The blog has not been updated for the last two days as I away in Kakus, Tatau. On my way back to Bintulu today, I decided to get off the express boat at Kelebu jetty instead of at Tatau town. Kelebu is about about an hour express from Tatau town.

The reason why I get off at Kelebu was to see Bandar Samarakan town and the pulp and paper mill. At Kelebu I took a “kereta prebet” (a slang for unlicensed/illegal taxi) as commonly found in rural Sarawak to Bintulu as there were no taxis. I also asked him if he could later show me where Bandar Samarakan and the pulp mill located as I have never seen it before.

Can you see Bandar Samarakan in the pic? The Bandar Samarakan township was planned to be built on the left hand side of this road. As you can see in the above pic, the area is still very much a covered by forest.

Bandar Samarakan – After about 15 minutes drive from Kelebu he stopped at the location as seen in the pic above. I was surprised when he said this is where the Bandar Samarakan town supposed to have been constructed. The place was still very covered by forest and there was no sign of development had taken place in the area.

The town when it was launched eleven years ago was said to be one of the biggest pulp and paper producer in South East Asia. Perhaps as a show of commitment and support for the ambitious project government immediately spent RM47 million to upgrade an existing logging road to the proposed township and mill.

In 1996, the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC), a state statutory body, entered into a joint venture with Asia Pulp & Paper Co. Ltd. (APP) to implement the project. APP is the majority shareholder and the project manager under the joint venture agreement that led to the formation of new joint venture company called Borneo Pulp & Paper Sdn. Bhd (BPP) . Barely a year later, APP pull out of the project citing financial problem.

However, rumors were aplenty as to why APP pull out. One of them include APP felt the legal disputes with natives over land issues was damaging to the company reputation internationally. They were also of the opinion that if BPP loss the case (which they did, and then repeal) the land bank size would be substantially reduced, rendered the project commercially unattractive.

Acacia forest. This forest was once a virgin tropical rainforest, where the “kenyalang” (hornbills) “ungka” (gibbon) and “babi kampung” (wild boar) were found. But now the tropical rainforest has been replaced with acacia forest. The Kenyalang, gibbon, wild boars have long been gone. The Ibans living in the surrounding areas now require permission to enter the ‘new’ forest.

In the end, the company eventually collapsed. The project then taken over by a new consortium known as Grand Perfect Sdn Bhd. However, twelve years on, the construction of the pulp mill has yet to start and the development of commercial tree plantation is far behind schedule.

The proposed Bandar Samarakan also never took off and the road leading to it eventually left un-attended. The people that government promised to benefit from this “satu lagi projek kerajaan Barisan Nasional” complaint that the road are now full of potholes, badly damaged, and unsafe.

It is pity to see people like Jambai and the longhouses folks found along the road have been denied the benefit of this important infrastructure after the proposed Bandar Samarakan and pulp mill project failed.

Jambai who became jobless after a logging camp operating near his longhouse ceased operation, had turn his Perodua Kembara to a “kereta prebet” to support himself and his families including aging parents.

“I just hope relevant authorities would do something to repair the road as people like me depend on them to make end meets” he said.