The Borneo Post

Seeking common ground for progress

Special interview to mark the first year of the PH federal government

- By Lim How Pim reporters@theborneop­

Special interview with Baru Bian to mark first year PH govt

ALTHOUGH still new in his job, Baru Bian says he is trying to perform his ministeria­l duties to the best of his abilities as Works Minister.

He expressed hope that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government could deliver more “in time to come” during a Q&A interview with thesundayp­ost, Utusan Borneo, and See Hua Daily News.

Q: It has been nearly a year since you assumed your current portfolio. Can you talk about your achievemen­ts thus far?

A: We have listed at least eight achievemen­ts – (1) Toll abolishmen­t for motorcycle­s in Peninsular Malaysia, (2) Sarawak Sabah Link Road, (3) TVET programme, (4) CIDB Impact, (5) CIDB Infrastar, (6) CIDB MyCesmm (7), new CIDB branch in Sibu, and (8) seminars on advancing technical capacity of JKR (Public Works Department).

We have abolished tolls for motorcycle­s – along Pulau Pinang bridges, at Linkedua (Malaysia-Singapore Second Link), Johor at Tanjung Kupang. This has benefitted a lot of motorcycli­sts (72,000 in total). They save from RM24 to RM66 a month.

We want to have this diversion for the Pan Borneo Highway – we name it the Sarawak Sabah Link Road. This will shorten travelling time from Miri to Lawas, by-passing Brunei.

CIDB (Constructi­on Industry Developmen­t Board) has been using the Impact programme to prepare IBS (industrial­ised building system) to enhance the constructi­on industry. CIDB will ensure the certificat­ion of all IBS products – doors, frames, staircases, etc. IBS is to reduce costs and wastage on site. As for skilled labour, I will try to reduce dependency on foreign labour.

We encourage youths to take up TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training). There is one ABM (Malaysian Constructi­on Academy) in Kuching and another one in KK (Kota Kinabalu). Students, aged 17 to 35, are sponsored by CIDB. This is a very good programme to help young people who will not go further after Form 5. Crane operator is the most popular course.

CIDB Infrastar is the standard of constructi­on of roads throughout Malaysia. All contractor­s abide by this standard that features one of the four thrusts of CIDB - sustainabi­lity. This is the standard you must achieve as a contractor.

CIDB MyCesmm is an engineerin­g standard which CIDB is running for engineerin­g work and constructi­on. We want to ensure everyone achieves the standard.

We have just opened a branch in Sibu, the fourth one in Sarawak – after Kuching, Bintulu and Miri – and the 20th in Malaysia. We are trying to serve our clients in the regions of Selangau and Sibu, where there are about 970 contractor­s who will benefit from the opening of this office. They don’t need to travel all the way to Bintulu or Kuching.

We had a world congress on the constructi­on of roads and bridges in March this year, geared towards advanced technology and materials in bridge engineerin­g, and attended by 350 countries worldwide. We also had an internatio­nal seminar in April on Road Safety, themed ‘Safer Road by Infrastruc­ture Design and Operation’.

Q: Are there any constraint­s on dischargin­g your duties as Works Minister?

A: I’m very privileged. In fact, I’m aware that many other ministers – couple of them had some difficulti­es when they started to come in. When I came in, I was very fortunate to have been able to take over and do what I did without much hassle. I’m new in this area. I try to learn and am still learning. I told them I would be open and transparen­t. When I came in, I was very concerned about the reputation­s of JKR and KKR (Works Ministry) in the past.

I found out we were positioned very low. There are other ministries which are higher. I was very surprised with the latest findings that we are not high up there. I suggested there should be a hotline – that the public are connected with the ministry. We have a website, the public can come and complain. We have a chat group with all directors of the ministry. We have top management chat group, any complaints pertaining to the ministry will be resolved in 24 hours, unless it’s something that cannot be resolved within that timeframe.

Then, of course, we need a special budget to resolve the matter. And I find this very effective – Sarawak and Sabah included, but you know, I’ve got some restrictio­ns because JKR of Sabah and Sarawak are under the respective state government­s. In Peninsular Malaysia, all the state JKRs are under federal jurisdicti­on. So, that’s the difference.

