PSB president cautions S’wak govt against taking up federal projects without written commitment


Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh – Photo by Peter Boon

SIBU (July 21): The Sarawak government should not venture into taking up federal projects and ask for reimbursement later, unless there is a written commitment from the federal government, Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh has advised.

The Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) president pointed out that it could be highly risky if there is no written agreement from the federal government.

“I would like to caution the Premier (of Sarawak, Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg) and the state government under GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak) in tackling this matter. They have to be more cautious in responding to this austerity drive by the federal government.

“You know as a (second) minister of finance for so many years, I have had a lot of experience with the federal government.

“Unless you secure a written agreement from them (federal government) or even sometimes, there is this written agreement, they may not honour it. So, we have to be very careful handling federal projects which are not our responsibility. It is the federal government’s responsibility.

“If we take over, we ask them to reimburse; (but) what if they don’t reimburse us?” Wong told reporters at his office here yesterday.

The Bawang Assan assemblyman was responding to the article in The Borneo Post yesterday titled ‘Build now, reimburse us later’ and by local Chinese dailies on the same topic.

It was reported that Sarawak would carry on with the implementation of its development projects despite the federal government embarking on an austerity drive and would also consider funding federal projects in the state if requested.

The Premier, however, stressed that any decision to fund federal projects would first take into account the state’s financial capability, and if carried out, should be based on a settlement formula whereby Putrajaya would reimburse the Sarawak government.

“There should be a formula. Nothing is free. The federal government can later settle what had been paid forward by way of rental, lease or instalments, among others,” Abang Johari reportedly said when met after opening the state-level Fatwa Seminar in conjunction with the Mufti Department’s Silver Jubilee celebration in Kuching on Tuesday.

Recently, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed had said the federal government is taking measures to save public expenditure by postponing or not continuing any project that has yet to commence, to enable money to be channelled for the welfare of the people, apart from efforts toward the country’s economic recovery.

He had said the move was made in response to a directive issued via the Malaysia Treasury Circular — Guidelines on Public Expenditure Savings.

Wong then referred to The Borneo Post article ‘Nancy dismayed at U-turn on loan contra’ dated April 10, 2019 as an example to assert the need for the state government to be more cautious on this matter.

The Batang Sadong MP Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri had said that the then Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s U-turn on the RM1 billion loan contra formula to address Sarawak’s dilapidated schools issue showed that the federal government did not believe in the state government.

Wong also noted that Abang Johari in his 2020 Budget speech at the State Legislative Assembly in May this year said: “Under the Federal Budget, the federal government has allocated only RM100 million to rebuild 32 dilapidated schools in Sarawak. It is sad to mention here that the amount is not enough.

“Due to the urgent and pressing needs to rebuild and upgrade our dilapidated schools, we have decided to make advance payment of our public loan of RM1 billion with the federal government for this purpose.

“This advance payment must be solely used for rebuilding and upgrading of dilapidated schools in Sarawak.”

Wong recalled that Abang Johari had also said: “I wish to inform this august House that out of RM1 billion, the state had paid the first tranche of RM350 million this year (2019), the remaining balance of RM650 million will be paid in the year 2020.”

According to Wong, he had asked Abang Johari at the May DUN sitting to inform the august House whether the sum RM1 billion had been fully utilised for the rebuilding and upgrading of dilapidated schools in Sarawak, and how many schools were involved as well as had all the intended rebuilding and upgrading works been satisfactorily completed.

Further, Wong pointed out, the federal government has the responsibility of rebuilding, upgrading and the refurbishment of all dilapidated schools in Sarawak.

“I would advise the state government that they should not venture into taking up federal projects and ask for reimbursement later on,” he said.

He further said in view of the world economic situation, the government has to be cautious and plan ahead.

“We have to be very careful and realistic when it comes to developing programmes and projects from now onwards.

“This is my sincere advice coming from my experience as (a second) finance minister for so many years,” Wong said.