Belaga boat accident should be regarded as a national disaster as it is tragic proof of failure of 50 years of equitable development in Sarawak with still no road access to rural districts

DAP is shocked and outraged at the tragic Belaga boat disaster yesterday morning where an express boat sank in the Rajang River, with 23 passengers still missing when search and rescue (SAR) operations stopped yesterday because of nightfall.

So far, 181 passengers managed to swim to safety after the ill-fated express boat sank at the Jeram Tukok/Jeram Bungan area, about four hours’ journey upriver from Sibu.

Initial investigation indicated that the express boat had exceeded its capacity for 67 seated passengers as it was believed to be overloaded with over 200 passengers returning home for the Gawai Dayak festivities, and had encountered engine failure before crashing into a rock and sank.

The Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB) Chairman Datuk Roland Sagah has announced a full investigation into the tragic accident, warning of appropriate action against the express boat operator for failing to heed the advice not to overload or allow passengers to climb on the roof when the vessel was too full while plying the rivers.

Unfortunately, such investigations are not going to bring back to life those who have perished in the latest boat disaster in Sarawak.

Two years ago, 13 passengers died in a similar express boat tragedy in Tatau district near Bintulu town.

The Belaga boat accident yesterday should be regarded as a national disaster as it is tragic proof of failure of 50 years of equitable development in Sarawak with still no road access to rural districts.

The frustrations of Sarawakians, particularly Dayaks in the interior, were very eloquently expressed in a letter to a web news portal by a Shell Malaysia “senior instrument engineer” as follows:

“The number of passengers taking the express boats from Sibu to Song, Kapit and Belaga increase every year. And it is a not short, safe ride.

“The journey would take hours. The Rajang river is full of debris from logging activities upstream. There are rapids in some parts.

“This is not the first river tragedy. There has been many senseless deaths in the past.

“The distance from Kanowit to Kapit is about 100 KM. Yet, its surprising to think why the construction is not even schedule to be completed in the next 5 years.

“By contrast, the dual carriageway from Cameron Highland to Bentong, was completed in 3 years. Same distance, and topography.

“The BN system is incapable of providing socioeconomic justice, because the economic cake is distributed from the top down according to race and hierarchy in the party.

“This, unfortunately, is the system that the rural populace appear to have voted for.

“The YBs will provide RM300 coffins for the dead, and the relatives would be forever grateful.

“Such is the tragic comic that befall our helpless fellow Malaysians and human beings, while in the clutch of BN.”

This is a powerful indictment not only at the failure of equitable development in Sarawak after 50 years but also on the whole system of rotten political governance in the state and nation.

The Belaga boat tragedy should be the top agenda of two meetings today – firstly, the last day of the Sarawak State Assembly and secondly, the second meeting of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s post-13GE Cabinet in Putrajaya this morning.

Both the Sarawak State Assembly and the Federal Cabinet should come out with an prompt and immediate response for an urgent plan to give top priority to provide road access firstly, Bakun-Belaga-Bintulu and secondly, Kanowit-Song-Kapit.

If not, the Belaga boat disaster and the failure of equitable development in Sarawak in the past 50 years with still no road access to the rural districts in the state should be top topic for MPs whether Sarawak, Sabah or Peninsular Malaysia in the first 16-day meeting of the 13th Parliament beginning on 24th June 2013.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 8:03 am

    A developed Malaysia by 2020 is just nonsense.

    • #2 by cemerlang on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 9:46 am

      Perception. If you research online, you will find that Malaysia is in the middle to high status of developed nation. Greece is a developed nation. Is it ? It all depends upon the spin doctors. Like you said. Spin it in such a way that the world will think of Malaysia as developed. If you go to Australia, you still see aborigines some where out in the bush. You call that developed ? Without Sarawak and Sabah, there is no Malaysia. There will be only 1 Malaya.

  2. #3 by sheriff singh on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 9:15 am

    And Sarawak has 25 BN MPs and 55 SAs at least in recent years. What have they done to develop their state ? Where have all their money gone (as if we don’t know)? Why do the people still vote them in ?

    • #4 by cemerlang on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 9:48 am

      They cannot do anything. They have to follow orders. That is reality. They enjoy the titles and all the benefits. But they cannot do anything. Therefore the Ibans, the Bumis have to create something politically enough to make magic.

  3. #5 by Dipoh Bous on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 9:18 am

    “A developed Malaysia by 2020 is just nonsense.” yhsiew

    Perhaps that ‘Malaysia’ is only referring to W.Malaysia. To many W.Malaysians, Sabah and Sarawak are just that distance places where primitive people still roam the jungles….

    How many times have we heard ” …..di seluruh negara, termasuk Sabah dan Sarawak” being uttered by those from WM and in our MSM? They still don’t understand that without SS there is no Malaysia!

    Back to the ‘developed’ nation by 2020, I fail to see it from the majority Sabahans and Sarawakians point of view when even the basics (road/clean treated water/electricity to name a few) life necessities are not met yet. Or perhaps the ‘new’ BN could, in 7 years or 6 1/2 to be fair, do what the ‘old’ BN couldn’t in the last 50 years?

    Then again, those affected people are the very same people who have been faithfully voting for BN all these while!

    At least I can comfort myself knowing very well that I didn’t contribute to BN’s victory though my ‘one’ vote could’t do much to affect any change.

    Condolences to the families of the boat tragedy. May it open more eyes…

    • #6 by cemerlang on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 9:49 am

      You have to make a holiday tour to Sarawak and take a journey until the end of the mighty Rejang River and see for yourself how the people have been enduring all through these years.

  4. #7 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 9:36 am

    In london, one soldier got knifed and killed by two islamic extremists. And that was enough for the david cameron to terminate his visit to a european country immediately and return home.

    In malaysia, it matters not even if 10,000 people had drown and died. The point is umno can easily get 10,000 replacement banglas and filipinos, if not more.

    So its a small problem. Never fear, umno is here!

  5. #8 by cemerlang on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 9:51 am

    Conscience that tells you whether you need to apologize or not.

  6. #9 by dayakyouth on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 10:14 am

    Kit Siang, you are the man. You speak-up for us, Dayak when our own Dayak leaders are so afraid, too coward to voice-out, to admit the real ROOT CAUSE, which is the non-existence of Sibu-Kapit-Belaga road — as they are also part of the big conspiracy that prevent the Sibu-Kapit-Belaga road construction for the last 50-years. In recent news statements, the Dayak leaders are firing the surface causes, like SRB, boat operator, but don’t dare to admit the root cause & demand for Sibu-Kapit-Belaga road. The Ulu Rejang YBs especially always say that the government don’t have enough money to build Sibu-Kapit-Belaga road. What a poppycock lie. The cost is ‘peanut’ if compared to the cost to build Putrajaya, KLIA, Bakun Dam, Murum Dam — also a few ‘cents’ compared to the total money made from logging & express boat business at Ulu Rejang. Somemore, if JKR can’t do it because contractors are demand an hellish price, let our army’s engineering division do it (Blue Ocean Strategy).

    Root cause isn’t the Gawai,
    Root cause isn’t the river,
    Root cause isn’t the rock,
    Root cause isn’t the boat,
    Root cause isn’t the engine,
    Root cause isn’t the SRB,
    Root cause isn’t the passengers,
    Root cause isn’t the boat operator,
    ROOT CAUSE is the non-existence of Sibu-Kapit-Belaga road — even after 50 years of independence & 6 more years to Vision 2020.

    This will repeat again & again as long as the root cause is not solved.


    Rural areas in Sarawak would not be part of the ‘Developed Malaysia’ by year 2020? Kindly delay the ‘developed country’ self-declaration if the remote rural folks still don’t feel the benefits of the development.

    2.0 Malaysia: “Jalan Balak Didahulukan, Jalan Sawit Diutamakan”

  7. #10 by worldpress on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 10:24 am

    They be happier the area lesser develop easier to control these stupid human being by greedy corrupted

  8. #11 by Godfather on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 10:40 am

    You seriously think they are in a hurry to bring development to the interior ? These poor people are so easy to manipulate and to please. At each election, the village headman is given a sum of money to distribute to his people, but of course he kept the bulk of the money to himself, and each voter gets maybe RM 50 or RM 100 to buy beer.

