank God, we have been able to develop Belaga gradually.

I am now 70-years-old, yet two weeks ago Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Jemut Masing and I rode high-powered motorcycles from Sibu to Kapit and visited Song waterfront project and new Kapit Town Square. Liwan was also present and I believe he was jotting down notes, which is why today (Oct 17), he requested for the same development for Belaga. To this, I say no problem. We will develop Belaga’s own town square.

Last time when I visited Belaga, it did not look like this. The district office previously rented a small corner. Now it has changed. To go to Belaga in the past was also not easy since we have to pass through the Pelagus rapids where there were a lot of fatal accidents. This is the sort of things we have to consider and also the reason why I went to Nanga Mujong two weeks ago on a motorcycle from Kapit.

I told Masing and friends that I wished to ride a motorcycle from Kapit to Belaga provided that I still had strong knees. This means we want to build a road from Kapit to Belaga which will definitely cost a lot. However, I believe that with good intentions, God will help us. Like the Belaga Waterfront today, if we have good intentions to develop it for the people, there will be no more dirt and muddy ground anymore.

I remember that in the past, there used to be business stalls by the river. Now we can build a more organised and beautiful place for stalls to complement the soon-to-be-established town square. These are our plans for the future.

They are doable because Sarawak is a peaceful state. We are doing good administering the state. Imagine this: the person who requested to build a mosque here is Liwan. After he had a discussion with Lembaga Amanah Kebajikan Islam Belaga chairman Datuk Awang Bujang Awang Antik, he told me that after building a church, he intended to build a mosque. In which other state can you find such a leader (a non-Muslim) who asked to build a mosque? Only in Sarawak! Meanwhile, the Muslims asked to build a church. This is how we live in Sarawak and that explains why we have such a good community structure and ‘adat’ (customs).

Before I arrive here, I was briefed on a list of development projects needed in this area. You know what they asked for? They requested an area for waste management. Who would have thought that Belaga would request such a thing? Usually this sort of request is made by big cities. Belaga asked for this because it is developing, so waste must be managed well.

Abang Johari speaking in Belaga. Photo: Ghazali Bujang

That is why the state government has formulated a masterplan for Belaga. First off, we will develop a new housing area; secondly, a new commercial area and thirdly, we will develop the ‘seberang sungai’ (across river) which may even go upriver to Bakun.

At the end of that briefing, I said the development reminded me of the old Kuching. In the past, we developed Petra Jaya which is across the Sarawak River. Likewise, Belaga has ‘Belaga Jaya’ that the want to develop. So, this is our plan for the future.

I am confident that the state government would continue to develop the state in accordance with the changing trend. Now it is the era of IT — information technology. Like it or not, we have to build telecommunication towers that will enable us to contact each other so that Belaga will not be isolated and left behind.

I believe that by 2030 our revenue will not only depend on our hydro-electric dams. We also have our state sales tax (SST) on oil and gas (O&G) products. This year, we have additional revenue as a result of our fight with Petronas. We sued them because they refused to pay the SST. The court ruled in our favour and now we have additional income from our petroleum products.

I want to stress that our efforts to increase the state’s revenue will not end there. If everyone in the Cabinet agrees, we will look for more ways to generate income so that we can implement development projects requested by our people.

My term as chief minister will end soon. The same goes for Masing, Liwan and other state leaders. Thus, I cannot promise development for Belaga. But if the people give me and my friends in Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) a new mandate, I can ensure that development will take place. For the time being, I cannot promise you anything.

Even on the topic of state election, some people said yes and some said no in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite everything, it is up to the people to decide what they want. If you want development projects as listed amounting to RM70 million, they are possible provided that we are still the government of the day after the coming election.

Sarawak is peaceful but the country is in political turmoil as leaders fight to become the prime minister even until today and amidst the Covid-19 crisis. What is happening to the country?

The people want a good government that prioritises them, which is what the GPS state government is. In this state, we share. As your chief minister, any decision that I wish to make, I discuss with other leaders beforehand.

On education, Sarawak intends to build international schools where the state’s excellent children especially those from the rural areas and the interior will study using international curriculum. If they excel, we will send them overseas to produce Sarawakians with international quality. We do not want our children to be just ‘jaguh kampung’ (village heroes). We want them to be world champions. The GPS government will fund the cost of their studies. This is our hope for the future.

My friends and I will continue to formulate a holistic policy to improve rural development as well as marine laws. As you know, there are a lot of people detained including those from Vietnam and China for stealing our marine resources. That is why we established our coast guards to secure our sea and rivers including Batang Rajang which has a lot of empurau fish.

The people of Sarawak can see for themselves what we have achieved in three years since I took over from the late chief minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem. After this, whether we like it or not, we have to alter our policy for our march towards 2030.

To end my speech, I reiterate that education is very important for our children; our income does not depend 100 percent on others; we can implement our own development projects independently; and our state is stable because we don’t always struggle for power.

I hope by the time I come here again, your town square costing RM20 million would have been completed.