Saturday, April 16, 2011

SARAWAK – State of Change

WHEN Sarawak became part of Malaysia in 1963, it was a disadvantaged, undeveloped and marginalised territory. But over the last 48 years, immense economic, social and political changes have altered the landscape and society of the former land of the White Rajahs. Sarawakians today are wealthier -- per capita income increased more than 48 times from RM690 in 1963 to more than RM37,000 last year -- and fewer people are poor -- the number of people living in poverty fell from 31.5 per cent in 1985 to 5.3 per cent in 2009. For decades, agriculture and forestry underpinned the economy. Now, it is less agrarian and more diversified, and more jobs have been created in oil and gas, manufacturing and services, though the timber and plantation industries are still major employers and foreign revenue earners. With its natural wonders, such as the Mulu Caves, the wealth of plants and animals in its jungles not found anywhere else and rich traditional cultures, tourism has become a fast-growing sector of the economy.

While many in the rural community still live in remote areas, they are not as inaccessible as they once were as they are better connected to the outside world. Sarawak now has 21,000km of roads. While some still live in longhouses, these are furnished with modern amenities such television and refrigerators. Almost three-quarters of households receive electricity compared to one-third in 1980.

Furthermore, 80 per cent of the people now enjoy clean water supply. In addition to the improvement in their standards of living and earnings, the people of Sarawak have also become better educated and much healthier. The literacy rate has risen and life expectancy is higher. Primary school enrolment doubled from 144,000 to 288,000 in the 30 years since 1970 and the number of students in secondary schools increased six times from just over 35,000 to 207,000 in the same period.

When the economy has expanded, wealth generated, jobs created, incomes risen, poverty reduced and physical and social infrastructure much improved, it would be hard to claim that Sarawak has been forgotten and neglected, unless one is a political polemicist. In fact, to ask the people of Sarawak to vote for change by voting for the opposition is a considerable irony as change is precisely what the government has brought to Sarawak since 1963. And having laid the foundations for change, Barisan Nasional is bent on change of the transformational kind. This is something that the voters of Sarawak should bear in mind when they cast their votes today. NEW Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur

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