NEWS has just been received from Lawas in Sarawak that the federal government of Malaysia has approved RM50 million for the construction of the first phase of a road from Lawas to Ba’Kelalan.
During my last visit to the highlanders at Ba’kelalan in north central region of Sarawak in May this year, I had wondered when the government authorities would see the need and take appropriate actions to upgrade the treacherous logging tracks that lead from the 13 villages at Ba’kelalan to Lawas.
Mainly because of the difficult terrain, these are isolated villages.
Other than the thrice-weekly flights by MASWings to the nearest towns of Lawas and Miri, the only other means of transport is by 4×4 vehicles along logging dirt tracks to Lawas, an arduous journey taking five to six hours, depending on weather conditions.
Such a situation leaves these rural folks to fend for themselves, having to pay a very high price for transportation of food stuffs and other necessities.
During my travels around the villages there in May, I encountered a truck laden with building materials, including bags of cement, stuck by the roadside at one of the depressed parts of a logging track where a running stream used to pass, partially blocking the traffic (photo right).
Hence, the latest news of the government finally deciding to upgrade the road to Lawas should be taken as good news to these rural folks at Ba’kelalan.
A Borneo Post report says that the allocation of RM50 million for the first phase of the road construction fits into the development master plan to improve connectivity to boost economy in the Lawas district.
It says that both Limbang and Lawas district development master plans adopt a holistic approach to tap into maximum potential through regional and bilateral cooperation for regional synergy in economic development.
The Second (Sarawak) Minister of Planning and Resource Management Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hassan was reported to have said that “connectivity and infrastructure must be in place for the overall total development of Limbang and Lawas to be realized”.
“Limbang and Lawas are unlike any other place in the state or country, as it is physically separated by Brunei, and planners need to understand the uniqueness of this area,” he said when interviewed at his Raya open house in Lawas Sept. 21.
He proposed that branches of the Land and Survey Department, Road Transport Department and others be set up in Lawas, saying that locals are finding it costly and inconvenient to rely on the divisional offices for their transactions and dealings.
He also said the road infrastructure in both districts were systematically improved for better connectivity while efforts were underway to work out a win-win situation with immediate neighbours, Brunei and Sabah to harness the maximum economic growth potential.
“There is the beautiful Brunei Bay for water sports, booming tourism of Sabah and our own potential where we can provide up to nearly 700 MW of power from the proposed Limbang and Lawas hydro-electric projects,” he said.
He pointed to the proposed new airport and deep port in Lawas which could provide mutual benefit for Lawas and southern Sabah apart from the proposed power supply from Lawas Hydro-electric and Trusan HEP projects which could be connected to the state grid.
The proposed HEP in Limbang could also export power to Brunei, he said.
“Both feasibility and technical studies for Lawas and Limbang projects have been completed and would be given priority while the technical studies for the Trusan project is yet to be completed,” he said in the interview.
On connectivity, he said Lawas development would be comprehensive in that it would stretch from the coastal villages to the highlands to provide the impetus to physical and economic developments in the district.
He pointed out that the federal government had approved the allocation of RM50 million for the first phase of Lawas-Ba Kelalan road, fitting into the bigger picture of connectivity as the catalyst of the district’s development.
Tengah said this road is expected to be implemented in three phases and would eventually link Bario to Lawas, which is already enjoying good connectivity to Sabah.
“Tourists are now coming down from Sabah to Lawas to go to Gunung Murud, Ba’kelalan and other places,” he said.
Around 1500 of the Lun Bawang tribe now remain in the Ba’kelalan villages of Buduk Bui, Long Langai, Long Lemutut, Long Ritan, Long Rusu, Buduk Aru, Long Rangat, Pa Tawing, and Buduk Nur.
From my personal observations, these Lun Bawang natives (photo right) are people with an unwavering spirit of team work, firm adherence to spiritual values accompanied by hospitality and generosity, imbued with innovation and enterprise, and displaying a deep sense of resilience.
It is indeed a tribe in the ulu (remote place) of Borneo from whom the world outside could learn a good lessen or two in harmonious living and preservation of peace that lasts.