Several years back I was involved in a statewide study on the problems of squatting in major urban areas in Sarawak including Bintulu.
The study was funded by a federal ministry in collaboration with a local university.
To my surprised – Bintulu was (maybe still is) ranked second after Miri having the most number of squatters in Sarawak.
However the problem of squatting is not a uniquely Bintulu or Sarawak problem.
It is a global phenomenon often attributed to rapid urbanisation.
In many of the world’s poorer countries there are extensive slums or shanty towns, typically built on the edges of major cities and consisting almost entirely of self-constructed housing built without the landowner’s permission.
Whilst these settlements may in time grow to become both legalised (such as Kampung Baru in KL) and indistinguishable from normal residential neighbourhoods, they start off as squats with minimal basic infrastructure.
Thus, there is no sewage system, drinking water must be bought from vendors or carried from a nearby tap and if there is electricity, it is stolen from a passing cable.
Why people squatting? There are various reasons why people squatting – but the most common reason given by Sarawak’s squatters was – ‘ we can’t afford to rent house’.
It was found that many of those living in squatter areas didn’t have stable jobs – eg., daily paid laborers.
They do all sort of odd-jobs to support themselves and their families.
They also cited the lack of cheap housing which has certain level of validity.
Bintulu rapid industrialization is a major attraction that see the influx of thousand of migrant workers to the town since 1980s.
These migrants need accommodation which were rather scarce in Bintulu then. As demand outstripped supply, it pushes the rental rate beyond the reach of thousands of lower income group.
Leaving with no choice, many then opted to build their own living quarters on any empty plot of land available.
It was only in the late 1990s that government seriously trying to resolve this problem by increasing the number of low cost houses via housing scheme known as RPR (Rancangan Perumahan Rakyat).
Hence the RPR Sibiew, RPR Kidurong and RPR Sungai Plan.
However, the problem of squatting persisted. Although many of them have since been relocated and offered affordable accommodation under the RPR scheme, their numbers hardly diminished.
Hundred and hundred of squatter houses still dotting the stretch along Kidurong Industrial zone highway as if none of them have been relocated!
Tiong, Bintulu Member of Parliament often bemoaned these squatters because of their ‘inclination’ to vote for the opposition during election. It is a hotly contested political issue as well as social dilemma that continue to haunt authorities concerned.
There are several squatters areas in Bintulu, but the biggest colonies are to be found along the Kidurong Industrial area stretch of highway.
They are the Sungai Sebatang, Masako, Sungai Plan and Kidurong squatters colonies.