    After the beer is finished, they go about their fishing, their farming, until the next elections are announced.

    • #12 by cemerlang on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 1:04 pm

      And why do you need so many powerful people if these powerful people are powerless ? It will take the next 50 years or more before a Bumiputra , Pribumi tsunami hit them. For the time being, eat and be merry.

  9. #13 by Sallang on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 2:30 pm

    50 years of development in Malaysia, we still wait until a mishap to happen, before we only conduct an investigation.
    I would like to direct your attention to rural development in China.
    In the programe over Astro CCTV4, building roads and bridges, China had achieved so much in just 30 years.
    Building bridges over open ocean was possible, what is the Rejang River?
    Isn’t it easier to build a short bridge across the river, and roads will be connected?

  10. #14 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 3:14 pm

    56 is a long time to rot.
    And once again sarawakians and sabahans decided to let the rot continue on.

  11. #15 by on cheng on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 - 9:43 pm

    apa bole buat? dia orang suka bn, biar lalu lagi 5 tahun, keadaan pun sama juga !

  12. #16 by pulau_sibu on Thursday, 30 May 2013 - 1:03 am

    Afterall, the total number of deaths along Rejang River is much less than that of the North-South expressway in the Peninsular. If a highway is constructed, there will be more accidents in addition to destruction of environment. Look at our impressive Pan-Borneo Highway and how many people died every year!

    So I believe we should make the traffic along Rejang safer.

  13. #17 by vhicy on Thursday, 30 May 2013 - 6:37 pm

    I see a lot of comments on Facebook, political blogs, online news portals about how the people of Sarawak has it coming to them, by voting for BN. This is as insulting, and as ignorant, as TV3’s comment about how the express boat was overloaded because it was the cheapest mode of transport available. (As everyone has rightly pointed out, it’s the only mode of transport available.) Stop it with how rural Sarawakians and Sabahans have no brains and can’t think for themselves and vote blindly. They are like everyone else; they vote for what they see. What you and I see is a result of more education and exposure. What they see is what they have, which is not much after 50 years, so far behind the rest of you. We all have our own opinions about whose fault this is, and demand for change, but isn’t there more we can do? Why must change rest in the hands of politicians, and our only say is a vote each, every five years? Why leave road-building, and indeed nation-building, in the hands of a government we deride as incompetent? Why can’t we take it in our own hands?

    I’m addressing this to both West Malaysians and urban Sabahans and Sarawakians alike (for the latter, we frequently take offense when we hear ourselves being called people who live in trees. Do we stop to think that this is still the reality for some of us?): It’s a choice between having a highflying career that pays well, and working under uncomfortable and unrewarded conditions, and finding that there’s no instruction manual – you have to write it yourself. An engineer can choose to bring electricity and water to far-flung villages, and build that contentious road. A lawyer can choose to defend native rights, and speak up for the unrepresented with nowhere to go. A financier can set up a microcredit programme to empower home businesses. A teacher, doctor, pharmacist, practically anyone working in the civil service can willingly serve in district and rural areas, instead of fight against our postings. We may not like it, we may prefer our creature comforts. This is fair enough, but see what the other side is like. Go for a year, six months. Talk to the people there, engage them, help them if you can. Commenting from afar won’t change their mindset – they won’t even be aware of your opinions. We leave the education of the people in interior Sarawak to foreign NGOs, who may have the best intentions, but is demanding RM500,000 as a lump sum compensation per family, wise and sustainable?

    It’s not just about the results of the elections. It’s about Malaysians caring for each other, not putting each other down. Instead of demanding rights for the rakyat, come and serve the rakyat. I wish I can guarantee that you won’t regret it – you most probably will, as you navigate the endless red tape, the incompetent bureaucracy, insufficient funds, the local people who don’t seem to care about helping themselves. But you will be involved in change, and fight harder for it, instead of merely doing your bit once every five years.

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