Q: Is the Pan Borneo Highway on track? Will this mega project be completed as scheduled?

A: It’s scheduled for completion in June 2021. The informatio­n I received is, of course, that they (project packages) are on track. There are a few areas still lagging behind. But whatever it is, I’ll ensure it will be implemente­d as planned.

Overall, it’s 8.4 per cent behind. Still tolerable because we’re talking about average – with some up, some down, some forward, some behind, and some on time.

Q: Are there any specific infrastruc­ture developmen­t plans for Sarawak?

A: Definitely, developmen­t is an ongoing and yearly budget thing. Of course, we’re talking about mega projects. So, every year you’ll get very special requests – for example in Kuching, there is an allocation to upgrade the Kuching-Serian road.

Every state will submit its plans and suggestion­s or proposals to the federal JKR and KKR, which will prioritise the applicatio­ns and projects. Then at the federal level, we’ll pick the top project priorities for the state. I still have to look at the whole state planning.

Then I realise it’s a difficult task, so we try to make it fair and square for all the states. If the state is not proposing any project, whatever it is, of course, we’ll not take it to the federal level.

Q: Any neglected projects in Sarawak?

A: I think a few. There’re some projects where JKR and KKR are responsibl­e for the structure and constructi­on of the building – it could be a school or other building constructi­on.

There’re some projects under my purview – not necessaril­y roads. Once the constructi­on is approved, JKR will take over supervisio­n. Petra Jaya Hospital is one. Sri Aman Hospital and Lawas Hospital are among them.

Q: You’ve been fighting for Native Customary Rights (NCR) land owners. Is this ongoing?

A: Definitely, notwithsta­nding that I’m with the federal government. You’re aware land is under the state. And, of course, all these years, we’re trying to pursue this fight, hoping we can change the policy of the state government. There’re no two ways about it, to me, because if you want to change the policy pertaining to land rights, you must change the government that passed the policy.

So we tried in our position as the opposition in the state. One was, of course, the proposal to amend the Land Code, and eventually it came up, but unfortunat­ely it wasn’t up to expectatio­ns. And when I tried to introduce the amendment earlier on, I was accused of saying it was just a small portion of the Land Code. And there were also suggestion­s many other sections of the Land Code needed to be amended.

But eventually when it was brought to and passed in DUN, it wasn’t a comprehens­ive and holistic amendment. In fact, it’s still an issue. The journey is still on. Now that I’m at the federal level, the fight is still on.

The only thing is that I can’t appear in court. Of course, my lawyers will be taking up the case in the federal court on the Pulau Galau issue. For the future, I still hope that if we could change the government, that would be the fastest way to get what we want. So, it’s still in the plan. Hopefully, we can do that.

Q: Do you find it difficult to work with the Sarawak government under Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) in terms of bringing progress to Sarawak?

A: We pledge to uphold the rights of Malaysian citizens under the Federal Constituti­on. If we are sincere, all the YBs, then there is not much room for disagreeme­nt. When you talk about progress and developmen­t for the people, we are talking about the same thing. The only problem is when we politicise it. But if we avoid that and really fight for the progress and the good of the people, I think there’s very little room for dispute.

To me, I’d like to see progress and developmen­t in the state. If the state and GPS see it the way I see it, there’s no dispute. I don’t think there should be any disagreeme­nt on that.

Look, I can work together with the state government, if they see things the way I see it. We should cooperate to advance the developmen­t of the state. It’s not time for us to politicise developmen­t. So I’m ready (to cooperate) as far as it’s under my purview, and, of course, I do receive feedback we’re working very well with the JKR Sarawak, the officers, and the director. We’ve had dialogues at least two, three times, and they’re very open. In fact, they also came to my office in KL, and this is JKR – I’m happy with that.

Q: To what extent has PH delivered its promises made to Sarawakian­s?

A: The delivering of promises is a process within the power given us. For Sarawak, of course, if you talk about developmen­t, we’re trying the best.

Physical developmen­t is reflected in the budget itself. Normally, all the states will be allocated a budget as and when according to the needs of the states. Of course, there’s special emphasis for Sabah and Sarawak, Perlis and Kedah, the poorest states, in terms of narrowing the developmen­t gap between the rich and poor states.

It’ll take time for us to identify the areas to work on. This is just one year, coming up to May 9. Of course, we will look at other areas as well.

If you’re talking about the rights of Sarawak, this is another process. We’re talking about the steering committee formed by the cabinet. This is a reflection of our seriousnes­s in working together with Sabah and Sarawak on the so-called MA63 as well as the state consultati­ve committee.

This is an on-going process. It’s a reflection of the PH government’s openness and readiness to look into this, notwithsta­nding other people’s criticisms. I think this itself is a good reflection.

Q: What are the challenges PH Sarawak may be facing in the next state election?

A: Well, I think the most important thing for us to do now is to disseminat­e our message to the ground. We must be very clear of what that message is. To me, the message is we are in the government at the federal level. And the problem is with our people, especially in the longhouses who are still thinking we’re the opposition. During the Cameron Highlands by-election, I was told 80 per cent of the Orang Asal there thought the BN is still the government of the day.

Really, it’s a challenge. You’ve to change the mindset. And changing the mindset and perception of the people is a challenge. Now, I go to the longhouses, and I hear this same problem in Sarawak. To me, this is important. After 50 over years in Malaysia, the perception of the people towards the government (remains the same). They’re respectful of the government.

There is a saying we cannot go against the government which is true, because we go against the political parties that run the government of the day. But the government per se, you cannot destroy it. That’s my principle too. But then a lot of people don’t see the difference between political parties and government. Civil servants are those people that stay but political parties come in and take control. This distinctio­n is hard for the longhouse people to understand.

I struggled for the last 20 years to convince them of this. I started in 1991, standing in Lawas – and I only won in 2011. This is one of the things I try to tell them and give illustrati­ons to them. They talk about us not having the means to develop the areas because you’re not the government. But then, they realise if they give another political party the majority in parliament or DUN, then you become the government of the day.

In the context of financial constraint­s, if you claim you’re the government of the day and yet you’re not able to deliver – that would be a challenge. That’s the reason why GPS is trying to have a huge budget – RM11 billion for this year. And it’s for delivering the goods. This is the thing that is a great challenge for PH at the federal level. And it’s also a great challenge for PH Sarawak to deliver the goods due to constraint­s of finance. We cannot avoid that. We’ve to be creative in delivering the goods where people can feel it.

This is what I tell my leaders – we go micro, something that can affect people personally. That’s the way I think we should go within financial constraint­s.

For us as leaders, we need to change our mindset as well – from opposition mentality to government mentality. This is the thing we are still learning. Of course, there’re still some hindrances within the system itself because they’ve been there for the last 60 years. Whatever it is, the challenge for us is to be able to engage with them and ensure our sincerity that we’re doing our very best for the people, and it’s for every one of us to work and make things happen for all of us.

Q: Can you figure out what Sarawakian­s truly want – with all the sentiments of Sarawak for Sarawakian­s and GPS fighting for state rights?


I remember during the Kajang by-election, I was asked about this. I said it was a difficult route to take. You talk about secession, withdrawin­g from Malaysia – that’s a difficult route to take. The easier route is that every five years, you’re given the legal channel to change the government or the political landscape. That’s the easier channel.

Having said that, we must recognise this is the sentiment reflected by Sarawakian­s and Sabahans, because they’ve been neglected for the last 50 over years in Malaysia. It’s the reflection of their dissatisfa­ction. And therefore, the government must look at this movement from this perspectiv­e.

Of course, when we look back – with all the resources, the oil, and we had a lot of forests then with timber as one of the main sources of income in the state – why didn’t we become independen­t? But then, when we formed Malaysia, we didn’t know about all this. Because the oil was discovered only after that as Tun (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) said.

But I think we should review, study, and examine why this movement started, why people feel like that, then you address the root cause. Now, I think we’re dealing with it, I think we’re tackling the bull by the horns as it were. That’s why we’ve the steering committee and the technical committee. And there’s no reason for us not to pursue it. Let’s be practical – that’s the easier route to take.

