Saturday, October 23, 2021

The way forward for Orang Ulu

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The Chamber was formally registered with the Registrar of Societies on 13th September, 2019. Since its registration the Chamber had to navigate through challenging periods of restrictions and limitations due to the pandemic and constant lockdowns. Despite these challenges, we are truly truly thankful to you Sir, for giving us a sum of RM10 million for the running and administration of our Chamber right from the beginning of our journey.

The birth of our Chamber is a pride for the Orang Ulu communities in Sarawak. Despite being a smaller group, our aspiration to be on par with the more established communities is high. The Chamber is a platform for us to catch up with the rest. Traditionally, the Orang Ulus dwell and live, and still are, in the interiors of Sarawak, namely, Belaga, Tubau Baram, Ulu Limbang, and Lawas. In modern times, many of the Orang Ulus have moved to the towns in search of a better and promising life.

But in the main, most of the Orang Ulus are still living in their longhouses and villages throughout the state, in the upper reaches of Sarawak’s interiors. Most of them are padi farmers, and fruit gardeners; some earn their living by collecting jungle produce; rearing animals like cattle, buffaloes and undertake river fishing. The young ones work in the timber camps, oil palm plantations belonging to big companies operating in their traditional areas.

Although most Orang Ulu settlements are reachable by timber roads, the need for sealed all weather roads, is the cry of these Orang Ulu folks. With good road infrastructure, the Orang Ulus will be less isolated from their fellow citizens in the towns and cities. They will also be able to market fresh their agricultural produce, handicrafts, animals, fishes and others. Parents would be able to send their children to primary and secondary schools without much difficulty. The provision of twenty four hours of electricity, clean water supply, constant and consistent flight frequencies are urgently needed for all Orang Ulu settlements.

We are very thankful to the State Government under your very able leadership, Datuk Patinggi for establishing the Upper Rejang Development Agency (URDA); Highland Development Agency (HDA); and Northern Region Development Agency (NRDA). Most of the Orang Ulus live within these development areas. Moving forward, we hope that the strategic initiatives taken to speed up infrastructure and utilities development in these areas will soon link these remote settlements to the towns and cities in the state.

We are optimistic that what had been started in the first phase of rural development and transformation for these areas will be accelerated in the next phases. We truly thank the State Government under GPS for being inclusive in its development agenda for all communities in the state. We truly hope that the communities in these development areas will enjoy the “low hanging fruits” as desired when the initial allocation of RM1.5 billion for each agency was granted by the GPS Government.

In today’s digital age, clear, uninterrupted WiFi and internet connectivities are vital to these far flung Orang Ulu settlements. It is so frustrating to have no phone, WiFi and internet lines for days and months from our longhouses and villages. Connectivity is so vital to update and link these Orang Ulu settlements with the rest of the world for us to progress. Our rural students are deprived of good holistic education without excellent connectivity. The problem is made worse during this pandemic.

For parents who want to stay in touch with their schooling and working children in towns by way of mobile or broadband communications, they are unable to because they are not within reliable reach of mobile and broadband services; villagers also are unable to get routine, online medical updates on the Covid-19 situation except by word of mouth released by rural clinics; and more importantly, news on what the government is doing for the people.

Services provided by some telecommunication companies have provided prepaid broadband internet employing VSAT, WiFi, supported by Solar power, but this are expensive. ‘Connect Me’ services are expensive and often beyond reach of these rural folks. However, their coverage is limited and more can be done.

With the kick-start of the Federal Government Jendela program, the situation is expected to improve starting towards the end of 2021 but it will take time and deep budget to deploy the standard towers with 4G/LTE basestations which are designed to serve clusters or rural communities. Due to the natural and prohibiting geographical terrains, a large number of rural communities are still expected to be underserved or unserved.

The Chamber, given its good knowledge of the whereabouts of the affected rural communities feel that there are ready technologies that will deliver 4G/LTE baby basestations or Smallcell faster and cheaper for these affected communities. And since these communities are not larger than 2km in radius and with small population, they can be best served with monopoles mounted with Smallcell which can be deployed and erected much faster and cheaper compared to the standard towers to ease the digital gaps. With Smallcell connected by VSAT and the system powered by solar power, this technology option is fast gaining demand in Africa and other remote regions of the world.

The Chamber hopes that, if it is an aspiration of Sarawak to own and operate a cellular mobile entity specifically for the large expanse of rural Sarawak for communities, tourism, rural enterprises and agricultural lot plus other applications, this might warrant further deliberation from technology vendors and partners on how it can be done if feasible.

