KUCHING (April 18): Selangau MP Baru Bian has defended himself by dismissing claims that he had cancelled three bridge projects in Sarawak when he was the works minister under the former Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
“It has come to my attention that certain parties, whether out of ignorance or spite, continue to slander me by saying that when I was works minister, I cancelled the Rambungan, Igan and Batang Lupar bridges projects and diverted the allocated funds to Kedah and Sabah.
“This is an outright fabrication made up without any basis. Let me say this once again, that the over RM900 million allocation for the three bridges was diverted to the northern part of Sarawak for the Sarawak-Sabah Link Road (SSLR),” he said in a statement today.
Baru, who is Ba Kelalan assemblyman, said it was merely an exercise in prioritising the government’s limited allocation for infrastructure development in Sarawak.
According to the Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) lawmaker, the SSLR is a project comprising phase 1 from Lawas to Kampung Pa Berunut and phase 2 from Kampung Pa Berunut to Long Lama.
He said the 425-km long SSLR project was the first land route connecting Sabah and Sarawak without having to go through Brunei.
“While I was the minister, and being one who comes from the interior of Sarawak, I had to prioritise the ‘last frontier’ which is the northern part of Sarawak that was sorely lacking in road connectivity.
“In our discussions, it was emphasised that there was a real need to have a road from Miri to Limbang and Lawas that would bypass Brunei, in case Brunei closed its borders to vehicles wanting to pass through,” he pointed out.
Baru said this scenario had been borne out during the Covid-19 crisis, thereby vindicating his decision to initiate the SSLR project to provide a complete road connection for northern Sarawak.
He added that he had also been advised that the Coastal Road along which these three bridges were to have been built is a state road, not a federal road.
Given the limited funds available at that time of the economic downturn, he said the government’s priorities had to be reassessed.
“Looking at the bigger picture of Bornean connections, the SSLR provides a crucial North Borneo Highway link between Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and North Kalimantan as part of the Trans Borneo Highway.
“This much-needed link in the north would serve a greater territorial expanse and more people. With the proposed move of the Indonesian capital to Kalimantan, a highway linking Sarawak and Sabah with Kalimantan would serve as a catalyst for economic growth and development,” he said.
Baru asserted that the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) had said that the Trans Borneo Highway, which was expected to be completed in the next 10 years, was likely to create spillover effects over a 15 to 20-year period for industries in Sabah and Sarawak.
According to him, the impact from the Trans-Borneo Highway is anticipated to be much higher than that of the North-South Expressway, which runs from Bukit Kayu Hitam, Kedah (near the Malaysia-Thailand border) to Johor Bahru, the southern part of Peninsular Malaysia.
“Instead of making false accusations against me, the mischievous keyboard warriors should be asking why it is that the northern part of Sarawak had been neglected for 57 years and is only accessible through Brunei.
“Is it not worthy of receiving the same attention and allocation as southern and central Sarawak? Why did the BN/PBB MPs and ADUNs (assemblymen) not speak up for better road connectivity for the part of Sarawak that is home to the Orang Ulus?
“Southern and central Sarawak are already given the Pan Borneo Highway and the Coastal Road. Do these people begrudge a road that is crucial (and in some instances, life-saving) for their fellow Sarawakians in the north? Shame on them if they do,” he said.
He said Minister of Works Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof last year declared that the Perikatan Nasioanl (PN) government was continuing with SSLR project and that the ministry was finalising the award to the successful tenderer.
Baru said the Minister had confirmed that a Letter of Intent was already issued to the contractor.
“The fact that the PN government is carrying on with the SSLR project shows that the decision taken by me as works minister to reallocate the bridges allocation to the SSLR project was sound and prudent.”
He thus asked Fadillah to disclose the status of this SSLR project.
He also hoped that the PN-Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government would expedite the construction of this SSLR since people realised that it was a very necessary connection due to the Movement Control Order (MCO).
“To make it crystal clear to all, let me reiterate that although the three bridges were cancelled, the budget allocated in the sum of about RM900 million is now ploughed back into the first phase of SSLR project which is expected to bring far greater benefits to Sarawak and Sarawakians when completed,” added Baru.