IF NEWS reports from Malaysia are true, Phase Two of the Pan Borneo Highway involving the Limbang-Lawas stretch is expected to begin at the end of this year.
It is learnt that the proposal had been handed over to the government’s highest-level technical committee.
According to Malaysia’s Works Minister, Dato Sri Fadillah Yusof, the proposal also gave a choice whether to do the alignment through Brunei or an alternative route.
It is also understood that Phase One of the Pan Borneo Highwayis currently going on smoothly except for some delays at certain locations.
The ambitious Pan Borneo Highway project with a distance of 2,325km from Telok Melano to Lawas in Sarawak and from Sindumin to Tawau in Sabah is expected to be completed by 2021.
The Pan Borneo Highway is more than a mega project as it is a project which will bring huge benefits for the people of Sabah and Sarawak, and Brunei, only if the Sultanate is included in the project.
The highway project which had been dreamt of for many years is one which could bring rural areas in the Malaysian states into the mainstream of development in the country as well as help boost the business sector in Brunei Darussalam.
This could be a game changer for both the Malaysian states and Brunei by providing a plethora of new economic opportunities.
Earlier, there were reports that Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam were firming up their discussions on the implementation of the Pan Borneo Highway’s Phase Two project.
This phase would involve the construction of roads in Limbang and Lawas in northern Sarawak that border Brunei.
There is little doubt that the Pan Borneo Highway network can improve connectivity and accelerate economic and social growth between Malaysia and Brunei.
In a Malaysia-Brunei joint statement released in conjunction with the 20th Annual Leaders Consultation between His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dato Laila Utama Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak in October 2016, both leaders had recalled their discussions on the importance of improving and upgrading highway networks in both countries to facilitate connectivity between Sabah and Sarawak, with Brunei.
In the statement, the two leaders urged officials of both countries to initiate discussions on the Pan Borneo Highway network as improvement in connectivity would accelerate economic and social growth between both countries.
The latest reports from Malaysia now reveal that Brunei is likely to be excluded from this mega project.
The Malaysian government, it is learnt, is considering having the Sarawak portion of the Pan Borneo Highway skip Brunei Darussalam to avoid the hassle of numerous passport checks for motorists.
As stated by the Malaysian Works Minister, feedback from the grassroots indicated preference for a road connecting Miri and Limbang via Marudi to prevent motorists from Sabah or Sarawak from having to travel through Brunei Darussalam.
News reports have quoted him as saying that among the proposals is the upgrading of roads built under the Jiwa Murni project in Marudi.
The Malaysian government thinks that “this would do away with the hassle of having to go through immigration at the borders with Brunei Darussalam”.
It is understood that the proposal is among the options to be considered if discussions relating to immigration at Brunei Darussalam’s borders with Sabah and Sarawak remained unresolved.
News reports also stated that the Malaysian Prime Minister had announced in December last year the establishment of a joint technical committee with Brunei Darussalam to eliminate bureaucracy at these borders by looking into the possibility of travel without passport checks.
I think what makes Brunei’s inclusion in the project difficult is the intricacies involved in cross border travel. Malaysians in Sabah and Sarawak as well as Brunei citizens had to pass through eight Customs, Immigration and Quarantine checkpoints if they drove one way from Sarawak through Brunei Darussalam to Sabah.
By commuting to and fro, a motorist would have his or her passport stamped 16 times. This situation is unavoidable because a part of Sarawak is wedged between Brunei Darussalam.
At a time when Brunei is striving hard to diversify its economy, the Pan Borneo Highway assumes critical significance.
In my opinion, it is high time Brunei authorities intensify talks to get the country included in the ambitious network which can bring in huge benefits to the country. This can be our road to further prosperity.
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