We thank you, Sir, for the initiatives taken to transform Sarawak economy through Digital economy such as the introduction of e-wallet, Sarawak pay and so on. While the State is in the progress of building a world class ICT infrastructure, we hope the broadband and network coverage will cover all remote rural settlements in the State and covering all blind spots.

We would like to think that the Orang Ulus occupy one of the best and most endowed and beautiful parts of Sarawak; from the mighty grandeur of the Bakun and Murum hydrodams and the treacherous Balui rivers; to the world famous caves of Mulu and Baram; and the buffalo riding cowboys of Limbang and Lawas; and to the cool and scenic highland mountains of Bario, Ba’ Kelalan and Long Semadoh.

Yet, our communities lag far behind in terms of economic, social, educational and business development. Our presence in business and industry and wealth creation is minimal. Our participation in the administrative machinery of the state at a high level is still low. The expertise, experience and exposure of our business community are far behind the rest. Our access to business opportunities, contracts and finance are negligible.

In other words, like in golf lingo, we need a massive handicap to be able to compete with the rest who are more advanced and developed. Having said that, we are not naive, for we know that in business competition is the name of the game.

Financing is always a problem for Orang Ulu entrepreneurs. Despite the Government best efforts to assist Bumiputera entrepreneurs, access to financing is difficult. The Chamber hopes that Government funding through selected banks and institutions like DBOS, Teraju, Tekun, Mara, SME Corp, AgroBank, SME Bank, PUNB, Bank Rakyat and others are more considerate and lenient in their lending policies to Orang Ulu and other Bumiputera businesses.

DBOS may consider setting a subsidiary to assist small and medium enterprises in the State in their funding needs. According to SME Annual Report 2018, Sarawak had 61,036 SME establishments, the State with the 5th highest SME’s in Malaysia. SME’s are key drivers to Sarawak economy and we want to encourage more of our people to be involved in SME’s.

Datuk Patinggi, touching on education for Orang Ulu students, it is the communities firm belief that education is a passport to a better and fulfilling, successful life. It is also a way to come out of poverty. The only way to fully eradicate poverty among the Orang Ulu community is by empowering children of the less privileged parents through education, so that they can turn their family’s fortunes around. There have been many success stories about the poor who became rich because they have knowledge and education. There is therefore an urgent need to:

To Increase the Numbers of Orang Ulu Students in Malaysian Institution of Higher Learning (IPTA)

Presently, the intake of students to public IPTAs is handled by the centralised system of Unit Pengambilan Pelajar (UPU) at the Ministry of Higher Education. This means that all the applications will be subjected to a set of common criteria especially their academic achievements. Although this merit-based criteria seems ideal for students from schools with strong teaching and learning facilities, it has some handicaps for students from rural areas with limited teaching and learning facilities. Often the selection process will miss out the students that do not meet the criteria stipulated.

Therefore, the Orang Ulu Chamber of Commerce appeals to the Government to allow Orang Ulu or native students who may not meet the full criteria to enrol in local public universities. Towards this end, the Orang Ulu Chamber of Commerce and Forum will assist by providing the list of qualified students to be considered by the respective institutions, especially those in Sarawak such as UNIMAS and UiTM. We hope the Institutions will be considerate in this aspect, and we are confident this can lead to a further increase of at least 10% or more in future intake.

Improve Teaching and Learning Resources and Facilities for STEM in Rural Schools (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)

It is generally known in Malaysia that the interest in Science among students has dwindled in the last 10 years. Therefore, this is a long term initiative envisaged to inculcate early interest in Science and Technology for the Orang Ulu and Natives students.

It is our earnest hope that the government will improve the quality of teaching and learning as well as facilities such as in the lab especially for secondary schools in rural areas. This will help the students to have an early appreciation and interest of the role of Science and Technology in nation building. Once they develop an early interest in Science and Technology, their education path and career will naturally bring them towards these fields.

In the next 5 to 10 years, this will lead to an increase in human capital in Science and Technology among the Orang Ulu and Natives of Sarawak. They will be expert in various fields such as in the field of engineering, oil and gas, information technology, biotechnology, data sciences which is linked to e-commerce, Internet of Things which can lead to Smart Farming, etc. In this aspect, we envisage these new expertise will not only contribute to the development of the state of Sarawak but they will also be able to compete globally.

On the role of Orang Ulu Chamber of Commerce and Forum, we can partner or collaborate with the schools by bringing in and supporting experts that can bring new insights into methods for teaching and learning of Science and Technology.

