Bad governance, bureaucracy and corruption exist and thrive together. In a democracy which elects its leaders to rule the State, the people must share the blame if the State falls into wrong hands, for it’s them who hold the ultimate power to choose people who are entrusted with the responsibility of the upkeep of the State and effecting changes towards sustained development. Time and again we have seen the cases of bad, shoddy governance; brazen, alarming proportions of corruption in public; and a labyrinthine, tortuous bureaucracy so ingrained in the administrative system that it makes bribery and graft almost trivial, commonplace events.
When such a situation persists and prolongs itself, people begin losing hope, and despair and apathy get soaked in the public fervour. How do we come out of such imbroglios and bring the State again on a path where there are hopes and promises from a hopeless situation has been shown by Sabah and its people.
After languishing for decades under shoddy governance, lack of law and order, influx of a million+ illegal immigrants many obtaining Malaysian identities illegally and widespread corruption, Sabah and Sabahans effected the most important change awaiting them for decades – the call by Sabahans for the the abolishing of the “Chief Minister Rotation System” and hence electing 2 times in a row, 2004 and 2008, the Musa Aman government to rule the State. The result is before us to see – the people have begun harbouring hopes and promises have begun taking shapes.
Being the 2nd largest in terms of geographical area and the third largest by population, Sabah cannot be ignored. Its rich and varied culture is marked by the fact that it is the cultural hub of Borneo. Sabah has come a long way since North Borneo. From being the birthplace of Paganism to regressing into a State ruled by mafia-dons, from being the 19th century centre of international trade before turning into one of the economically most backward States, from being the centre of learning racial tolerance to coming last in terms of literacy rate in Malaysia, Sabah has seen it all. The State hit the nadir during early 70’s as is seen in The Far Eastern Economic Review’s remarks about Sabah in 1971 – “Sabah has become a byword for the worst of Malaysia, of widespread and inescapable poverty, of corrupt politicians indistinguishable from mafia-dons they patronize, religious-ridden social order that has retained the worst human right violations. People had it enough and the water was overflowing well above the brim. Tun Mustapha was ousted in 1975, Datuk Harris Salleh was ousted in 1985, Pairin Kitingan lost his government in 1994 and the World Bank which had remarked at that time in 2006 that the issues faced by the State were enormous because of persistent poverty, complex social stratification, unsatisfactory infrastructure and weak governance ranked Kota Kinabalu as the second city after Kuala Lumpur in terms of ease of creating business opportunities and growth after Musa Aman took over the helm in 2003.
From being below national average in terms of growth (the economy grew by just 2.1% per year during 1990-1997 while the nation grew by 7.3%) to achieving an average growth of 7.03% against the national average of 8.5% in the 5yr period during 2004-05 to 2008-09, Sabah is the second fastest growing state in terms of GDP. These positive changes only show what people can do if they come out of their apathy and choose a capable leader at the helm. Musa Aman and his government are making inroads in the path of a sustained development and today Sabah is earning laurels for being a model state of growth; having transparent, able governance; and building a future for its people.
Now we should reflect on how Musa Aman effected such changes as to change the fortunes of Sabah and bring it on a road to recovery for it entails important lessons for us. Lorna Casselton, the foreign secretary of Britain’s Royal Society said “We have to congratulate Sabah under Musa Aman for preserving the forests,” “If they cut the forests, they can make billions of dollars; but they aren’t and that is so important.”
When Musa Aman took helms in 2003 the state of Sabah was was not a case of bad governance but the absence of governance. It speaks volumes of the steps he took towards rebuilding the state – establishing the rule of law and order and securing public safety and bringing in billions in investments. He aimed towards inclusive growth by investing and reviving the traditional handicrafts industry and establishing the RM30 million Sabah Handicraft Center in Keningau so that the natives could develop their skills and such skills are not lost with time; developing tourism industry by various initiatives; giving incentives to farmers and vegetable vendors, particularly women in Kundasang, by building outlets for them thus giving them a clean, hygienic place and opportunities to fix their own prices daily at the vegetable outlets, all this while promoting agro-based businesses and empowering women; and increasing participation of women up to 70% in kampongs – thus involving people at the grassroot levels of developmental processes.
There are now RM112.8 Billion worth of investments planned and committed in Sabah ever since the Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) was launched in January 2008 by Musa Aman. Several huge investments from both domestic and overseas such as in the oil and natural gas industry, oil palm, fisheries, live-stock breeding and tourism are now located in Sabah and flagship projects such as POIC Lahad Datu, Sandakan, Keningau Integrated Livestock Center, Sandakan Education Hub, Sabah Agro-Industrial Park, Oil and Natural Gas Cluster, Marine Industry Cluster, Kinabalu Gold Coast Enclave and agropolitan projects are already in the implementation phase.
