[Above picture taken by NSTP/Khairull Azry Bidin]
NOTE: Article written during the Sandakan parliamentary by-election coverage
A JETTY with a rundown bridge that connects the docking platform and the shore of Kampung Pulau Berhala greets visitors as they arrive at the small forested island near the Sandakan city centre.
One can see wooden beams protruding from the eroded cemented walkway. With cracks everywhere, it appears to be a matter of time before the bridge gives way, endangering visitors and locals alike.
“Slowly, one at a time,” said one villager as a group of media practitioners treaded carefully on the rickety bridge. Along the walkway are wooden stilt structures used to hold small boats and unfinished houses.
According to Kampung Pulau Berhala chief Junior Jikirin, the 100-metre long cemented walkway was built five years ago during the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration, with no maintenance work carried out since.
This, he said, is the only jetty for the villagers. There is also another jetty, but it connects to the Joint Task Force base on the far end of the island, which sits about 24km away from Taganak, southern Philippines.
“We have to remind people to be careful because when there are more people walking on it, you can feel it swaying. In the past, we had requested for it to be repaired, but there was no response,” said Jikirin.
The jetty bridge is among the plights faced by the islanders, who are mostly Bajau and Suluk.
With a population of 3,400, the island, which is within the Sandakan parliamentary constituency, also lacks electricity and clean water supply. Villagers depend on well water and generators for these basic necessities.
Mansa Hamid, 37, a mother of three, said the island village needs power so they can have more light especially along the jetty.
“If the generator is down, then we have to stay in the dark. I was born here and having lived here my whole life, it is quite sad to see not much development on this island,” she said.
Echoing a similar sentiment, 42-year-old Timing Aja also noted that villagers need construction materials such as wooden planks and zinc to repair dilapidated houses.
Pointing at the unfinished houses at the jetty, he claimed those were projects under BN for the people, but said construction stopped when the coalition lost in last year’s general election.
“The other major issue on this island that needs to be addressed is the undocumented residents. There are villagers who either have no documents or are still waiting for their documents to be processed.
“They have been living here for a very long time, but many have no money to (acquire) their necessary documents, including registering their children’s birth,” he said.
Many of the villagers also asked the government to provide healthcare services and education for the children. At the moment, the children have to travel to the Sandakan mainland to attend primary and secondary school.
In addition, the Joint Task Force 2 is also actively carrying out humanitarian service by teaching islander children the basic 3M – reading, arithmetic, and writing. The army base also has Tabika Kemas.
Kampung Pulau Berhala was established in 1972, with most of its residents refugees who escaped from the war in the Philippines.
Sixty per cent of the current 3,400 population are Malaysian citizens, with 1,100 being registered voters. The remaining 40 per cent are IMM13 holders and the undocumented.
(*Originally published as ‘The island everyone forgot: Kg Pulau Berhala aches for development’ in the New Straits Times on 1 May 2019)