Friday, February 11, 2011

Orang Asli get bridge, no thanks to BN

Orang Asli get bridge, no thanks to BN

Humayun Kabir
| February 11, 2011

Ex-MB Nizar to open Democratic Bridge near Sungai Siput

SUNGAI SIPUT: The Orang Asli of Kampung Perje are celebrating the recent completion of a much needed bridge across Sungai Pelas here, but they are not thanking the government for it.

The narrow suspension bridge is the result of people power, goodwill and a lot of determination from the MP of Sungai Siput, Parti Socialis Malaysia’s (PSM) Dr D Jeyakumar.

It will be officially opened on Feb 20 by Perak Pakatan Rakyat chief, ousted menteri besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin. But it is already the talk of this small town, and the locals have begun referring to it as the “Democratic Bridge”.

The other talk of the town is the true git of Jeyakumar, who, having tried and failed several times to get government funds to help his constituents, decided to fund the cost of materials through donations and persuaded the locals to provide the labour.

Jeyakumar won the Sungai Siput seat from MIC strongman S Samy Vellu in the 2008 general election. He has since been trying to claim from the government what he says is the statutory right of his constituents – the annual constituency grant of about RM1 million.

Last year, PSM Parti Socialis Malaysia filed a suit in the Kuala Lumpur High Court that asked, among other things, for a declaration that the special allocation for electoral constituencies must be given to all MPs regardless of political affiliation.

The court is expected to give its decision on Feb 25.

Kampung Perje has a population of about 400. It lies deep in a jungle that is part of the Lintang state electoral constituency, which is held by Barisan Nasional.

The residents are mostly cultivators of vegetables and bamboo, but some are employed in Risda oil palm plantations. Before the Democratic Bridge was completed, they could get across Sungai Pelas only through an old and rickety wooden suspension bridge that obviously needed new cables to strengthen it.

They approached the Lintang state assemblyman for help to resolve the problem, but he told them there was no money to repair the bridge. It was then that they decided to see Dr Jeyakumar.

Jeyakumar was carrying out his duties as MP by juggling with his limited financial resources, but he saw how urgent a safe bridge was to this marginalised group. Many of them needed to get across the river to earn their daily bread.

The good doctor got the help of retired army engineer Ahmad Mazlan Othman, who is a PAS leader, to examine the old bridge. At the end of his survey, Ahmad Mazlan concluded that it would be more economical to build a new bridge.

The cost of materials to build a suspension bridge measuring 42 metres long and about 1.3 metres wide was estimated at RM70,000. PAS donated RM5,000, two Catholic groups gave RM10,000, friends chipped in RM20,000 and Jeyakumar gave RM35,000 from his parliamentary allowances.

The technical aspects of the construction was left to Ahmad Mazlan and the labour was provided by the Orang Asli community and members of PAS and PSM.

Work started in June 2009. It could not be completed sooner because most the volunteers had to continue working for a living and could carry out the construction work only on weekends and public holidays.

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