Sleepy Saratok town poised to become vibrant, prosperous business centre
By Zaphne Philip
SARATOK (Sarawak), Nov 14 (Bernama) -- A prosperous and vibrant business centre, that is what Saratok, a peaceful river town located away from the hustle and bustle of the city has been envisioned to be.
The distance between Saratok and Kuching city is 302 kilometres (km) and the road trip from this Sarawak capital city to the sleepy town via the Pan Borneo Highway which is now actively being built, takes almost five hours.
If not for the political parties campaigning for the 15th general election (GE15) at this time, the town will usually be lifeless by the time the night market closes shop at 8pm.
However this situation will be different in a few years time through the Sarawak government's initiative to change the landscape in Saratok which has been identified as part of the development plan under the Betong Division Development Agency or BDDA.
"Through the BDDA, the state government has planned various developments that will turnaround Saratok" said district officer, Haron Mahidi when met by Bernama recently.
A native of Sarawak who was born and bred in Kuching, Haron had never considered his move to the small sleepy town of Saratok two years ago a problem but saw it as an opportunity for him to serve as a civil servant to facilitate development in the area.
“I am confident that in the next 10 years, a lot of development will take place and with the existence of a new town centre that is capable of changing Saratok’s sleepy town image, the socio-economic status of the people will also be improved," he said.
He said the construction of the Sungai Saratok embankment, connecting bridge between the town of Saratok and Kampung Kupang which covers 14 longhouses, the construction of new shop buildings and a government complex are among the plans that BDDA has mapped out.
The Sarawak government has allocated a total of RM1.5 billion for the implementation of development projects under the agency chaired by Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.
Haron said the developments are taking place in phases with the initial focus on the provision of infrastructure in the village and longhouse areas, before gradually expanding to the Saratok town area.
“Development was planned to be carried out in phases to ensure that residents of villages and longhouses have access to basic facilities such as quality roads, proper drainage systems, clean water supply and electricity.
"If you are in town (Saratok) not many changes can be seen because most of the development is in the villages. In the past, the connecting roads to this town were rough and rocky but after being gradually upgraded, most have been paved," said Haron.
But despite the relatively slow changes, the town is already equipped with facilities and amenities such as a hospital, federal government buildings, schools, a public library, police station, fire station, banks, supermarkets and others.
He said by upgrading village roads first, it would make it easier for farmers to sell their fresh produce directly to the nearest towns such as Sarikei which is 57km away from Saratok, and Sibu, some 111km away.
"The construction of the Pan Borneo Highway has also created an impact on residents living in the Saratok area because it is able to shorten their journey (from Sibu town) by about half an hour. It used to be a one-way street, now it's a two-way street and the ride is much more comfortable and safe," he said.
The GE15 heat can indeed be felt in this town which is situated within Saratok parliamentary, where the incumbent, Datuk Ali Biju of Bersatu and representing Perikatan Nasional (PN) will defend the seat he won as a PKR candidate in GE14 in 2018
He is expected to face stiff competition from Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) candidate Giendam Jonathan Tait of Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), and Pakatan Harapan candidate Ibil Jaya of PKR in winning the hearts of 44,531 registered voters in the constituency.
It is interesting to note that these three candidates are related to each other and all of them hail from Sebetan, an Iban longhouse village in Saratok parliamentary.
While the candidates campaign vigorously on various issues affecting the constituents, only the best will stand a chance to represent them to ensure that Saratok wakes up from its slumber to become a vibrant business district for the good of the people.