The astounding results of the one-sided Sabah elections in March 2008 has established that if someone governs, stokes hopes and improves the socio-politico-economic quotient, he and the party he leads gets a massive dividend. However, it needs to be noted that the victory of Musa Aman was not based on majoritiranism, fundamentalism or extreme populism. The election revolved around an iconic image and the mandate was an acceptance that he was rebuilding Sabah, socially and economically, and people wanted him to continue.
This is what Musa Aman has achieved for the State, which since taking over the helm in 2003, symbolised the worst developmental paradigm. Importantly, the dividend is just not for his political alliance Barisan National, but for the people of the State, whose aspirations certainly has grown manifold as the State has achieved the highest — higher than the national — GDP growth of over 5 to 6 per cent during the last two years.
The 2008 Sabah elections proves that political forces are extremely crucial to economic growth. This governance syndrome certainly does not require an economist to suggest what the people want. The politician rooted to the ground has only to give vent to the aspirations. Musa Aman started giving a turn to the affairs after a state of morass began in the 1990’s. Hence the question being, is Sabah setting a new development benchmark? Musa may just have set the tone for national aspirations and might change the dynamics of national politics. The “Mahathirised” social engineering was based on exclusion of many social groups. It also led to vengeance, vandalisation, poverty and poor law and order situation.
The people’s aspirations brought the Sabahan pride back. Many Sabahan workers have left their work places outside the State and come back. Peace and aspiration are seen as the greatest gift. Women have voiced that. More women turned out to vote. Symbolising the functioning of the State structure, which benefits women even more than men. This ensures better security and also better facilities for health and school enrollment.
This has not happened just like that. The State has given opportunities to grow with a larger road network, it has 17,000 kilometers of road now but only 35% or 5,000 kilometers have been sealed till today from 1415 kilometers in 2005 to 2417 kilometers in 2010, to tar the remaining 12,000 gravel roads in order to attain the national average of 80 per cent sealed roads and 20 per cent gravel roads, Sabah needs RM10 billion and in the new budget for 2013 Sabah is getting 2.2 billion ringgit of road projects from the Federal government. In 2011, The mortality rate for children under five years of age in Sabah was 8.6 per 1,000 live births, or 425 deaths last year. 1% lower than 2010.This is still higher than the national average of 6.2 per cent per 1,000 live births in 2008 but there is an improvement in reduced infant mortality rate from 61 per 1000 to 56, maternal mortality from 371 to 312 per 1000. Sabah will be more self-sufficient in rice production following a boost in funding of RM5.8bil for the agricultural sector in Budget 2013.
To add to this, the State has also seen a phenomenal rise in Plan expenditure from a mere RM 2 billion in 2005-06 to RM 4 billion plus in 2012-13. In crude economic terms many of these in-State expenditures would be considered as subsidies though in real terms these are investments without which no society can grow. What Sabah is doing is symbolised by UN’s Development Programme concepts rather than the World Bank-IMF corporate economics. Whereby, the State’s dynamics have increased corporate confidence. Industries which have been moving out of the State for decades now see a gleam of hope for revival.
The Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Bumiputra Chambers of Commerce say that they are expecting closer ties with the Musa Government. The Joint Chambers in Peninsular avers that so far only 2.5 per cent of corporate investment has gone to Sabah. It might increase if Musa’s Government improves power generation and so the Kimanis RM1.5bil, 300MW gas-powered plant would take care of at least short term electricity demands in Sabah. Investments in hotels and restaurants have grown by 80 to 85 per cent in 2008-12. This is an indicator that investors have at least started visiting and exploring Sabah. The Musa Government has many challenges and has to meet higher expectations, hence the next five years would be very crucial for many sectors — agriculture, power, ensuring food to the deprived, building a chain of cold storages are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of areas up for improvement.
In the State Assembly recently Musa said “I will ensure priority will be given to looking after, preserving and protecting the interest of the natives.”
In fact 890,626.47 hectares or 45 per cent of the total government land has been given ownership in Sabah through five methods, including Native Title (NT), equity and gazetting. The state government is also planning to issue communal grants in Kota Marudu (17,000 acres), Pitas (10,000 acres), Tongod (15,000 acres) and Semporna (5,117.12 acres). Undoubtedly, the Chief Minister’s efforts would be seen more critically now and the NCR issues would be manipulated because it touched on the interest on the natives. In his coming third term, the State structure has to be strengthened further. From having become functional, it has to become more pro-active. Social sector development along-with economic and industrial growth has to be woven into the State policy.
With growing activities he also has to keep a check on the unscrupulous corrupt elements. The benchmark of the State has to be increased. Musa needs to take steps towards continuing at least 10 per cent growth annually to meet the people’s aspirations. It is truly a daunting task. That is the expectation of the enhanced political capital the people have bestowed on Musa Aman. Undeniably, the progress of Sabah might tell on some other States which thrived on cheap Sabah labour. Be it Selangor, Johore, Penang or even national Capital Kuala Lumpur, Sabah’s changing social dynamics is certain to help the labour force getting better treatment and wages elsewhere. Thus, the coming GE13 election results need to re-focus on labour policies at the Central level particularly by those who are demanding relaxation in labour laws. The Sabah syndrome might call for stringent implementation of whatever rudimentary labour welfare laws there are.