BETONG'S TRANSFORMATION HELPING RURAL SARAWAK

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BETONG (Sarawak), Oct 28 (Bernama) -- It takes five hours by road to reach

Betong town from Kuching.

Visitors know they have arrived when they see the “Selamat Datang” (welcome)

sign on an arch in the shape of the Parang Ilang and Terabai (the Iban sword and

shield), symbols of the battles fought by the legendary Ibanese warrior, Rentap.

Betong was upgraded to the status of a division on March 26, 2002. It was

then selected to become the administrative division centre.

The areas of administration include the Saratok District and the Betong

District. Betong has also been expanded to cover the Small District of Maludam,

which was previously under the jurisdiction of the Sri Aman District.

Betong is an important area in Sarawak history, as it is where many of the

protests against the Brooke administration took place.

Also, historical locations and buildings, such as fortresses, still exist

today, and some are even in use.

One of the locations is Bukit Sadok, where three major battles between

Rentap and the Brooke administration took place from 1857 through 1861.

ONCE A DEAD TOWN

Betong Deputy Resident Pathi Kerni, said the Betong Division is located

between three main rivers, Batang Lupar, Batang Saribas and Batang Kelaka,

covering an area of 4,180 sq km.

He added that the area population is nearly 94,000, the majority being

Malays (51,290), followed by Iban (37,283), Chinese (5,084), Bidayuh (225), and

Melanau (219), while the remainder are other races in Sarawak.

"The main economic activities in Betong are agriculture, farming and

fishing," he said, during a recent media briefing in conjunction with a media

travel programme organised by the Sarawak Information Department.

"The people also work in the public and private sectors, as well as in

business," he said.

Nearly 90 per cent of the area has a road traffic network, clean water

supply (77 per cent) and electricity supply (75 per cent), he said.

He noted that the federal government has allocated some RM2.3 billion under

the Eighth Malaysia Plan to the Tenth Malaysia Plan for the development of the

Betong Division. This involves 989 projects.

The state government has allocated RM600 million for 1,104 projects.

He said focus was given for the Rural Growth Centre (RGC) Layar and RGC

Beladin.

DEVELOPING NCR LAND

In a bid to increase the income of the rural population, Pathi said, several

steps have been taken by the government and its agencies in developing Native

Customary Rights (NCR).

The focus of the state government, in collaboration with the Rubber Industry

Smallholders Development Authority (RISDA), is to redevelop the rubber planting

sector in mini estates in Betong, he said.

He said 11,000 hectares of land have been replanted with rubber trees,

involving some 2,600 mini rubber estate growers.

"Income from rubber-planting can be around RM2,000 a month, depending on

current market prices," he said.

In collaboration with Chinese-based company Guangken Rubber (Sarawak) Sdn

Bhd, the government has also set up a rubber-processing factory in the division

to facilitate rubber-planting in the surrounding region.

He said, a 25-year contract with the company should ensure a brighter future

for rubber-planters in the Betong area.

Inggo anak Luyoh, 58, one of the mini rubber estate planters at Rumah Graji,

said efforts to redevelop the rubber industry in Betong have greatly benefited

people in the area.

There are currently 120 hectares of NCR land in Padeh Betong that have been

developed in collaboration with Guangken Rubber.

"We are confident that the rubber industry will develop further in Betong,

because of the vast experience of the Chinese company in the industry in several

countries in the Southeast Asian region."

He said planters are getting a steady income of between RM2,000 and RM2,500

a month.

Guangken Rubber (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd Assistant General Manager Li Huawei said

the factory in Betong is capable of producing some 90 tonnes of processed rubber

every day.

Besides processing rubber to be exported, the company also helps with

planting rubber trees and training the locals in methods for tapping rubber and

managing rubber products.

Li said the factory provides job opportunities to 103 local citizens and

Chinese.

Besides investing in Malaysia, the Chinese company which has been around

since 1951, has also invested in some 220,000 hectares of rubber estates in

Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

DEVELOPING EDUCATION IN BETONG

Besides focusing on developing the agricultural sector, Betong also places

importance on improving the education of children in rural areas, said Assistant

Welfare Minister Robert Lawson Chuat.

Looking back 40 years ago, he said, Betong was just as behind in education

as many other rural areas in the state.

"But in 1975, an era of transformation and change in education began in

Betong, under the patronage of then Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu

Numpang," he said.

Lawson said he still remembers the visit to Betong of former Prime Minister

Menteri Tun Mahathir Mohamad, who was then a senator. Lawson was still in

secondary school.

Mahathir said that an important strategy in development was improving the

public’s level of education,

In recognition of this, Lawson said, more schools have been built in the

rural areas, especially in the upper rivers of Betong.

Today, Betong can be proud of the many educational institutions in the area,

such as the Mara Junior Science College (MRSM), Sekolah Menengah Vokasional

Betong, Kolej Komuniti, and the upcoming Politeknik Metro, he said.

BETONG’S SECRET TO SUCCESS

He said the cooperation of all parties under the Nasional (BN) government is

the key to Betong’s successful transformation.

"In our division, there are one minister and two deputy ministers from the

federal government who work closely with the state government," said Lawson, who

is also the State Assemblyman for Bukit Saba, in Betong.

He said the public’s support of government’s projects in the area also

helped.

-- BERNAMA

AZM SHM CR INE CR

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