Call on ACA to launch investigations into the criminal waste of public funds in constructing the nation’s biggest “white elephant” - the RM350 million new Miri Port in Kuala Baram

Media Conference Statement 2
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): In the past week, the Sarawak state government has failed to give a satisfactory explanation to my query in Miri as to why it had built  the biggest “white elephant” project in the country, the RM350 million Miri port in Kuala  Baram, which was as good as abandoned on its completion as the new port  is not deep enough for most vessels to navigate.

The new  Miri Port at Kuala Baram was planned to have deeper approach channel to receive bigger vessels as compared to the old Miri port, i.e. a channel 150 km wide and 5 metre depth at lowest tide, but the wrong siting and  the siltation of the river means only shallow draft craft can use the new  RM350 million port facility, as vessels with drafts greater than 2 metres are unable to pull alongside.

This is why the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was never invited to officially open the new Miri port in Kuala Baram although it was completed in 1999, and a recent visitor tells me that grasses are already growing on the roads of the RM350 million new Miri port!

Instead of facing up to the hard fact and brutal reality  that the new Miri port at Kuala Baram represents  a colossal development folly in building the biggest "white elephant" in the country by siting it at the wrong location and that the best option now is probably just to abandon the new Miri port,  the Sarawak  state government has now decided on a cure which is worse than the disease.

In order to salvage the Miri Port at Kuala Baram, the state government has embarked on a RM200 million project to dredge six miles of channel between the Baram river mouth and the sea.  This would not  really resolve the problem of the Miri Port in Kuala Baram, which is 10 km from  the Baram River mouth, and I understand that it would cost RM300 million to dredge this stretch of the Kuala Baram River.

What is most shocking however is that such dredging would have to be repeated annually because of the serious problem of siltation of the Baram River.

The cure is definitely worse than the disease if it is going to cost some RM500 million annually just to make the RM350 million Miri port in Kuala  Baram usable.

Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister, Datuk Dr. George Chan is the only one to have made a comment so far, but  his comment is so infantile that it is an insult to the intelligence of the people of Sarawak and Malaysia.

He said that as  the new Miri port in Kuala Baram has not yet been completed, it is most unreasonable for me to describe it as  a “white elephant”.  He likened the new Miri port to the building of a car, and just as one cannot say a car is a failure because it could not function before its complete manufacture, the same logic applies to the new Miri port.

Chan should not think that he could so  easily pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Sarawak and Malaysia by giving such an inane answer when the whole world knows that the new Miri port in Kuala Baram was completed in 1999, which was why the old Miri port was completely closed down last year.

The  following information is from the website of Miri Port Authority (MPA) - which like all government website are "cobwebsites” in not being regularly updated:


“Miri Port Authority's (MPA) port of the future is taking shape in Kuala Baram, about 30 km from Miri. The RM 287.0 million development is a giant step forward by MPA to position the port for its role as the gateway to northern Sarawak. And with the innovative design and futuristic look, the new port complex will become a showcase of port development for the state.

“The new port which will be operational by 1st November 97, offers new facilities and opportunities for the shipping community.”

Or let me quote from a specialist website on international transportation in one of its bulletins in September last year, which has the following to say about the new Miri port in Kuala Baram:

“Kuala Baram navigation

“RATHER than dredge the 5 million tonnes of silt that is deposited in the Baram River annually, Sarawak authorities are considering constructing a navigation canal between Miri Port and the South China Sea.

“The port in Kuala Baram, close to Brunei's western border with Sarawak, is faced with serious siltation problems from the Baram River and the cost of cutting the canal through swamp land is considered by experts to be less than that incurred from annually dredging the channel.

“The siltation of the river means only shallow draft craft can use the facility, as vessels with drafts greater than 3 metres are unable to pull alongside.

“Miri Port was built in 1999 at a cost of US$66.8 million and is considered to be under-utilised. It has an annual capacity for throughput of 48,000 TEU, or 3.5 million tonnes of cargo.”

It is most shocking that after being built for two years, the people of Sarawak and Malaysia and the world are told that the new Miri port in Kuala Baram have not been completed yet!

The squandering of RM350 million on the new Miri port in Kuala Baram which is as good as abandoned when completed and may need an injection of RM500 million annually to make it usable is a criminal waste of public funds.

The Anti-Corruption Agency should launch an investigation into the building of the biggest “white elephant” in the country as to whether there had been any misuse and misappropriation of public funds.

I have described the Miri port of Kuala Baram the biggest “white elephant” in the nation, not because there is any lack of “white elephants” in Malaysia, like the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, etc., but because the Miri port beats them all by being as good as abandoned when completed. At least the other “white elephants” are beng used, although may be from 30 to 40 per cent of capacity in the worst cases - but the new Miri port is being used only in the region of one or two per cent of capacity.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman