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Author: savemalaysia   |   Latest post: Sun, 25 Oct 2020, 6:55 PM


Sabah needs right strategy By PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM

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LETTER: Come Sept 26, Sabah will elect a new government.

Going by the stories told about Sabah during the campaign period, it is perplexing that the state is still struggling to bring progress to the people. From the episodes shown on TV, many parts of Sabah have no clean water, electricity or decent roads.

Many schools in rural areas are in such a dilapidated state that it makes one wonder how education can be effectively delivered to the young. We all know that education is the most powerful tool to lift communities out of poverty. 

In this new era of digitalisation, where the Internet has become a basic need, Sabah has another issue on its hands. The Internet reach in the state is woefully low.

We recently learned that a student had to climb a tree to get better Internet signal to receive her lessons. Though her action was initially ridiculed, it was eventually hailed as a game changer.

The government announced the National Digital Network (Jendela) to upgrade the broadband infrastructure in the country, including Sabah.

The government must not take lightly the issue of poor broadband infrastructure because in the digital era, data is the new oil, and broadband is the transmission line. The nation's competitiveness will be sorely compromised if we do not invest in an efficient broadband infrastructure.

Sabah is in reality a rich state. It is comparatively rich in natural resources that drive most of the global business. For years now, the state has been the leading producer of palm oil. Unfortunately, the added value downstream manufacturing of palm oil remains underdeveloped.

There was at one time the initiative to develop its main port into a palm oleochemical hub. But nothing much has happened.

Sabah is also rich in oil and gas. But it is the same sad story as palm oil. No downstream petroleum business.

Sabah has also always been known for its rich timber resources. Again, poor planning has led to unsustainable income for the state.

Of course, Sabah also offers many attractive sites, especially for the growing business in eco-tourism. It is unfortunate that the pandemic has put a dent on tourism in the state.

It is clear that Sabah has untapped economic potential. Whoever comes into power must give serious thought to strategies to bring economic progress to Sabah's 3.6 million people.

Investments in road and port infrastructure should top the agenda. The plan must take into account the new economic opportunities in nearby Kalimantan as Indonesia moves its capital there. Ports and other logistical support must be upgraded to cater for exports to countries in East Asia. Downstream investments in palm oil, timber and petroleum products must be well planned.

The first step is to attract foreign direct investments in the related areas. One suggestion is to coax downstream investors from the East Asian countries to come. Of course, reliable utilities infrastructure, including broadband, must be put in place to attract such investments.

Sabah is at a crossroads of development. Blessed with rich natural resources, there is no reason why the state cannot achieve better economic progress. The state needs the right strategy and policies to realise its potential.

The state has to attract not only the right investments that capitalise on its rich resources, but also the right talent to make it happen. The new government will have to relook policies on talent movement and create one that is more conducive for a vibrant technology ecosystem.


Academy of Science, UCSI University



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