KUCHING, Dec 12: It has been a good year for Sarawak as it has benefited from the implementation of several decisions, especially with regard to its long journey in realising the state’s rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).
The close ties between the state’s ruling coalition Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and the federal government through their partnership in the Unity Government have proven to be the key to solving various issues.
In fact, the Land of the Hornbills ushered in 2023 with good news in Kuching city when on Jan 20, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced a massive increase in the special grant for Sarawak under Article 112D of the Federal Constitution, to RM300 million from a mere RM16 million previously.
According to Anwar, this amount, which was decided at a meeting of the MA63 Implementation Action Council, would serve as just an interim payment pending the announcement of a special formula later.
The appointment of Sarawak Financial Secretary Datuk Seri Dr Wan Lizozman Wan Omar as a member of the Board of Directors of the Inland Revenue Board (LHDN) was also announced at the same meeting.
Apart from that, discussions on various matters are ongoing, including the proposed takeover of MASWings for the incorporation of a Sarawak state-owned airline, the proposed acquisition of Bintulu Port and the proposal to increase the number of MPs from Sarawak to 35 per cent of the Dewan Rakyat’s composition.
The federal government’s promise to resolve MA63 claims was also delivered by the Prime Minister himself at the national-level Malaysia Day celebration here on Sept 16 when he said that “matters in this agreement are not for negotiations but should be implemented”.
The year also saw Sarawakians moving closer to realising their dream of having a highway that is comparable to those in Peninsular Malaysia.
Construction of the first phase of the Sarawak Pan Borneo Highway stretching over 786 kilometres has reached 97 per cent as of August and that phase is expected to be fully completed next year.
Sarawak’s ambitious mission to modernise its public transport sector is also making good progress, following the arrival of the hydrogen-powered Autonomous Rapid Transit (ART) prototype vehicle on Aug 5.
The prototype is now traversing the streets of Kuching for testing and adaptation purposes, and the ART, which is expected to begin passenger service in the fourth quarter of 2025, will be yet another feather in the cap for Sarawak.
Sarawak also clocked a new milestone this year when it was chosen as a destination for the ‘Kembara Kenali Borneo’ tour by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah.
Their Majesties’ delegation started the road journey at the northern-most town of Sarawak, Lawas, on Sept 7, and then wound their way through places like Bintulu, Sibu and Kuching, before ending the tour on Sept 13 at Telok Melano, the starting point of the Pan Borneo Highway.
The 1,194-kilometre-long tour along the Sarawak Pan Borneo Highway has left a deep impression on the minds of Sarawakians as it showed that Their Majesties were willing to go the extra mile to enhance ties between the palace and the people.
The year 2023 also saw Sarawak holding its first by-election since the 2021 state elections, where GPS swept 76 of the 82 seats in the Sarawak State Assembly.
In the Jepak state by-election on Nov 4, GPS candidate Iskandar Turkee retained the seat for the coalition, beating Parti Bumi Kenyalang’s Stevenson Joseph Sumbang and Parti Aspirasi Rakyat Sarawak’s Chieng Lea Phing by a majority of 8,784 votes.
The by-election, caused by the death of state assemblyman Datuk Talib Zulpilip, 72, on Sept 15, again proved that Sarawak is enjoying political stability under GPS.