Where are the jobs in Sarikei? Why are youngsters leaving town to study or to make a living? Why are they not coming back to stay? How can we reverse the labour and brain drain and move the cheese back to Sarikei?
1. Develop adjacent industries
Sarikei is dubbed the food basket of Sarawak. Agriculture is a subsistence industry and is at the lowest level of the value chain. We have the best pineapples from Bukit Huang but do we want to continue to sell just raw pineapples? What about light industries to produce canned pineapples, dried pineapples and pineapple tarts? There are more than 10,000 acres of oil palm plantation in the sixth division and yet you will see lorries loaded with the raw produce heading towards the Saratok and Sibu factories. Does Sarikei want to remain at the bottom of the food chain?
2. Highway to Tanjung Manis or no way?
Enough has been discussed on why Sibu can secure budget to construct a highway to cross 7 rivers and yet Sarikei can not even build a 15km road from Bukit Huang to this gold nugget at the end of the rainbow. Need you be reminded of the mega investment by the government in Tanjung Manis? A halal processing hub, fisheries, light industries and an ageing airport waiting for more traffic. Sarikei can cross pollinate with Tanjung Manis to create jobs in the light industries.
3. Healthcare center of the lower Rejang
You will be awed by the huge infrastructure and great facilities of the Sarikei Hospital at Kampung Seberang but when you speak to the uncles and aunties on the street, you can sense the disappointment. Why? We have the hardware but where is the software? The doctors and 2 specialists are mostly foreign doctors on contract.
Why will doctors with Sarikei DNA beat a path back to Sarikei when they can earn more much more in the private practices elsewhere? Can we improve the compensation package to attract them back to the public hospital? If not, why not create the infrastructure for private specialists to set up consultation practices (starting with alternate fortnights on location) next to the hospital so that they can rent the operating theatre (OT) outside office hours? This is how some of the private clinics operate in Kuching because of the huge capital costs needed to have their own CT scanner and OT.
Sarikei can attract retired folks if the healthcare is good. Can Sarikei be the healthcare hub of the lower Rejang instead of sending our patients to Sibu and Kuching?
4. Education hub of the lower Rejang
What do Curtin University, INTI college and Swinburne University have in common? They are not in Sarikei and yet Sarikei and its hinterland are sending our students to Miri and Kuching. It's time for Sarikei to set up our own twining programs with reputable universities. An education hub brings along its associated benefits to the economy - jobs, rental yields, food and beverage outlets, entertainment centers, etc.
5. Can tourism save the day?
Not really. Tourism helps but with packaged tours from Pandaw and Intrepid, the benefits reach only those that the tours touch - the longhouse in Bayong, the tour guides, the drivers, the handicraft sellers and food and beverage vendors. Tourism will bring more jobs only if the tourism ministry can help the towns along Rejang River develop cohesive expertise to promote and target tourists that do not travel on the luxurious Pandaw cruises. ie. grow the pie by targeting different market segments.
Sarikei can remain oblivious to the obvious fact that our cheese has moved to other towns and countries or we can move the cheese back and eat it with our kom pia.