Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Masing has expressed gratitude for the various funds given to the state specifically the RM1 billion allocation for Sarawak school upgrades by helping rebuild and upgrade dilapidated schools.

When contacted, Masing said the money which will be used to repair rundown school buildings using the industrialised building system (IBS), showed that Putrajaya was finally listening to Sarawak’s need for quality education.

“Sarawak education has been sidelined for too long until Najib Razak became prime minister,” he said.

During the tabling of Budget 2018 earlier today, Najib proposed that RM2.5 billion be allocated to rebuild and upgrade 2,000 dilapidated schools using IBS in the country.

From this allocation, RM1 billion was meant for Sabah and RM1 billion for Sarawak, with the remaining RM500 million to be used in the peninsula.

In September, the Sarawak government had resorted to repairing dilapidated school buildings and improving the facilities themselves before sending the bill to Putrajaya in its effort to increase enrolment in the state’s rural schools.

Masing, who is also chairman of the state cabinet council on rural schools, said the Sarawak government had no choice but to take these drastic measures due to Putrajaya’s reluctance to provide the necessary funds.

Commenting on the cumulative RM800 million for rural roads and water supply in both Sabah and Sarawak, Masing said that while it was good that the money had now been made available, he expected Sarawak to ask for more in the coming years.

He also commended Najib for his concern for Sarawakians with regard to native customary rights (NCR) lands.

“RM30 million for the surveying of NCR land in Sarawak shows Putrajaya is still sensitive to our needs to have NCR lands surveyed and owned by the rightful owners.

“The Sarawak land and survey department has to work harder to ensure that the RM30 million is spent for this purpose.

“Furthermore, the natives of Sarawak must not obstruct government officials if they want to have their lands surveyed,” he said.

Sarawak government officials have been regularly prevented from carrying out their duties as the natives had assumed the officials had come to take their land away.

Unfortunately, their fears were not necessarily unfounded as many tracts of land surveyed, and which the natives claimed was NCR land, were eventually given away to companies or individuals.

Touching on infrastructure development, Masing who is also state infrastructure development and transportation minister, said Sarawak must plan for its development, including a coastal highway and a second expressway in the next few years.

“This way, we can bid for more funds, just like the coastal highway from Selangor to Perak which cost RM5 billion.

“If we have no roads or highways being planned, how can we bid for funds as they do in the peninsula?

“That is why my ministry is planning for a coastal highway, a second expressway and bridges with the total cost coming up to no less than RM5 billion,” Masing said.

He insisted that unless the Sarawak government put the proper plans in place, Putrajaya could not provide the necessary funds required for Sarawak’s roads and bridges.

In Budget 2018, Najib has proposed a total RM6.42 billion in direct funds for infrastructure development in Sabah and Sarawak, which also covers RM2 billion for the Pan-Borneo Highway.-FMT

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