Autonomy? First, Get Down To Grass Roots Good Governance And Tackling Graft

Sarawak’s leadership is pushing for ‘greater autonomy’ and flagging up its own sovereign wealth.  In the process it must tighten up on governance and be rid of graft.

For a high income country with a tiny population, enjoying enormous resources, the poverty of Sarawak’s indigenous populations is a continuing embarrassment to be urgently addressed.

Inaccessibility is an issue inland, but it is not the main reason why support and development has failed to bring the prosperity of Sarawak’s resources back to the most vulnerable groups from whose lands the wealth derives.

The reasons are graft, poor governance and selfish neglect by those tasked to represent them.

Take, for example, the state of Sarawak’s schools which have once again come into the news as one parent complained openly to The Star newspaper about the squalid state of his sons’ residential dormitories in Tebedu, Sarawak.

It is by no means the first time such disgusting neglect has been highlighted in Sarawak’s schools, many of which have been crumbling for years, endangering the state’s most vulnerable young children away from their parents.

The reason cannot be lack of wealth or indeed budgetary allocations which have been trumpeted year after year.

The issue therefore boils down to maladministration and the unfortunate consequences of entrenched graft under a system where everything is subcontracted and no one takes the blame.

The most spectacular example, of course, was the Sarawak School Solar Power Scandal, once again impacting on vulnerable children.

Again, it was Sarawak Report that broke this story having learned of the graft which siphoned out most of the RM1.25 billion federal project, which was  awarded to a local political crony purporting to install solar energy supplies for 369 Sarawak schools in the interior.

Behind the conspiracy was none other than ex-PM Najib Razak’s wife who has now, like her husband. been convicted and sentenced for the crime (she awaits the outcome of an appeal).

The impact of this straight theft of public funds on the lives of school children and their teachers had already long since been felt. With the installations simply not being carried out schools across the state have experienced long hours without electricity each day on top of the other privations they have suffered owing to funds simply disappearing along the way.

Graft begins at the top then seeps down into the culture of an administration that takes its cue from such examples.

So, might this explain why filthy mattresses and broken down wardrobes greeted children for their new term in Tebedu?  Did the budget for maintenance and reparations again disappear and did those who ought to have monitored this situation just shrug their shoulders?

Have teachers given up complaining and has due diligence by those administrators tasked with supervision simply been abandoned. Can it be that the ministers in charge have never thought to accept responsibility either for the departments which they head?

What is clear is that either there was no money allocated for basic things or the money just disappeared and kids were left to suffer. In a high income, autonomous state this should not be happening and Sarawak needs to prove worthy of such ambitions.

Sarawak needs to get to work on delivery and management and tough measures to combat graft in the post Taib, post Rosmah, post Najib era, because if the state government wants more autonomy then the responsibility zeroes in on those who run the state.

Vanishing Projects

Likewise, YB budgets and state projects.  Again, this week on Radio Free Sarawak, the veteran Miri politician and philanthropist, Dr Michael Teo, has pointed to the arresting situation where hundreds of millions of the Sarawak’s state budget continue to be allocated for rural projects which have simply failed to produce any visible results.

This year, like so many before, the Premier announced an allocation of RM550 million to implement Projek Rakyat, RM420 million for the Rural Transformation Projects (RTP), RM200 million for Regional Development Agencies, and RM260 million for Minor Rural Projects (MRP).

Similar claims are made almost every year, says Teo, yet the projects never actually materialise.  Hence the lack of visible development in the inland areas, where state assemblymen who are supposed to represent their people have simply failed to monitor or submit reports on the progress of these projects.

Likewise, the millions a year handed exclusively to government supporting YB’s to distribute in their constituency.

This in itself is a clear scandal in that all public monies should be equally administered through official channels in accordance with rules laid down, not as a political handout by local representatives of the ruling party to the exclusion of opposition representatives.

Moreover, Teo points out, despite the obvious requirement for transparency and accountability in such spending, he has never seen it. The YBs simply absorb the cash and provide no reports on how their budgets have been used.

Given the dilapidated state of so many interior constituencies and the ostentatious well being of so many YBs, people will draw their own conclusions in the absence of such basic transparency.

It is the same across the board with so many state government outlays, allegedly to fund decades-delayed development in Sarawak. Again this week RFS, featured problems with the rural housing loan scheme that has landed one community in a financial nightmare.

Why?  Because the loan in the end only covered a fraction of the actual cost of the new longhouse they had borrowed it to build.  The reason being that in order to receive the money the community was forced to buy their materials through accredited agents who racked up the prices exponentially above the going rate and charged exorbitant delivery costs as well.

The outcome for the village which spoke to RFS has been that they still have to repay the loan to the state but cannot use the overpriced materials because they cannot afford the rest of the costs to build the longhouse.

Once again, intermediaries and graft have clearly intervened, thanks to weak governance and a culture of exploitation, to prevent allocations by the state government from achieving any uplift for the poorest people.

Governance is hard work and demands strict rules, transparency and accountability as well. There is no point in greater autonomy for the people and future generations of Sarawak unless the Sarawak State Government can crack down on graft from top to bottom and achieve an end delivery on all that spending.

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