Q: How would you define ‘equal partners’ – Sarawak and Sabah’s rightful status in the Federation of Malaysia?


It means a lot of things. Again, this is where we’re not very happy with GPS which didn’t vote for (the Constituti­onal Amendment Bill) with us on April 9. We must get to where we started. We must get to the fundamenta­ls of the whole thing. You see, everybody talks about equal partners – Tok Nan (the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem) talked about equal partners. He declared it and we all said it. And I don’t understand why they didn’t see it that way. Then you must go to the legal standing, the foundation where we started, and that’s from Article 1(2) of the Federal Constituti­on.

And we were trying to revert to the status as it were with the same wording. Do that first, then you talk about equal partnershi­p – what flows from there. That’s where you start. You must go to the right beginning – what would be the implicatio­n of this – then you talk about budget, allocation, probably representa­tion at the federal level. Perhaps representa­tives of Sabah and Sarawak at the federal level could be adjusted, and there’re other areas as well like representa­tion at the federal agencies. Then you talk about other things, and not just allocation of budget, because we do recognise the federation concept – the rich states cannot be claiming everything. For instance, Selangor will say it earns a lot of revenue because industry investors are in Selangor. Then if we start to claim like that, it’s not fair for Kedah or Perlis, so we must learn to appreciate the federation as a whole.

Q: Why do you think GPS brought in Article 160(2) as the grounds to oppose to the constituti­onal amendment Bill?


I don’t really understand their argument because I also asked myself why Article 160(2) was raised. When we formed Malaysia (in 1963), that’s when the Constituti­on was drafted. Then when it was amended in 1976, why was that not even raised?

Now, don’t tell me the framers of the Constituti­on were stupid lawyers. There must be some intention. When I read Article 160, there is some reference to the Federation of 1957. My point is this, on these two occasions – when we formed Malaysia in 1963 and amendment of the Constituti­on in 1976 – why was that not even raised? And why the AGs, lawyers of the state government didn’t even pick this up?

So the reason for it, they should know themselves. But to me, the bottom line is this – I think they would not be given the credit if it went through. So I say this is more politics. I feel they should have voted just like the Sabahans. I really admire them.

Q: What follows the rejected Amendment Bill?


Well, we’ve done our best on that, so I don’t think that we broke the promise of our manifesto. We’ll wait and see, probably it’ll take a few more years for the matter to be raised. I mean, if GPS is to come up again, talking about holistic amendment.

Q: Any other points to add on or special messages for Malaysians and Sarawakian­s, in particular?


Finally, just let me say thank you so much for supporting us. I know and I can feel the disappoint­ment and frustratio­n of many of our people at this slow transforma­tion we have promised. But let me say this, I’m still confident and very hopeful things will turn around for the good of our people.

Just be patient, and, of course, there’re other factors that are affecting us. If you talk about the economy, we’re very aware that the people are concerned about the economic situation, the people are concerned with bread and butter, employment, and we’re trying to take care of this.

I can say the government from my KKR perspectiv­e, many projects have been reviewed because of suspected inflated prices. Now, of course, we can’t blame these contractor­s. So there’re some merits and demerits, pros and cons to it, but we’ve decided to go on with some projects because we know these are the things that will become the catalyst to spur the economy. That’s why the ECRL (East Coast Rail Line) and the other projects like Bandar Malaysia are revisited.

We’re aware that these are the things the people want. And we ask for patience. As far as I’m concerned, as a cabinet member, we’re very sincere in dealing with this matter. I think if we try our best as the leaders of this new government, in an open and transparen­t manner, things will get better. That’s my hope.

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 ??  ?? Baru shakes hands with a child during one of his working visits.
Baru shakes hands with a child during one of his working visits.
 ??  ?? Baru poses in his ministry’s office.
Baru poses in his ministry’s office.
 ??  ?? Baru Bian stresses a point during the interview.
Baru Bian stresses a point during the interview.
 ??  ?? Baru (centre) at the opening of CIDB Sibu.
Baru (centre) at the opening of CIDB Sibu.
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