Datuk Patinggi, the Chamber has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Binary University to assist Orang Ulu students in the fields of Management IT and entrepreneurship. Binary University is government approved under the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia, accredited member of the Association of Common wealth Universities (UK), a member of the International Association of Universities (France) and listed in UNESCO’s world Higher Education Directory (UNESCO).

Through this collaboration, the University will provide academic and skills program to the Orang Ulu communities to enable rural students to access international quality education, enhance entrepreneurs skills of the communities.

The Orang Ulu Chamber, therefore, aims to facilitate the creation of a community of Orang Ulu entrepreneurs focused on the holistic development of the community in all areas: a robust economy; excellence in education; inculcating good social and cultural values; adopting good management and governance practices in business.

The Chamber is a platform for Orang Ulu entrepreneurs, and professionals to share ideas, resources for mutual benefits and for the benefit of the Orang Ulu communities. The Chamber will liaise and engage with the state and federal governments, their ministries, agencies, departments, on behalf of its members in all matters relating to trade, industries and commerce.

The Chamber will work and cooperate with other business Chambers, trade associations having the same aspiration as the Chamber to achieve mutual objectives and benefits.

The Chamber will conduct talks, workshops, seminars and training, retraining and upskilling for its members to assist them in their business. Having the right and positive mindsets and attitudes; right kind of skill sets and adequate financial resources are keys to a successful enterprise.

Our fledgling Orang Ulu entrepreneurs can only be successful, given our deprived backgrounds, with some or maybe more assistance from the State Government. The Chamber therefore urge the state government through our Right Honourable Chief Minister to consider and, if fit, to grant the followings:

To appoint qualified and experienced Orang Ulu professionals to sit on the Boards of State Government Linked Companies (SGLCs) and their subsidiaries, such as SEDC, LCDA, STIDC, Yayasan Sarawak, SALCRA, BDA, LAKU, PETROS, SEB, HDC, STB, SMA, Recoda and others.

To set aside and allocate 30% or more of the RM1.5 billion sum given to each of the three state development agencies; namely, Upper Rejang Development Agency (URDA); Highland Development Agency (HDA); and Northern Region Development Agency (NRDA) to the Orang Ulu Contractors, Consultants and business community through the Chamber. Some of the Chamber Contractors bidded and tendered for contracts issued out by Recoda within the last few years, but unfortunately none of these Chamber contractors succeeded in these open tenders. They are yet to taste the ‘low hanging fruits’ resulting from these transformational initiatives.

To upgrade the telecommunication infrastructure, wifi, internet connectivity in the rural areas to accelerate and intensify online business and education learning which are fundamental to equip rural communities to prosper and compete globally in a digital economy. We look forward to the day when the Penans in the jungles of Murum or

Mulu succeed in selling their intricately woven mats and bags direct on the internet through E-commerce to some buyers in Europe.

Ensure government universities, such as Unimas and UITM, set a minimum allotment for Orang Ulu students to be offered and accepted to highly sought courses. It is generally observed that East Malaysians are left with “leftovers” and unwanted courses in our public universities.

Ensure private universities, such as Swinburne & Curtin offer their programmes at an attractively discounted fee to encourage participation and to make tertiary education attainable to all Orang Ulu students.

Establish more food baskets and handicraft terminals in the rural areas. Local industries such as crops farming and handcrafters will have a platform to market their products. This, in turn, would help to support and further encourage the development of these industries.

Sarawak Civil Service to employ more Orang Ulu professionals and support staff to be inclusive in the state administration.

Allocation of a suitable State land within the prime area in Kuching for the setting up of OUCCI headquarters and some other commercial development, similar to other chamber of commerce buildings in Kuching.

To set up more collection centres for handicraft and tourism related products at each long houses or village clusters to facilitate easy marketing; A comprehensive physical and digital marketing infrastructure and network is needed to enhance production of food baskets from these areas.

To set up more agro processing centres at each long houses or village clusters in order to encourage more business and economic opportunities among the community.

To set up Agropolis or sub-tropical agro tourism clusters in the highlands. In Sabah, they have Kundasang; in Malaya, Cameron Highlands; in Sarawak we have Meligan and Kelabit Highlands which we can develop as integrated highland food baskets for the State.

Finally, I would like to thank the organizing committee for making todays event a success and for all distinguished guests who braved the pandemic to come and support us in our initiatives.

Thank you.

Welcoming Speech by Datuk Mutang Tagal, President of Orang Ulu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on 27th July, 2021, at the Launching of the Orang Ulu Chamber Of Commerce and Industry at Waterfront Hotel Kuching, 2021

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