YB Irene Chang’s Speech on Supply (2020) Bill, 2019
Tuan Speaker, with the new chairman of SMC being recently appointed, it is appropriate for me to remind SMC that there are pending and incomplete projects in Sibu which need Council’s urgent action to ensure that these projects and works, which have been laid off all these times would see the light of completion. I will name just a few of these works and projects here.
TAMAN SELERA MUHIBBAH
What has become of SMC’s redevelopment plan for Taman Selera Muhibbah Food Court in Sibu? Talks of the redevelopment plan had been around since 2016 and yet until today, we are yet to see the shadow of construction works to start. To a question which I asked in June 2018 DUN sitting, I was given the written reply that the project was under design finalisation stage. Since early last year, in SMC official website, it was also stated that the project was subject to finalise layout design and plan. So how long is this finalisation stage going to last? In the meantime, while SMC drags on with the finalisation plan, the business of the hawker stalls is solely at the mercy of the weather. The open-air sitting area would be completely deserted in rainy days and the hawkers would be left staring woefully at wet empty tables and chairs. And if these rainy days occur during weekends, the hawkers would be looking at a significant revenue loss. The Ministry concerned should answer to this August House on the obvious delay.
FIRE HYDRANTS TAR SEALED INTO THE ROADS
The fire at Jalan Amoy on 11th September 2019 triggered an investigation on my part of the fire hydrants located at the vicinity. There were 4 of these hydrants along Jalan Amoy and 3 of them were not working. Two of these hydrants have their main valve plate completely covered by thick overgrown weeds. The 3rd one was completely submerged in water covered by green moss. In a fire emergency, we can be sure that Bomba would not have the time to go and search for the valve plate, whether in the thick undergrowth or in the water. And that was what happened during the fire incident when 4 units of houses were burnt to the ground with 18 families becoming homeless. And at Jalan Chengal, the next road, a fire hydrant behind the row of shophouses had its valve underneath the ground completely tar-sealed as part of the road, with no indication at all as to the position of the valve plate. For the information of the members of this House, a proper functioning fire hydrant should have its upper barrel above the ground while the main valve which controls the water source is below the ground and which position is indicated by the valve plate. After the issue was raised by me in the media, SMC took the appropriate actions and the valve plate of fire hydrant at Jalan Chengal was “freed” from the tar-sealed within the next few days. However, if I were to expect further initiative from SMC to go around the town to check if what had happened at Jalan Chengal and Jalan Amoy was not happening elsewhere, I was solely disappointed. Thereafter, I managed to get a list of the fire hydrants situated in Bukit Assek. In total, there are 164 fire hydrants in my area. Out of these, we managed to check on 136 and 75 of these hydrants, had their valve metal plates either covered in thick undergrowth, submerged in water or worst still, tar-sealed/cemented into the ground as in Jalan Chengal. In fact, at least 13 were tar-sealed/cemented into the ground and there was no way the fire fighters could have access to the hydrants without breaking the tar and cement into pieces. And that would have been too late in an emergency for any rescue mission. This is only in Bukit Assek. I dread to think of the numbers in the whole Sibu town and what would happen if fire should occur in any of these areas. The job of maintaining the sides of the roads free from thick undergrowth or any undergrowth is the local councils’ job. And yet, they had allowed thick undergrowth to completely cover the valve plates openings of the fire hydrants. They have allowed these hydrants, together with their valve plates to become totally submerged in the drain water. And worst of all, to have allowed the valve plates opening to be tar-sealed over as part of the road or pavement, where the hydrants valve plates had been located. Hopefully the Ministry of Local Government can explain the actions of his local councils in Sibu to this House.
SIBU FLOOD MITIGATION PLAN
In May this year, when the construction of the Pump Stations in Kampung Datu and Kampung Nangka had commenced, it came to light that Phase 3 of the Flood Mitigation Plan for Sibu was changed from the construction of PS 6 at behind Paramount Hotel at Sibu Town Square Phase 2 to PS7 and 8 at Kampung Datu/Hilir and Kampung Nangka respectively. In that regard, I liaised with the Federal Ministry of Land, Water and Natural Resources and the relevant Departments of Drainage and Irrigation, at both Sibu and Kuching levels, have spoken to the relevant officers and have studied the Master Plan. And I was informed by Putrajaya that the decision to pass over PS6 and to be replaced by PS7 and PS8 was made in 2017 by the previous BN government at the advise/influence of the Sarawak State Government as the federal ministry then had always work closely with the State Government who has strong input and influence on which area/location should proceed first. As it is, PS 6 was by passed and PS7 and PS8 had proceeded on 7th May 2019. This is to put the record straight as to which Federal Government had changed the plans to the detriment of the people affected by the change.
If I am not mistaken, PS6 would have alleviated some flood waters from Bukit Assek as part of the water discharge from Hua Kiew Road would go into the earth drains of Jalan Oya-Brooke Drive and Jalan Tuanku Osman to Sibu Town Square and Paramount Hotel where PS6, once it is installed, together with the tidal gate, would have eliminated the impact of high-water level from Batang Rajang; which to a certain extent, would reduce flash flood in the area.
