By Annabelle Lee
SARAWAK POLLS | It may be election season, but politics is the last thing on the minds of voters in Opar, west of Kuching city.
Locals Malaysiakini spoke to in this semi-rural constituency were more concerned about the skyrocketing prices of staple goods and farming materials.
This has led many in the Bidayuh-majority suburban area to blame the incumbent Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government for failing to stem the inflation.
Neyia Misin farms and sells vegetables in Kampung Stenggang, about a 75-minute drive southwest of Kuching.
The 61-year-old said she used to sell out quickly in the past, but when Malaysiakini met her on Sunday, her roadside stall was full of unsold goods, despite it being almost noon.
She said business has been slow, but costs have risen exponentially in the past three months.
The weedkiller, said Neyia, has doubled in price recently, to almost RM500 per 20 litres. Fertiliser prices have risen one-and-a-half times, from RM120 to RM180 per 50kg.
However, Neyia could not raise her prices as she did not want to drive her customers away – mostly village folk.
“I am so angry because we can’t afford anything anymore. Jual sayur sikit, beli baja mahal (we sell little vegetables but buying fertiliser is expensive).
“We still have to eat, pay electricity bills and pay water bills. I make just RM30 a day selling vegetables like this, but I need to spend hundreds on fertiliser,” she said.
“I want to change the government. Why do we want to stick with the same? Let’s try a new one. Five years later, we can change again. Change is good,” Neyia added.
Farmers and vegetable sellers were not the only ones crushed by these prices.
Mida Nowil and his family run a coffee shop overlooking Sungai Batang Kayan.
He was baffled by how the price of red onions, for instance, had risen a whopping 300 percent in the past three months – from RM8 to RM25 per kg.
Mida has resorted to charging customers the same price, but for less food.
“I am not just angry. I am extremely angry.
“I blame the government. All this is within the government’s control. The government should help us to reduce the prices of goods…
“If I think this kerajaan gagal (government has failed), then we should change the government. Why should we support someone when they have done something wrong?” the 69-year-old exclaimed.
GPS secretary-general Alexander Nanta Linggi helms the federal Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry.
The ministry is spending RM100 million to hold “Keluarga Malaysia” bazaars across the country to sell basic food supplies at lower prices. It is also using RM150 million to subsidise the rising price of cooking oil.
It is further spending RM14.32 billion to monitor the prices of goods, on top of periodically publicising the ceiling price for food on social media.
18 years, no bridge
Inflation is merely the latest in a list of grievances.
Since 2003, the people of Kampung Selampit have been requesting for a bridge to be built across Sungai Batang Kayan.
Eighteen years later, villagers still have to pay 30sen for a one-way boat trip across the crocodile-infested river to attend school, go to work, transport goods and seek medical treatment.
Ranum Mina has been the Opar state representative for the past three terms. He was mostly with the state government until 2019, when he defected to Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB). He is now seeking a fourth term under the opposition party.
Locals recall Ranum’s comments from 2016 when he promised to deliver on his bridge promise after receiving an RM10 million allocation from Putrajaya.
They also remember when he said, in 2018, that the project needed an additional RM20 million but he still did not deliver.
When Malaysiakini met Dorris Ragu, she was pushing a full wheelbarrow to stock up her sundry shop in the village.
The 60-year-old lamented how tiring it was to transport goods across the river several times a week.
Due to the laborious journey and ongoing inflation, Dorris said she had no choice but to sell red onions for RM25 per kg despite knowing few could afford it.
As things had not improved over the years, Dorris saw no point in voting.
“I rather not vote. We get nothing anyway,” she said.
Ranum: GPS withheld funds
Asked why the bridge did not materialise, Ranum blamed GPS for withholding funds after he quit the coalition.
“GPS withheld (the funds). The Public Works Department was supposed to issue the tender in Oct 2019. I have already discussed this with them.
“I don’t know where the allocation is now,” he said when contacted.
As for why RM30 million was needed for the 100m bridge, Ranum said it was due to the “wide river”.
Asked if he would fulfil his promise should he win a fourth term, he gave a conditional answer.
“I can’t promise anything. If I was in the government, I could say something, but I am not.
“If PSB becomes the Sarawak government, then I will bring up this issue again,” Ranum said.
Despite these woes and being able to choose from six candidates, locals appeared undecided over who to vote for.
Aside from Ranum (PSB), the others vying for the Opar state seat are Billy Sujang (GPS-Supp), Meneng Biris (PKR), Saini Kakong (PBDSB), Bayang Telon (Sedar) and Freedy Misid (PBK).
Opar is part of the Mas Gading federal constituency. In GE14, Kampung Stenggang and Kampung Selampit had come out in force to back Pakatan Harapan’s Mordi Bimol, who eventually won the seat.
This time around, voters Malaysiakini spoke to said they were unfamiliar with Meneng, even after the Harapan-PKR candidate had campaigned in their villages.
They similarly had little to say about the other opposition candidates.
“I don’t know them, and I am not sure about them,” Dorris told Malaysiakini.
Sarawak goes to the polls in three days, on Dec 18.