DAP: Sarawak’s rail system must be federally funded

Irene-Chang-sarawak-railwayKUCHING: A DAP legislator wants the federal government to fund the development of any railway linking the towns of Sarawak because Putrajaya has not paid due oil royalties to the state over the past decades.

Bukit Assek assemblywoman Irene Chang called on the state government, which is considering a new rail system, to lobby the federal authorities for funding.

She said it should be a federal project as provided for in the Federal List under the 9th Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

“Sarawak has already contributed so much to the development of the country as a whole, in terms of the oil and gas royalty,” she said in a statement today.

“We have lost out so much and up until now Sarawak is still one of the poorest states in the country despite our rich resources.”

Sarawak is the only state in the country without a railway system, although its land mass is almost the same as that of peninsular Malaysia.

“It’s time that our state government flexes its muscles to demand what is due to our people,” she said.

Sarawak’s oil royalty entitlement is set at 5% by the Petroleum Development Act 1974, in which oil and gas resources are vested under national oil firm Petronas.

On Friday Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg said there was a need to link towns in southern Sarawak with a railway system. He said the state was interested to adopt low or zero emission vehicles that were electrically driven. Earlier in March, he said Serian and Kota Samarahan can be linked to Kuching with an electric Light Rail Transit (LRT) system.

Chang supported the proposal but said it should not be restricted to the southern parts.

The service should be a principal means of transport linking the southern, northern and central zones in Sarawak, she said.

“If we can get a railway system linking Sibu to Kuching, Miri and Bintulu, it can provide the cheapest mode of transport in the region,” she said.

“It can give healthy competition for air transport too. We all know that air fares (for flights) linking Sibu to other major towns are among the most expensive,” she added.

Chang said a railway system was needed in Sarawak to connect rural and urban areas across the state.

“Sarawak has still got a broad hinterland which is not very developed yet,” she said, adding that a railway system can open up access to interior regions and help alleviate poverty in rural areas.

“Factories, industries and tourists spots may be set up along both sides of the system,” she said.

“The agricultural sector will also receive a boost through improved communication. And this can also create employment opportunities.”

The idea of building a railway system to complement Sarawak’s existing road network was raised in the State Assembly by Chang’s late husband, Wong Ho Leng, in 1997, 1998 and in 2000.

The Bukit Assek assemblyman was state DAP chairman from 2001 to 2013.

DAP’s Pelawan assemblyman David Wong had also put forward a motion during the assembly sitting last November to propose the railway system.