THE three by-elections, the two hills of Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau, and the river Batang Ai are the focus of politics in the country right now. Apart from the premiership transfer of power, of course. I won't be joining the campaign directly. But am following them closely. And when I read this article, I could not help but be amused. It has been a long time since I read such a substantial and well written story.... (and friends who came to know about THIS ARTICLE wondered why such restriction....)
HEAVY IRONY IN BATANG AI, A REMOTE LAND OF CONTRAST
BATANG AI: Ironies and contrasts abound in Batang Ai in southern Sarawak, a remote state constituency located 300km from the state capital of Kuching.
For one, although Batang Ai has a hydro-electric dam that supplies electricity to Kuching and Sibu, villages and longhouses along the way from the dam to the main bazaar of Lubok Antu have no electricity supply.
Thousands of residents still rely on diesel-powered generators, even as the power transmission lines from the dam, commissioned 25 years ago, run above their wooden dwellings.
Vast oil-palm estates dot the landscape, and yet the Iban-majority natives are mostly very poor folk with an average income of RM650 per month per family.
In fact, some 35% of the 18,000 people living in the area survive on incomes of between RM300 and RM650 per month.
The main economic activity is padi cultivation and oil-palm plantations, with no sign of the mega-industries that hydro-dams are supposed to attract.
More ironically, while the opposition PKR has accused the Barisan Nasional government of not helping the villagers, its candidate Jawah Gerang was himself the Lubok Antu MP for 25 years!
The Lubok Antu parliamentary seat covers the Batang Ai and Engkilili state constituencies.
Jawah represented Barisan’s (now deregistered) Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak for five terms, yet he is now criticising the same government he was with for not resolving the problems here.
Meanwhile, Barisan’s Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president and state Land Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr James Masing has accused Jawah of not resolving Batang Ai’s land title woes, but Dr Masing himself is the state minister in charge of land development issues.
Barisan leaders have accused Pakatan Rakyat parties of bringing in outsiders here to instigate the 8,006 voters.
Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu even spoke of curses befalling strangers who entered longhouses.
Yet, Barisan parties have turned many longhouses here into operations centres and temporary motels.
Even the police are setting up bases in longhouses and their compounds.
The spirits in Batang Ai must be very disturbed by all these ironies. THE STAR