Sabah not reaching its fullest potential thanks to weak leadership

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Sabah – a bountiful country full of pristine natural resources, if administered properly, will be able to yield immense economic benefits for Sabahans.

However, the new Sabah government is doing the exact opposite. It has been more than 10 months since Sabah voted for change, questionably yet to be delivered. Economically, the state is doing badly with unemployment rising and stagnant economic growth.

Sabah forest revenue in 2017 made up 7 percent of earnings and looking at the government’s recent focus on timber, this number is only set to go up. Sabah cannot afford to have its forest resources raped and sold because such approach is only dangerous in the long run. What happens if all the forests are cut down and there is nothing left?

What Sabah requires are sustainable investment policies so that one day these natural resources does notdisappear when the state has exhausted it all away. And two things that Sabah must focus on – one, is to focus on downstream timber production and two, creation of jobs.

Creating a forest bio-economy will enable Sabah to reduce economic and environmental risks when tapping into its natural resources. A forest bio-economy is a type of economic activity which generates income by converting sustainably managed renewable forest-based resources like woody biomass into value-added products and services using environmentally friendly methods.

A crucial component of the forest bio-economy are bio-refineries. These are facilities that integrate biomass conversion processes using forest resources to produce biofuels which are a growingly crucial energy source while generating heat and electricity, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The manpower required to see through the forest bio-economy must be of a high calibre. The engineers, biotechnologists, and forest scientists needed to run the bio-economy can be tapped from the pool of local Sabahan talent. In time to come, we will see a rise in Sabahans with high paying jobs.

All would be possible with high quality investments into the state. But first, the state must have the vision and ambition for such things, which it so clearly lacks in the first place.

For example, the recent debacle with regards to the sale of Sabah Forest Industries (SFI) which was agreed earlier that the ailing SFI should be sold to Malaysian company, Pelangi Prestasi which had a very modern and ambitious turnaround plan for the company. They intended to develop it into an integrated bio-hub which uses bio-resources like wood and oil palm waste to produce biodegradable products and generate heat and electricity.

The integrated bio-hub was to be the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. It would have put Sabah on the map in the eyes of the world. Made the state a pioneer in environmentally sustainable developments and investments.

But, nooo!!! It recently surfaced that Sabah’s leaders are eyeing Hong Kong based Lee & Man Paper to take over SFI. A company which has a notorious environmental track record, doesn’t employ local labour and its operations have no long-term benefits for Sabahans.

It is time for Sabah to shine, not only in Malaysia but across the world. We can and should leverage on the rich resources and be sustainable in our approach.

For this to happen, Sabah’s leaders must open their eyes and think outside the box. This is your state too and if Sabah goes to the dogs, it is entirely your fault!

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