Budget 2009 - Not So Friendly To Sarawak's Longhouse Folks
Take a trip to Sarawak and spend time at a real longhouse and talk to the inhabitants. Not the one advertised in a tourist brochure but a true bona-fide longhouse. Listen to what they have to say and you would realize that the 2009 Budget has not addressed the simple things these folks need. The high cost of fuel and the high cost of goods.
The main income for many in this communities that live in the interior of Sarawak can be broken into two(2) - Labour and Farming.
Most young men find employment on off-shore oil platforms, commercial ships plying the Asian region or as contract workers in the construction industry. They work as mechanics, deck-hands and construction workers, earning enough to support their families back home in the longhouses of Sarawak. The tax-cuts mentioned in 2009 Budget do not benefit them. In fact, when examined closely such tax-cuts have no relevance to them.
Farming palm oil and tapping rubber form the major crux of income for the modern rural farmer in Sarawak. Those who have land have gained tremendously from harvesting oil palm and tapping rubber trees. It has subsequently raised the living standards of a many families in the longhouse. Again these are small time farmers who sell to middle men just to earn enough to give their families a comfortable life. The 2009 Budget has no direct relevance to them.
What has direct relevance to these people is the price of pumped fuel. Souring fuel prices have cut the income of these longhouse folks by half or two thirds what it was before. High fuel prices means the cost of goods also goes up and this was not addressed (clearly) in the 2009 budget and this is where the budget tabled on the 29th of August 2008 has even less relevance.
The 2009 Budget has not addressed the plight of the little folks. The budget is proposing to pour in 3.3 billion ringgit into Sarawak for the development of roads. Road construction but where is the money for poverty eradication? How could road construction help when the cost of plying these roads is high?
Yes, there is money for development but how much of it will trickle down into the pockets of low-income earners? No much by my reckoning. Even the twenty ringgit waiver for electricity bills would not be eligible for the modern longhouse folks where television, stereo systems and refrigerators are now a norm.
The 2009 Budget benefits those living in the peninsula (toll cuts, electricity bill exemptions, tax reductions) and yet the folks in the longhouses of Sarawak, who don't pay toll charges, won't be eligible for taxation and still have to pay for electricity, will have to contend with high fuel prices, higher cost of living and low commodity prices.
Longhouse folks are clearly not civil servants so most of what the 2009 Budget proposes do not apply to them. Neither are longhouse folks part of private industries so those incentives for up-lifting industries, outlined in the 2009 Budget holds little significance for them.
So what does that leave the simple folks of the longhouse?
High fuel prices and high cost of goods.
Back to square one. The 2009 Budget clearly did not take into account their needs nor address the fundamental wants of any hard-working individual. Such folks are easily forgotten when money is handed out as "sweeteners" to appease an elite few.
So I am left wondering what the following year will have in store for my relatives living in a longhouse in the Baram region. They live on the strength of their resolve to provide for their families without being given a passing glance by the government they help keep in power. And that itself is a human tragedy. (By MACLEAN PATRICK/ MySinchew)