James Masing

KUCHING: Poverty in the state can only be tackled or reduced when there is road accessibility to remote areas.

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing said before serious discussion could take place on how to tackle poverty in Sarawak, there was a need to create accessibility to poor regions.

“As a minister in charge of infrastructure, that is my priority…to create accessibility to inaccessible areas,” said Masing, who is Sarawak Infrastructure and Ports Development Minister.

Masing said this priority was not taken seriously by the federal government as the state’s oil and gas assets were taken from the state, adding that was why Sarawak had no funds to build its infrastructure.

James Masing

“Most of the funds from our oil and gas were taken by Malaya to develop infrastructure in Malaya…that is why Sarawak is left behind.”

Masing said Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg knew very well the state had been deprived of its assets, so he wanted the oil and gas money to be returned to Sarawak to develop the state’s infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity supply.

“This was the reason why the Chief Minister is very kind to me when I submitted my proposal for infrastructure development,” he added.

Masing, however, said it would take time, adding, “Rome was not built in one day.”

He said this when commenting on the widening income gap and slow pace of development in Sarawak, and how to address the issues.

A local human rights group, Society for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of Sarawak (Scrips), said it had identified several reasons why Sarawak had a high population of poor families, even though the state was the richest in natural resources in the country.

It said there was a lot of truth behind the latest United Nations report that said Sarawak had a high poverty rate.

Scrips secretary-general Michael Jok told a national paper that the organisation had carried out ground analysis over the years in Sarawak concerning poverty and human rights issues.

Jok said Scrips had analysed the situation on the ground as accurately as possible, and categorised the reasons into three main categories.

“Firstly, there are bad policies that deny the interests of the majority in Sarawak, in favour of a powerful few and their cronies.

“Secondly, there are politics involved where certain politicians in power use poverty as a divide-and-rule tactic.

“Thirdly, there are many social woes such as a lack of education and poor discipline among the communities that engulf them in the cycle of poverty.”

He was commenting on the latest United Nations report on extreme poverty and human rights issues that said the percentage of low-income earners in Sarawak was higher than the national average.

The UN report was compiled by Professor Philip Alston, who is the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Issues.

“At the national level, 8.8 per cent of households in Malaysia have a monthly income of less than RM2,000.

“The situation is more dire in certain states,” the report read, also pointing out that in Sarawak, 15.5 per cent of households had a total family monthly income of less than RM2,000.