However, as we all know, the Pump stations would never totally eradicate the flooding issues in Bukit Assek as the frequent flash floods is not due to the overflowing waters from Batang Rajang nor Batang Igan, which would have been the job for the Pump Stations. But rather it is a localised flooding due to the settlement of the roads in the area and due also to the fact that the clogged and collapsed drains have no proper and effective outlets for the collected rain water to flow out. And this is the responsibility of the local council under the State Government.
Tuan Speaker, I shall repeat what I have said before in this August House. If the overall drainage system in Bukit Assek is not reconstructed, no matter how many pump stations may be installed, Bukit Assek would still be very prone to flash flood. Some parts of the drains are as old as 30 years. Most have collapsed and fallen through and some have caused the rain waters to collect and even flow backwards into residents’ house as in the case in Jalan Kapor. 90% of the drains in Bukit Assek are blocked and clogged up with rubbish and filth. They are all in desperate need of a real desiltation and unclogging work of both silt and rubbish and not just a superficial digging whenever they receive a complaint.
Tuan Speaker, the best way to tackle all these is to do a proper desiltation and unclogging of all the drains in Bukit Assek and then a reconstruction of covered drains as is currently done in Jalan Langsat and which works have alleviated some flash flood as I have observed in the current rainy season. Perhaps, here, I like to deviate and ask when would the whole project of the reconstruction at Jalan Langsat be completed as it is going rather slow with long periods of inactivity. But back to the reconstruction of drains, beside this, the roads all need to be elevated. No doubt more funds would be required but I am confident that would not be a problem since we have received enough assurances that our state coffers is full to bursting. I would therefore urge on behalf of my constituents in Bukit Assek for an overhaul of the drainage system.
Let us not be penny wise and pound foolish by spending money on yearly maintenance jobs when a proper job done could have save the State Government millions of ringgit in the long run and most importantly, would alleviate the people’s misery caused by from flash flood.
TRAFFIC LIGHTS IN SARAWAK
There is an estimate of around 250 traffic lights in Sarawak, with Kuching having an estimate of 100 and Sibu, 51. Currently there are two types of traffic lanterns being installed in the State 1) Tyco LED Dot Matrix, which is an imported product from Australia and 2) LED Hi-Flux, which is a locally made product. And also, currently, the whole of Sarawak with the exception of Sibu, is still continuing to use the Dot Matrix traffic lights. I understand for Sibu, since 2017, the traffic lights are slowly being replaced by the Hi-Flux lights. But that is not so for the rest of Sarawak and all the traffic lights under the local councils including DBKU, MBKS, BDA and MCC are still using the imported lights.. And the supply and installation of these imported lights have been monopolised by a business venture called Seri Teknik for more than 20 years. I also understand that the Dot Matrix lights are now almost totally being phased out in West Malaysia and the majority of which, of around 90%, are now being replaced with the Hi Flux lights.
Tuan Speaker, Dot Matrix, being an imported product, would naturally be more expensive than the Malaysian made product, Hi Flux. But what is of concern is the huge difference in price between the 2 products.
For illustration, the market price of a set of 300mm size Dot Matrix traffic lights costs around RM4,500.00 whereas the same product of the Hi-Flux lights is only around RM1,500.00. The difference in price is RM3,000.00 per set.
Now, at an average traffic signal junction, there is normally 10-20 sets of traffic light lanterns or aspect modules. So, let us take the average figure of 14 sets of lanterns per traffic signal junction throughout the whole of Sarawak. If all these 14 sets are changed from Dot Matrix traffic lights to Hi Flux lights, we are looking at a cost savings of RM42,000.00 for one traffic signal junction.
Now since there is about 250 traffic lights in Sarawak, that would be a costs savings of RM10.5 million, ie RM42,000.00 per set times 250 traffic lights.
The normal life span of the traffic light lanterns is 5 years and they usually need to be replaced within these 5 years. And in figures, that would be RM10.5 million divided by the 5 years and that would give us an average cost savings of RM2.1 million per year.
Tuan Speaker, as we can see, the cost savings would be substantial per year if we can phase out the use of Dot Matrix and replace them with Hi-Flux traffic lights state wide. The quality of both types of lanterns is comparable. In fact, the Hi-Flux aspect module is already in JKR Malaysia approved material list. And arguably the physical performance by Hi-Flux traffic lights is definitely better in the sense that if any chips in these lights are burnt and not functioning, the whole lantern would still emit uniform light. On the other hand, when that happens in Dot Matrix light, portions of the lanterns would be in darkness.
