The people of Sarawak are outraged at the government helplessness when in a matter of months, they should first suffer from the Coxsackie Virus B epidemic and now the 839-Point API haze, reducing visibility in some places in Kuching to mere armís length.
Yesterday, there was panic and chaos in Kuching following widespread rumours of water shortage, resulting in stampede for mineral water, with the small bottle being sold for RM3. As the Borneo Post today reported: "In a short time of about one hour from the alleged start of water rumour, many supermarkets, minimarkets and sundry shops ran out of mineral water."
This is a failure of the National Disaster Relief Management Committee in crisis management in being unable to prevent such panic and chaos in Kuching.
This morning, it was reported on the Internet that the Sarawak Chief Minister, Tan Sri Taib Mahmud had taken off to London in his private jet. I have also received calls from Kuching from very angry Kuchingites claiming that apart from the Sarawak Chief Minister, other State Ministers have also left the state for overseas. The names given were the Environment Minister, Datuk James Wong, the Industries Minister, Datuk Abang Johari and the Tourism Minister, Datuk James Masing.
I was very concerned by this complaint, for it would mean that the Sarawak state government leaders have abandoned the people of Sarawak to the environmental disaster of the worst air pollution in history, while they could escape to healthier climes in other parts of the world.
Following this complaint, I telephoned the Sarawak Chief Ministerís Office in Kuching and when I asked to speak to the Chief Minister, I was told by his private secretary, one Encik Mustapha, that he was out of the office.
I explained to him that it was being spread in Sarawak that the Chief Minister had left the state although Sarawakians were faced with the worst environmental disaster in history, that this was bad for public confidence, and this was why I wanted to speak to him. I asked him to state specifically whether the Sarawak Chief Minister was in the state or outside the country.
Encik Mustapha said he was unable to answer my question and referred me to his superiors.
Such an evasion was in fact an answer by itself, that Tan Sri Taib Mahmud is not in Sarawak but out of the country.
I had nonetheless sent the Sarawak Chief Minister an urgent fax at 1.30 p.m., which states:
"Tan Sri Mahmud Taib,
Chief Minister, Sarawak.
I had phoned up your office to discuss with you complaints which I had received from Sarawakians that YAB and some Sarawak State Ministers, like Environment Minister, Datuk James Wong, the Industries Minister, Datuk Abang Johari and the Tourism Minister, Datuk James Masing had left the Sarawak state, which would would greatly undermine public confidence.
I would urge YAB and all Sarawak Cabinet Ministers to show themselves today to shore up public confidence and put to rest public rumours that YAB and many Cabinet Ministers had abandoned Sarawakians in the haze disaster and have left overseas for healthier climes in other countries.
In this connection, the Chairman of the National Disaster Relief Management Committee, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat, should make an urgent trip to Sarawak to personally understand the gravity of the haze crisis faced by Sarawakians.
Sarawakians who phoned me in Petaling Jaya complained that although a state of emergency had been declared for Sarawak, with a lot of measures announced for various API levels, there had been no enforcement whatsoever, showing the lack of seriousness of the authorities to deal with the environmental disaster.
One Kuchingite said that construction work, for instance, at the fourth and fifth storey for the Tun Jugah Centre (opposite Holiday Inn) was still going on, whether iron work or masonry, and the workers are not wearing masks, although the API in Kuching has reached the very, very hazardous level of 839.
There are also frequent telephone breakdowns in Kuching, which is uncommon before the current haze emergency.
The complaint by the people of Kuching is that they are "absolutely confused" by the declaration of emergency, as to whether it is a public holiday as the API index has reached 839.
This informant also said that with the situation for the urban population in Sarawak so bad, the position for the rural population must be many times worse - but there are no monitoring efforts whatsoever.
The Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak should not hesitate and should announce the postponement of the PMR and SPM examinations scheduled for next month, as the health and safety of students must take higher priority to examinations.