LIMBANG, Sept 15 ― The date September 1, 2015 may have little significance to most Malaysians but it was a joyous moment for folks residing in northern Sarawak covering Miri City and Limbang town.
Perhaps it was the best Malaysia Day gift of sorts as their prayers for years had been answered when the much awaited announcement of longer operation hours at Sarawak-Brunei border checkpoints finally materialised beginning September 1, 2015.
Thanks to close cooperation between the Malaysian and Brunei goverments, the Sarawak-Brunei border crossing at four checkpoints operated from 6am to midnight since 2015 from the previous 6am to 10pm after years of discussion between both goverment.
The four checkpoints are Sungai Tujuh (Miri), Tedungan (Limbang), Pandaruan (Limbang) and Mengkalap (Lawas).
When the news of the longer operation hours broke out, 43-year old Limbang-born primary school teacher Ahmad Bakar was among those that overjoyed as he was a frequent road traveller crossing the borders to Miri City or Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
“Except during weekdays, it was quite impossible for a day trip from Limbang to Miri City especially during the weekend due to long queues at the Sungai Tujuh (Miri) checkpoint that would take some time to cross after the immigration process was completed,”he told Bernama.
He said it took about up to five hours including long queues at the checkpoints if driving from Limbang to Miri during the weekend or long holiday due to festive season.
“Now there no need to rush back to my hometown because there is ample time to cross the border with the longer operation hours,”he said.
In addition, the father of three daughters who just completed his long distance study for a degree from a local university, said he incurred additional cost to pay for a hotel room in Miri City as lectures were conducted in Miri City before.
“After the extension of operation hours, I do not need to stay overnight because I can drive back to Limbang right after the lecture session ends, shopping or even for medical treatment, quite economical that way,”he said.
For 65-year-old Mohamad Abu Bakar, who is Malay Limbang Association chairman, the impact of longer operation hours has benefitted Limbang economic developments and those need urgent medical attention.
“From my observation among the positive impacts are the high influx of Bruneians to Limbang town which is good for the business community in Limbang especially those staying near the border,” he said.
Describing Limbang as unique due to it location sandwiched between the borders of Brunei, he said it was expensive using flight from Limbang to Miri City even though it takes about 20 minutes.
“One trip using Maswings flight from Limbang to Miri costs about RM176 and not easy to find a seat as always full, driving on the road still a better alternative especially during medical emergencies,”he said.
As such, he said those with chronic medical conditions need not to worry as the ambulance can dispatch the patient to Miri Hospital as soon as possible.
“However, I wished that the federal goverment can discuss with Brunei goverment on the possibility of opening the borders 24 hours,”he said.
Federation of Sarawak Lorry Association honorary president Bruce Chai said the longer operation hours had reduced the cost of operation for the transportation sector as the driver need not to stay overnight in Brunei or Limbang when transporting goods.
Chai, who is also Miri Lorry Owners Association honorary chairman, proposed the beautification of Sungai Tujuh checkpoints since more than three million visitors crossed that checkpoint annually.
More good news is in store in future as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Dec 18 last year announced a joint technical committee to cut the red tape for travellers transiting between Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei.
Najib was quoted as saying that presently Bruneians and Malaysian must have their passports stamped at least 16 times for Sabah-Brunei-Sarawak road trips.