Given the huge difference in the cost, if whole Sarawak stops using the imported traffic light and start using our own Malaysian made products, the savings a year would be substantial for our State to spend them on other expenditures. This is especially when our Malaysian made products are not inferior in any way to the imported products. With the cost savings, the sums can go towards installing other road safety features like countdown timers at the traffic lights junctions. Currently, Sibu has only 10 traffic light junctions which have these countdown timers. More LED street lightings may also be installed, especially in Sibu outskirts, where the people of Sibu is constantly complaining them to be too dim. The LED lights, though may be a bit more expensive to purchase, would save energy up to 70%. Tuan Speaker, we need to practise prudent and good management and save where we can save, so that every ringgit and sen can be put to proper use.
Now, I like to talk about Sarawak Connection under the Adoption Ordinance in Sarawak. But before I do that, I like to declare my interest and inform this August House that my legal office has commenced action in Court for judicial review on whether a minor has the Sarawak Connection to qualify him for a legal adoption under Section 5 of the Ordinance. I am not the advocate retained nor am I involved but even so, the action is on a pro bono basis. I shall not be specifically mentioning the name of the parties involved. However, what the child and parents are going through are what many other children and parents are also going through. And I like this August House to look into this.
As we all know, there are criteria to be met for a successful adoption, one of which is that the child involved must be born in Sarawak and have Sarawak connection. On 2nd February, 2017, a Memorandum Rasmi was issued by the SAG to all District offices, that to prove Sarawak connection, a child can do that by proving a 5-year consecutive residence in Sarawak. Pursuant to the workshop conducted by the Ministry of Welfare and Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development on 8th June 2017, the SOP which was compiled also included the 5-year consecutive residence in Sarawak to prove Sarawak connection.
It therefore came as a bit of a shock when in December 2018, adoption applications concerning abandoned children where there was no information on the identity and whereabouts of the biological parents were all rejected by Sibu District Office. This was done despite the interested adoptive parents being deemed as fit and proper persons to adopt the child concerned. Later, we were informed that these applications were rejected by the District Office acting upon a Memorandum Rasmi dated 21 November 2018 by SAG that abandoned children whose parents are unknown do not have any Sarawak Connection.
Tuan Speaker, I like the Minister to clarify on this, on why the SOP was not followed by allowing these families to prove the Sarawak connection of these children by proving the 5- year consecutive residence in Sarawak. Instead, the applicants were informed that their applications would be rejected as long as it is stated in the nationality of the birth certificate of the children that they are Bukan Warganegara, regardless of whether they can prove the Sarawak connection through the 5-year residence or otherwise. This makes it impossible for these children to ever succeed in being adopted because it has been a practise for the past few years that as long as the biological parents are not able to be traced, these children would be categorised as Bukan Warganegara. Not Bukan Ditentukan as previously but Bukan Warganegara.
And this, together with SAG’s directive, impacted all these abandoned children by denying them the opportunity to prove their Sarawak connection through their 5-year consecutive residence; and thus, an opportunity for them to be legally adopted by people who have raised them since they were babies.
Tuan Speaker, again I ask, may I ask what is the government’s plan for all these abandoned children whose de facto parents are denied the opportunity to adopt them just because they were abandoned and through no fault of theirs, that their biological parents cannot be located?
TVET CENTRES / SKILLS INSTITUTE IN SIBU
We all recognise that not everyone is academically inclined and likes books. This certainly holds true for a large section of our students who have just completed their PT3 and have no desire to pursue higher education in Form 4 and 5. Despite the schools’ efforts to get these students to continue academically, there is a growing number of students in Sibu who opt out of schools simply because they have just no interest to pursue anything academic. And these students find themselves caught between this lack of interest and dropping out of schools with 0% employability skills. A viable alternative in skills institute/college should therefore be made available to them even before the completion of Form 5 and not have to wait till they have completed form 5 to send them to vocational schools. To force them to do otherwise might push up the numbers for school drop outs and who would eventually join the unemployed statistic in the State. The State needs to do something for this group of youths to acquire skills right after their PT3 so as to enable them to become employable.
Tuan Speaker, in the Budget, sums have been allocated to encourage entrepreneurship and technical programmes in the State. But in Sibu, the supposedly 3rd biggest town in the State, there is a lack of these skill-based institutes/colleges. From what I could gather, there are only 3 of these institutes, namely RH Academy, Danny Hair Academy Sdn Bhd and Kolej Kommuniti Sibu. And even so, these institutes are private institutes and the courses and programmes are limited. They do not sufficiently cater to the needs of the wide range of local youths with different skill and talents.
It is true that most of us in the country, including our State still incorrectly believe that skill based education or TVET leads to low paid jobs and that it is also perceived to be meant for only those weak in academic studies or for school dropouts and for people in the lower strata. But in reality, if you have the right skill as required by any particular business or service sector, the starting pay can be even higher than the starting pay of a professional graduate. Inculcating employability skills into our youths therefore requires a huge task of transitioning them from the role of a student to an employable employee. And these skill institutes should be made available to all youths across the State but which is solely lacking in Sibu. The government should look into setting up at least one government run skills institute/college with a wide range of courses available for the youths in Sibu in order to give equal opportunity to all our youths.