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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

BN’s message falling on receptive ears in Penampang

The ruling coalition is softening the ground to show why it is a better bet for voters in this sprawling rural-urban constituency next to the Sabah state capital.
KOTA KINABALU: Marius Limat tries to look calm when talking about a typical journey between his remote village of Kampung Buaian, located along Sabah’s geological spine, the Crocker Range, and Donggongon town.
Marius Limat, chairman of the Kampung Buaian village security and development committee.
Marius Limat, chairman of the Kampung Buaian village security and development committee.
The trip is rough and it shows on Marius’ face.
The village and the town are within the parliamentary constituency of Penampang, a sprawling constituency next to the state capital, but the way the 40-year-old farmer describes the journey, it’s as if he had to journey halfway across Sabah.
From his village, with a population of just over 500, Marius has to trek along a jungle trail for about three to four hours to a point where a muddy track begins.
There, he hopes the 4-wheel-drive pick-up truck that he arranged earlier to meet him would be waiting by the time he arrives.
Then, it’s another hour’s bumpy ride to a village called Kampung Sugut, from which he has to take public transport to Donggongon.
Getting to Donggongon or back to his village is only possible if the earth road remains passable for the pick-up trucks. It can, however, quickly turn into a quagmire of mud after a downpour.
Villagers helping to pull out a four wheel drive truck that got stuck in the earth track to the remote Kampung Buaian in mid January.
All too often, that muddy track gets cut off due to landslips or when a small stream that bisects it becomes a raging torrent after a heavy and long spell of rain.
Under these circumstances, the villagers and their drivers have no choice but to wait it out and this usually means sitting in the cramped cabin of the pick-up trucks.
Marius experienced this three times last year. This year he is bracing for more of that as the earth track that was first cleared a decade ago continues to deteriorate.
“Each time I go to the district office to ask them to do something about the road, the officers tell me they don’t have the funds,” he said, his exasperation showing clearly.
Padi harvesting being carried out near Donggongon town. Such scenes are becoming scarce with more agriculture land being converted to commercial housing purposes in tandem with a population increase in Penampang and nearby Kota Kinabalu.
About two years ago, the villagers got so fed up with the condition of the earth track that they “rukut”, a local term for passing the hat around, and collected RM400 to pay for a drum of diesel to fuel an excavator to “grade” it – meaning to fill gaping holes and clear stretches blocked by landslips.
“We were lucky to find the excavator owner who only asked us to get the diesel for his machine,” said Marius who was rejected at the district office when he asked for culverts to be placed in the stream that cuts across the earth track.
“I don’t see what I’m asking for as unreasonable. I just hope one day I will get some good news when I go to the ‘pejabat daerah’,” said Marius who has served as chairman of the Kampung Buaian village, security and development committee (JKKK) for two years.
He makes it a point to meet up with fellow community leader William Sampil during his regular trips to Donggongon where the weekly tamu or farmers’ market is held every Thursday.
William Sample is a community leader and the former district officer.
William Sampil is a community leader and the former district officer.
Sampil is the community development leader for Moyog which, along with Kepayan, are the two state seats within the 460 square kilometres Penampang parliamentary constituency that is nearly double the size of Penang Island.
Nearly 60% of Penampang’s more than 52,000 voters are non-Muslim Bumiputera, 30% Chinese and just over 5% Muslim Bumiputera.
It is a constituency of contrasts where a shopping mall stands next to the tamu ground; where a complex encompassing a mall, hotel, convention centre and an office block rises from what was once a padi field.
Within its boundaries, Penampang has about 400 villages, housing estates, commercial centres with names like Beverly Hills, and industrial sites.
In short, it is a mix of rural, semi-urban and urban zones as well as farming areas.
The 2013 election saw the defeat of the then Barisan Nasional (BN) incumbent Bernard Dompok, losing to newcomer Darrel Leiking who won the seat on a PKR ticket.
Leiking says being an opposition representative puts him at a disadvantage.
Leiking says being an opposition representative puts him at a disadvantage.
Darrel, a lawyer and son of former Inanam assemblyman Marcel Leiking, defeated Dompok, the then Upko president and plantation industries and commodities minister with a 10,216-vote majority.
Penampang voters, however, saw Darrel eventually switching political allegiance and headed over to Parti Warisan Sabah led by former Umno vice-president Mohd Shafie Apdal.
To Sampil, the deteriorating earth track to Kampung Buaian was symptomatic of the situation in Penampang now that it is in opposition hands.
He is not surprised that the Penampang district office he headed between 2007 and 2014 has been unable to do much about the track. He reckons that government funds for new infrastructure projects or repairs has been reduced to as little as 20% to 30% of the original amount since 2013.
The political reality is that an MP of the ruling BN would have access to at least RM5 million per year for various projects such as road or bridge repairs as well as rural electricity supply while his state assembly counterpart would have about RM1 million to RM2 million for the same purpose.
And a BN elected representative can seek even more funds from the federal authorities while an assemblyman can do the same from the state government.
With the constituency in opposition hands, some government funds have been channelled through Penampang BN chief Donald Mojuntin and the Umno division chairman John Ambrose, the newly minted senator.
But as far as government funds for Penampang is concerned, Leiking points out that the tap hasn’t been completely shut off though all three constituencies are in opposition hands.
Prime Minister Najib Razak buying a packet of coffee from the interior Tenom district when he visited the tamu or farmers’ market at Donggongon town earlier this month.
Between 2013 and 2017, about RM270 million was channelled into Penampang, according to a ministerial reply to Leiking’s question in Parliament.
Leiking acknowledges that being an elected representative from the opposition puts him at a disadvantage. He has no access to government funds and he is even not invited to the district council meetings or even parent teacher association meetings.
“Although BN lost Penampang, Moyog and Kepayan, it formed the government. Therefore, the task for us is to see to it that BN makes good its manifesto pledges,” he said.
In this regard, he reckons he has served his constituents well by keeping the government on its toes in developing his constituency.
To do this, Leiking raises questions about his constituency in Parliament.
BN is eager to recapture Penampang in the coming polls. The ruling coalition’s candidate for the parliamentary seat as well as Moyog would likely be from Upko and the Kepayan candidate from MCA.
As the chief of the “big brother” party in Penampang, Umno’s Ambrose will have the task of convincing voters there that BN is the way to go.
He has been quietly “softening the ground” over the past several years. Penampang folk still remember how he came to hand over the federal government’s contribution for the refurbishment of the St Michael’s Catholic church near Donggongon.
These kind of measures send a message to Penampang folk that the ruling coalition could do more for them if they chose representatives from BN.
And optimism is growing among BN officials that there could be a swing for the coalition this time around in Penampang.
As Ambrose put it, his message that it was time for Barisan to be given a chance again in Penampang is falling on receptive ears.
“The people welcome me in the villages and they are willing to talk to me. It’s a good sign,” he added. -FMT

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