Sarikei in need of economic resuscitation – Dr Wong Hua Seh

Sarawak DAP assistant treasurer Dr Wong Hua Seh shares on the problems of and lack of economic development in Sarikei.

Full name: Wong Hua Seh
Education: Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), Universiti Malaya
State DAP Post: Assistant Treasurer
Other Activities: Family physician
Age: 61

What are the issues and problems affecting the Sarikei area and residents?

Sarikei is basically an agricultural town. Most of the population are small farmers of vegetables, fruits, pepper, rubber, oil palm and cocoa. Many of the youth have moved to others places to look for jobs, leaving their aged parents behind. Thus, Sarikei’s vibrancy is certainly gone.

Much of this can be traced to BN’s rule. In the past it had promised to construct a trunk road from Sarikei to Tanjung Manis, build a vocational school, and provide 1,000 acres for vegetable farmers around Sarikei. More than ten years later, nothing has materialised. Before the 2008 general elections, BN also promised to build a college in Bintangor. A ground-breaking ceremony, numerous ceramahs and enrolment registration for student intake were held to fool the voters. Yet the construction work has not even started yet.

Tanjung Manis is a nearby deep sea cargo handling and fishing port with the Tanjung Manis Halal Hub area which is a booming industrial centre promoted by the government. Hence there are job opportunities there. However, anyone wanting to travel from Sarikei to Tanjung Manis has to go through Bintangor and Sibu – about 120km – before reaching Tanjung Manis. The proposed trunk road from Sarikei to Tanjung Manis would have been only about 18km. This has certainly caused much hardship for Sarikei people.

Economically, Sarikei is lagging as farmers in the area have limited land for planting export-oriented products such as rubber, oil palm and cocoa. There is also a lack of industrial development in Sarikei due to inadequate transportation and logistical infrastructures. Sarikei is urgently in need of an oil palm refinery mill. Presently, smallholders have to transport their harvested fruits to Sibu and Saratok which are 50 and 100km away.

In February 2006, Sarikei Hospital was built without open tender and cost RM280 million. Since 2008, there are no specialists serving the hospital at all. Though the BN MP Ding Kuong Hiing promised to ask for specialists to be posted there, nothing has materialised. For critically-ill patients, they have to be transported to Sibu General Hospital daily. Roads to and from Sarikei Hospital are also too narrow and frequently congested. The patients’ lives are threatened as a result of this time delay.

The Sarikei multi-million ringgit sports complex has not been properly maintained despite numerous public complaints lodged for more than a year. It is the venue for local school sports events and sometimes for Sarawak state level sports events as well. Yet the state assemblyman has audaciously accused the people who complained of the problems as having a microscopic view of things.
The agricultural subsidy disbursement process for small holders is also not transparent. Often it is speedily processed for those close to the powers to be. The same problem also plagues low-cost housing project buyers and water supply is erratic with burst pipes occurring often.

What are the challenges facing PR’s preparation for this election in Sarikei?

BN has begun to disburse a lot of development funds for many of the local associations, clans and farmers. Money politics is also rearing its ugly head; funds have now been freely disbursed amongst the Iban majority areas. Malay voters are being transferred from other state constituencies to Repok. Postal votes are also a big problem we are facing.