Sunday July 15, 2012
Facility at new Mukah airport to be downgraded after funds slashed
KUCHING: The once much hyped new Mukah International Airport, it seems, will be a downgraded facility when building begins, based on funds approved so far.
In documents shown to reporters last Wednesday, confirmed funds for the airport was only RM300mil, or about half of the desired amount in the proposal unveiled in 2008.
The RM300mil figure was confirmed during at least two briefing in Mukah during a media trip organised by the state Information Department for reporters across Sarawak.
The media group, comprising about 30 personnel, were told repeatedly that the international airport was required, but few officials gave reason for the slashed funds.
But one source did say the Federal Government did not see the need for such a large airport in Mukah.
The proposal for the international airport was initially unveiled as a facility big enough for a Being 747s and was slated to cost RM700mil.
Tycoon Tan Sri Ting Pek Khiing told reporters during Chinese New Year in 2008 that his affiliated company Global Upline had more-or-less clinched the deal.
A few months later, it was announced that the airport would cost about RM100mil less; yet even at that amount, it would still be one of the largest projects in Mukah, which is along the coastline of Sarawak’s central region.
During that period, the only other bigger project ongoing in Mukah was a coal-fired power station, which was built for about RM900mil and began operation in 2009.
The Star has learnt that state officials are still pursuing the plan to follow the full-scale proposal. Mukah MP Datuk Seri Dr Muhammad Leo Michael Toyad Abdullah said difficult accessibility was a hindrance to Mukah’s development.
The area, the former Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister said, had been planned according to the development of education, agriculture (including plantations like oil palm) and tourism.
In terms of education, a technical college has been churning out skilled workers for years, while new research centres by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak is on the drawing board. Just confirmed is a Mukah campus of Universiti Teknologi Mara.
On agriculture, the Mukah MP said, progress has been good with much private sector investment in the palm oil industry.
“At the same time that the Rainforest World Music Festival (near Kuching) began over a decade ago, we also started our Kaul Festival,” Toyad said.
“People often ask me why the Kaul Festival isn’t as popular as the music fest. My answer has always been that we have accessibility problem to this area. Moreover, to develop the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), you can’t expect captains of industries to fly in on board little propeller aircraft.”
With the RM300mil approved, Toyad said, the runway – long and solid enough for Boeing 737s – would be built alongside a “simple” terminal. He said this phase of the project was at the tendering stage.
“Eventually they will give us the remaining amount. What is most important now, the runway, we build first. We have to solve this accessibility problem.”
This new airport, located about 7km from Mukah town and 20km from Oya, is near the existing Mukah polytechnic.
Toyad said although the runway at the old airport was long enough for jet aircraft to land, safety authorities would not give approval due to the area’s soft soil. (The old airport only receives propeller aircraft.)
Mukah, along with much of Sarawak’s coastal area, is a combination of soft peat soil and sandy beaches. Much of the RM300mil approved for the airport would go towards extensive earthworks at the new site.
The Mukah Division now has a population of just over 100,000.