I refer to the front-page story in the Borneo Post today regarding disputes arising from the Pan-Borneo Highway.
Sarawak badly needs the Pan-Borneo Highway and we are glad that at last, it may actually become a reality for Sarawakians. Large-scale projects like this are bound to meet with some objections and claims by people who are directly affected by the construction. Many of these claims and objections are justifiable and legitimate, and merit careful and tactful handling by the authorities involved.
When disputes arise, it would be desirable for the authorities to look at the situation from the perspective of the claimants. These people’s family houses could be their only homes and assets, and it is understandable that they would be upset that the government wants to demolish parts of their homes, or even their surroundings.
These feelings of anger and frustration will be compounded if their claims are denied or delayed, or if the quantum of compensation is not satisfactory.
In view of this, the authorities should be sensitive to the claimants’ feelings and investigate each case thoroughly and in a timely manner. Compassion and empathy are required, as these are people’s homes and their memories, for some, even their identities; it is often more than just a question of money. For many people, losing their homes is a traumatic prospect and some may have no place to go.
The Pan-Borneo Highway is a federal project, and the federal government should ensure that there are enough funds for every aspect of the project to run smoothly, including the compensation paid to the people affected by the construction. If the claims involve native customary rights (NCR) lands, the government must give additional consideration to the legal authorities that have upheld the rights of the people to their customary lands.
Progress and development require sacrifices to be made and often, these sacrifices are being forced on the people whose properties are required to be given up for the greater good of the state. The only compensation they can get is money, and what is offered to them must be adequate to make up for their sacrifices.
BARU BIAN is PKR’s Ba’ Kelalan assemblyperson and Sarawak PKR chairperson.