Rural folk grateful for allocation to lower cost of essential goods

Longboats from Ulu Mujok and Ulu Kanowit berth at a jetty in Nanga Entabai, Julau.

THE RM200 million under Budget 2021 to absorb transportation costs for the Essential Items Distribution Programme, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and Community Drumming (RON95 petrol and diesel) is long-awaited news for rural folk in the target areas.

The initiative, introduced in 2015, will be extended for the first time to Ulu Mujok, Julau, where the residents look forward to getting essential items at reasonable prices.

At present they still depend on river transportation to get to Julau – the nearest town.

Penghulu Robert Datu anticipated the initiative would greatly lessen the burden of the people in the area, especially in narrowing the price difference of essentials items in urban and rural areas. He said the retail price of essential items in local sundry shops is very high, despite being listed as controlled and subsidised items.

For instance the price of LPG is RM50 per cylinder; RM34 for 10kg of rice; RM5 for a 1kg packet of cooking oil; RM4 for 1kg of sugar; RM3.50 for 1kg of wheat flour; while RON95 petrol and diesel are priced at RM3.30 and RM3.50 per litre respectively.

“The price is double compared to the rate in town, but the locals have to accept the fact that it is due to high transportation costs,” he lamented.

Robert said Ulu Mujok felt honoured to get a special mention by Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz when he tabled Budget 2021 in Parliament on Nov 6.

“We also hope that special attention would be accorded to us and together we’ll make Ulu Mujok a model and a success story for the initiative.

“On behalf of about 2,000 people from 12 longhouses in Sungai Mujok, who stand to benefit from the initiative, I wish to thank the federal government for coming up with an initiative to end the hardship we have been enduring all this while,” he said.

Robert went on to suggest the government come up with a mechanism to ensure efficiency in the delivery system.

He recommended identifying a suitable place to store the items to ensure sufficient stock at all times, while a monitoring committee is needed to ensure the target group enjoyed optimum benefits from the initiative.

Ulu Mujok resident Sylvester Embuas suggested locals should be given an opportunity to participate in the implementation of the programme.

(From left) Ema Galau, Tuai Rumah Sating Bundan and Pemanca Tony Kulleh.

Operators of sundry shops at various longhouses should be encouraged to take part in the delivery system as they already had many facilities in place, such as stores for keeping stock and longboats for ferrying goods to longhouses yet to be connected by road, he said.

Such an arrangement would open opportunities to the locals to take part in economic activities and enable them to enjoy extra income from the programme, he said.

“As far as possible, I hope the role of middlemen is minimised, if not avoided altogether, in the implementation of this initiative. This is to check leakages and ensure the target group enjoys optimum benefits from it,” he stressed.

The former civil servant said he hoped the initiative would be extended to other deserving areas near Ulu Mujok, such as Ulu Kanowit (40 longhouses) and Ulu Ensiring (two longhouses).

Ulu Mujok resident Ema Galau opined transportation costs for all groceries should be absorbed under the initiative.

Apart from the listed essential items such as rice, sugar, cooking oil, LPG, and fuel, she said other groceries such as powdered milk and building materials are in high demand and should have their prices stabilised.

She believes the allocation is sufficient to serve its intended purpose if properly managed.

John Razak Untam, from Rumah Sating, KM67 Bintulu-Miri Road, is very thankful to the government for understanding the plight of rural folk.

“It is because of this programme, our people in rural and remote areas, are able to reduce their monthly transportation costs to the town centre to buy the essential goods such as sugar, cooking oil, rice, flour, LPG, petrol, and diesel,” said the 36-year-old, who runs an appointed point of sale (POS) in the area.

John said it takes around one and half hours to drive to the town centre from his longhouse, and prior to the implementation of the programme he normally spent around RM500 to RM600 monthly on transportation costs.

“With this programme, the people who live far from the town centre will still have sufficient supply of essential goods. From this programme the people will pay for the essential items at the same prices as the people in town.

“Apart from that it gives us greater convenience to get supplies without having to go down to the town centre, thus it saves us a lot in terms of transportation costs,” said John, who lives in a 68-door longhouse with 482 residents.

According to him, an estimated 1,200 residents from five longhouses nearby have benefited from the programme – Rumah Sating, Rumah Dayong, Rumah Dana, Rumah John, and Rumah Empaling – along with oil palm plantations in the area.

“Normally the supply of these essential goods will be transported by a distributor four times a month,” he said.

He said thanks to uninterrupted supply, there has never been a shortage of essential goods, even during the early stage of the Movement Control Order (MCO) due to Covid-19.

Tuai Rumah Sating Bundan thanked the federal government under the leadership of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for the increased allocation for the programme, which he said really benefits rural communities.

“This programme simplifies the process for us to get essential goods, especially those from poor families. We can save a lot of money on transportation costs since our longhouses are located quite far from the town centre,” he said.

Sating also said that during the MCO, longhouse folk had no issues with the distributor in their area.

“We were not affected in terms of the supply of our essential goods, the distributor managed to transport the items as usual,” he said.

Sungai Asap community leader Pemanca Tony Kulleh said the programme is a good initiative from the government for the people in the rural area.

“With this subsidy from the government to subsidise all these essential goods, I hope the opportunity in doing the delivery business also must be given to the local people.

“The rural entrepreneurs must also benefit from the allocation given by the government. They also know very well the routes to the remote longhouses,” he said.

Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Bintulu chief Nazari Hassan said the implementation of the programme in Bintulu has been smooth.

“In Bintulu, there are 120 POS, 17 distribution zones, 90 distribution areas, with 14 distributors. For 2020, Bintulu was allocated about RM14 million for the programme,” he said.

When tabling Budget 2021, Tengku Zafrul said the allocation for the programme had increased from RM150 million in 2020 to RM200 million as the initiative would be extended to 34 new areas, including Ulu Mujok in Sarawak and Pulau Sakar in Sabah, benefitting some 1.1 million residents.

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