Remember, Sabah’s forests, gold and minerals would have disappeared if not for Musa Aman. Musa Aman stopped logging in the Ulu Segama Malua and Maliau basin and created a forest buffer three times the size of Singapore to protect Danum valley from logging, mining and opening up land for agriculture. Without Musa Aman the forests and minerals such as gold there in the east coast of Sabah would have disappeared. Oil palms would have replaced the rainforest.
Besides 43,800-hectare Danum Valley, about twice the size of Penang island, was identified for conservation and was marked out as part of a commercial forest reserve of Ulu Segama and it was Musa Aman again who conserved it and protected it against logging. Musa Aman also stopped logging in Danum after creating a 250,000-hectare forest buffer and adopted sustainable forest management practises.
However, damage to the Ulu Segama forest reserves was already done long before by Musa’s predecessors who “hacked off” about 4,000 hectares that robbed Danum of a big northern buffer. The result was that acid rain fell on Danum at the height of a haze over Borneo.
It is a real shame that those who could have protected Danum and Ulu Segama Malua at that time before Musa Aman took the helm refused to do so for reasons only known to them and allowed “bad logging”. Forests were thus turned into oil palm plantations. The task thus fell on Musa’s shoulder. His strong leadership amid stable politics has allowed him to make unpopular decisions that are critical in conserving about 300,000 hectares of virgin forests, gold, coal and minerals in the Danum Valley and Ulu Segama Malua forest complex.
Under Musa Aman, professionals were finally allowed to practise their profession for good governance that allows good sense to prevail as he allowed innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in managing Sabah’s scarce natural resources. Musa even stopped an attempt to log 20,000 hectares of the Danum’s buffer forests that would have fetched 4 billion ringgit (US$1.2 billion).
Under Musa Aman the state of Sabah has conserved a total of 3.9 million hectares or 53% of its landmass. Despite this the forest ecosystem health and integrity of these protected areas are constantly being undermined and under threat and which are believed to have affected the long term survival or viability of some key flora and fauna species.
Now, Sabah is fast becoming a trailblazer in sustainable forest management. This is evident from the numerous accolades, notably from the United Nations, World Wildlife Fund Malaysia, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Prince Charles Charity, for the success of its forest conservation efforts. In recognition of Sabah’s efforts, the UNDP has agreed to fund a RM14 million project on multi-use forest landscape planning and management at a 260,000ha active production forest area at the Kalabakan-Gunung Rara forest reserve in Tawau. Sabah’s forest conservation effort has also attracted the attention of Charles, the Prince of Wales, whose foundation is involved in funding numerous rainforest conservation programmes.
It is heartening to note that these strict practices have helped Sabah improve the way it manages its forests.
Sabah under Musa has started giving priority to the protection of High Conservation Value Forests, which are home to diverse wildlife and plants, and also serve as watersheds. By committing to sustainable ways of logging, Sabah has also safeguarded the interests of local communities whose lives depend on the forest.
Switching from conventional logging to sustainable harvesting was perhaps one of the most difficult decisions Musa Aman had to make. This was due to the fact that Sabah was hugely dependent on timber for revenue, and opting for sustainable forestry management means making sacrifices such as losing short-term monetary gains, and doing away with old ways of logging. Despite uncertainties when the state embarked on the bold decision to push for a sustainably harvested forest, it has passed the litmus test and has proven the doubters wrong.
For Musa Aman, this is not just talk. Success stories, among them the Deramakot Forest Reserve which has been certified as a well-managed forest under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme.
The practices are now well accepted and the goal of the Sabah Forestry Department to attain full certification for forest reserves by 2014 has started yielding results. To date, Sabah has 839,477ha of forest under some form of certification.
So all the lies churn out from internet portals like Sarawak Report that Musa Aman is finishing the forest in Sabah is all rubbish. These people writing all the rubbish dont even go down to the ground to see for themselves but seem to be writing and talking as though they know all. People are jealous of Musa success.
Truly its Musa who has made decisions for the good of Sabahans. I respect him for this because he is doing it for our children’s children.
Within a short span of 9 years, Sabah has made big strides in the rebuilding and development processes. This is only a beginning but the roads have been built, goals have been sighted and people have been deployed – only treading the path is to be done and has to be done by the people together while Musa Aman is busy guiding them along the way. Meanwhile we can learn from Sabah not to lose hope and become apathetic, that people alone hold the true power and that change can be effected – we just need to act in the right direction.