Saturday, April 20

Living four seasons of life in a by-election


ON the first week of March, Borneo Post journalists Peter Sibon, Lian Cheng and I arrived at Mukah/ Balingian to learn more about the aspirations of the people of this coastal town which has reportedly enjoyed tremendous development with the headquarters of Sarawak’s Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) being sited there.

This normally quiet place has been thrust into the national limelight since the former incumbent Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud vacated the Balingian seat on Feb 28 to assume the post of Yang Di-Pertua Negeri.

Many have spoken of its glorious transformation and expected expansion on the back of the huge socio-economic prospects engendered by Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy.

The local people, who are the main stakeholders of the constituency never had the chance to actually see such a mega project taking shape in their backyard … until now.

However, while mega projects are being implemented in their area some of their basic needs have not been met.

The people realising that this is an opportune time to air their grievances have come up with their list of wishes and The Borneo Post after interviewing them highlighted their top seven wishes.

PKR has made pointing out the grouses of the people the main thrust of their campaign forcing BN to respond with pledges to address them.

In the past two weeks of campaigning both the BN and PKR candidates made conscientious efforts to live up to the expectations of the people, according to this list of wishes.

From the very basic request for an additional petrol station to something every citizen holds dear for the younger generation — EDUCATION, The Borneo Post is taking stock of what have been pledged.

In the fortnight stay with the beautiful people of Balingian, the journalists experienced the ‘four seasons of life’ — yes, living the four seasons of life in two weeks.

Figuratively, our journey began in Winter, a season of quiet reverence, followed by Spring, a season of refreshing encouraging renewal.

Then came Summer, a season of enjoyable and much-needed rest. And finally, we are strolling through Autumn today, the eve of by-election polling and a season of nostalgic reflection.

Arriving before politicians from both camps started campaigning, we found the small town bespeaking seemingly of barrenness amidst feelings of discomfort and discontent. Heavy grey clouds and hot winds from the sea stung our faces and stole our smiles.

With grim determination we trudged on, and soon enough, found a world of treasures — simple beautiful people and every building and walkway had their uniqueness and cultural feel.

It was the dead of a metaphorical winter — an apt description — but pretty soon, we found ourselves on the threshold of Spring. In the ensuing freshness, two sparrows played fly and seek – they really tested each other’s winged prowess with a zippy display of sidles and swoops.

Both Yissibnosh Balo and Abdul Jalil Bujang have their roots in this town. Both are madly in love with their place of birth and they stirred the town from its slumber with the promise of progress and a better future.

Bring back the colours, add a little shower, blow away those threatening grey clouds with the Spring’s gentle breezes and the people see the mountains and feel challenged to want to climb higher.

The place was brimming with promises of change all round. With ministers — both state and federal — flying in, it looked positively Summertime and the living is easier. Businesses are thriving.

What can be more uplifting than the pledge of putting up two schools by Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on March 20. In just one breath, Muhyiddin fulfilled two wishes on the list.

A total of RM79 million was announced for construction of a secondary school in Balingian and the upgrading and rebuilding of SK Tellian in Kampung Tellian, bringing to an end the woes of parents in both areas.

Businessmen and travellers who frequented Mukah either for business or leisure had their share of good news with the pledge of a new airport from Muhyiddin himself.

The Deputy Prime Minister announced the Finance Ministry had approved phase one of the new Mukah airport and work will start as soon as possible. The initial cost for earthwork alone is RM133 million. A third wish come true.

Fulfilling the fourth wish was Second Minister of Resource Planning and Environment Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hassan.

On March 21, he announced that the water treatment plant and the distribution system would be upgraded and connected from Mukah to meet the increasing demand from consumers in Mukah and the Balingian sub-district.

People in the Melanau villages of Kampungs Masjid, Pulat, Lintang, Baru and Suyong also had their share of Summer joy — the dilapidated Kampung Baru Bridge will be rebuilt — a fifth wish fulfilled by Infrastructure Development and Communications Minister Dato Sri Michael Manyin on March 26.

A bonus from Manyin was an 11-km road from Kuala Serumpai to Kuala Tatau, dubbed the missing link, costing RM230 million which will shorten the distance from Mukah by Bintulu by 120km. A sixth wish in the bag.

Fishermen were also assured by Muhyiddin that petrol subsidies for them would not be cut while empathising their hard work roaming the deep sea for sustenance under the sun and at other times, under the moonlight. And that rounds up seven wishes, though it deviates a little from their original seven wishes.

It is comforting to know the Deputy Prime Minister is aware it is not always romantic to be bathing under the dim lunar glow even on a Summer day.

The people will go to the polls tomorrow (Saturday, March 29) — it’s time to enter Autumn — a time for reflection and to stroll along the backroads of their minds to gain a new perspective.

Autumn, of course, implies change — weather changes and time changes.

Without flare or fanfare, in Autumn, God graciously moves upon our lives, taking us from Summer to Autumn, a season He mysteriously writes His agenda on the tablets of our hearts.

He waits for change to begin for the people of Mukah/Balingian. The One who started the good work for the people in Mukah/Balingian would not leave the task unfinished.

Positively a by-election means the entry of renewal and exit of doubt; it’s a hello to hope and good-bye to despair.

Notably, the area gets more than RM500 million for the people — and still counting — in two weeks than over the last five decades.

The journalists will continue with their soul-searching piecing together the what, why, when, where and how of events they are assigned to cover and the stories they will write about them — including the what, why, when, where and how of the pledges to be fulfilled.