Gawai has evolved into symbol of Dayak aspiration and hope — Abang Johari

Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg

KUCHING: Gawai Dayak has become more than just a celebration of the harvest, said Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg.

He said Gawai, which serves as an integral part of Dayak customs and tradition, has become more than a time of thanksgiving to mark the end of a harvest season while looking forward to a promising year ahead.

“It has evolved into a force of unity and a symbol of Dayak aspiration and hope in a harmonious and free Sarawak,” Abang Johari said in his Gawai Dayak message.

Recalling the period when Sarawak was at the point of achieving independence by way of the formation of Malaysia, he said the leaders of Sarawak then were like brothers to one another.

“During the hustle of consultation among leaders in the run-up to the formation of Malaysia, I can remember very well the late Tun Jugah, who used to come over to Kuching to visit my late father, Tun Abang Haji Openg, greeted my father as ‘menyadi’ which is Iban for ‘brother’. This kind of affection among the people of Sarawak is not only limited to the leaders, as it has been the practice for people of different races in Sarawak to show their closeness to one another.

“Even today, some of us still and do greet each other as ‘madi’ or ‘menyadi’ and we are proud that Sarawakians are able to live as brothers and sisters. Differences in religion and race are no barriers for us to live as harmonious people in Sarawak and the differences in our political belief should not create a wall between us,” he said.

Abang Johari said the Dayak community, along with other races, has always played a vital role in the political and economic life of the state.

Citing Dayak-based non-governmental bodies such as the Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), he said DCCI has done well to encourage members of the Dayak community to be actively involved in trade, commerce and industry, while Dayak social non-governmental organisations, such as the Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA), have also done well to look after the interests and welfare of the various Dayak communities.

“Others like the Orang Ulu National Association, Persatuan Lun Bawang Sarawak, and Persatuan Bisaya Sarawak have too done well in their earnest efforts to preserve their unique culture and promote them among their younger generations and turn them into tourist attractions.”

Abang Johari said the Dayak community, like other races, is also hungry for more development, particularly basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, electricity and water supply in rural areas.

“After 55 years of Merdeka, there’s much still needed to be done to upgrade basic facilities and amenities in many rural parts of Sarawak. Much as we want to ensure that every longhouse and village in every nook and corner of Sarawak is accessible by good roads and supplied with treated water and 24-hour electricity, the sheer size of Sarawak’s land mass, its mountainous terrain in the interior, and the vast expanse of coastal peat-swamp are compounding factors that we have to overcome to fulfil the aspirations of our rural people to have better facilities.”

While the Pan Borneo Highway is being built, he said the state government is also striving to construct more bridges and roads to connect many places in order for the people to be able to move from one place to another conveniently.

“This is the reason why we are building the coastal highway that would cost to the tune of RM11 billion to connect many places from Sematan to Miri along the coast,” he said, adding that the construction of the road is in the process as this huge project must be implemented with full integrity and transparency.

Currently, the state has a total of 7,000km rural roads, consisting 669km federal-funded and 6,393km state-funded roads.

“We will continue building more rural roads and a total of RM2.4 billion of state and federal funds have been approved for this purpose under the 11th Malaysia Plan period,” he said.

Abang Johari also noted that water supply has been a challenge for the state government partly because of the inaccessibility and remoteness of the communities, particularly in many rural parts of Sarawak.

In order to have a long-term and comprehensive plan for the development of water supply in Sarawak, he said the state government has engaged a consultant to carry out a study and formulate the Sarawak Water Supply Master Plan and Water Grid.

“Nevertheless, treated water supply in the state has achieved about 81 per cent coverage involving some 478,000 households.

“This year, the state government is spending another RM2 billion to further develop water supply for the benefit of more households in various parts of the state,” he said, and pledged the state government is doing all it can to solve the water woes in the short term. He cited the RM6.5 million to upgrade infrastructure in Kabong to address the water supply problem there.

“I am sure there are many other areas with similar problems that we need to tackle as soon as possible while waiting for the proposed state water grid to be completed in at least five years’ time costing about RM8 billion.

“We’ll be using part of the money to implement short-term measures to address pressing problems affecting people in various parts of the state.” He also touched on rural electricity supply, which has since covered a total of 50,000 households, where the state government has spent RM1.7 billion to implement projects in many rural areas from 2014 until last year.

For this year, he said the government is expected to spend another RM94 million in an effort to extend supply to 2,000 more households in rural Sarawak.

Abang Johari stressed the state government is not trying to make excuses, nor putting the blame on others for the seemingly lack of good infrastructure and amenities in the state.

“But Sarawak needs more financial allocation from the federal government as one of the three parties to the formation of Malaysia. Sarawak has not been receiving monies as it should according to the provisions of the Federal Constitution,” he pointed out.

With limited resources at its disposal, he said Sarawak has tried its best to improve public infrastructure and amenities in rural Sarawak with money from its own coffers.

“I sincerely hope the state can earn more revenue in the years to come through several measures already (in place) and that will be taken to enable the state government to finance infrastructure development in the rural areas.”

In acknowledging the people’s voice in the 14th general election, Abang Johari, on behalf of the state government, also took the opportunity to wish the new administration in Putrajaya all the best in administering the nation.

“I wish to reiterate that being an opposition state does not hinder the state government from working with the federal government based on the Constitution in the interest of the people of Sarawak and Malaysia.”