Sabah’s turnaround in recent years has been one big feel-good story for the entire nation, which had virtually written off the state as a laggard in the post-liberalisation race for development. But the advent of Musa Aman as the chief minister started to bring about a gradual change in the people’s perception. For a change, Sabah began to hit the headlines with positive stories. From a remarkable fall in the crime graph to women empowerment ,and from deportation of hundreds of thousands of illegals sneaking in from the east-coast to drastic action against timber thieves, the state has started to shed its woeful image. Its growth rate also jumped to a phenomenal 7 per cent. Still, Sabah could not afford to count itself among the developed states of the nation, primarily because of the dearth of industries in the state. Industrialists remained wary, often due to the power scenario, giving Musa Aman’s rivals a reason to mock his claims on the development front.
Over time, the chief minister has worked to make the state significantly industry friendly, by inviting Petronas to seriously implement downstream industries and private companies to invest in thermal power projects across the state, despite Putrajaya’s prolonged reluctance to improve performance of Sabah Elecrticity Sdn Bhd (SESB), 80% owned and managed by Tenaga National Berhad (TNB) a Federal GLC. And obviously all that work seems to be paying off. Last Sunday, Musa Aman inaugurated a vehicle assembly plant in Kota Kinabalu Industrial Park (KKIP) in Sepanggar. KKIP now hosts over 200 factories in various stages of development and construction. They form one of the biggest clusters of small and medium enterprises (SME) in the country that are currently providing more than 6200 job opportunities to Sabahans. Musa Aman said that the new establishments set up by private investors were an answer to those who used to say that his government had not been able to set up even a factory of needles in the state.
The chief minister believes the state is capable of having a chain of industrial clusters, namely automotive, steel, halal food, wood, rubber, logistics and warehousing clusters. He is also confident that KKIP will be able to fulfill the RM1 billion investment target it set for this year apart from planning to have gas supply sourced from Sabah Oil and Gas Terminal in Kimanis to meet with gas demands in KKIP. To date, the state government has set up SEDIA (Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority) a One-Stop Authority to drive Sabah Development Corridor (SDC), a project expected to take 18 years with a total investment of up to RM 105 billion. Begining in 2009, RM5.83 billion has been allocated each year for development, in which 900,000 jobs are expected to be created from this project along with a waterfront city, tourism sub project and a Sabah Railway terminal. The project kick-started with Pak Lah announcing that the government has allocated an extra RM 5 billion under the Ninth Malaysia Plan to improve infrastructure and lower the cost of doing business in the state.
Musa also has an Investment Advisory Council comprising of industrialists, economists and management experts of national repute. He has also decided to post an investment commissioner in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to lure private investors from the financial capital. Sabah had lost much of its industries like Sabah Methanol Plant, Sabah Hot-briquetted iron plant (HBI), Sabah Steel Mill, Sabah Flour and Feed Mill, Sabah Shipyard, Asean Supply Base and many more which were all in Labuan after the creation of the Federal Territory of Labuan. Sabah lost all the big industries when Labuan was taken away from Sabah. Sabah now desperately needs to set up big industries here. The government must continue to create a conducive atmosphere to encourage more investment, if it really wants to sustain growth. Sabah cannot hope to match the developed states unless it is able to attract big industrialists. All the efforts of the chief minister to make Sabah a prosperous state will come to a naught if bigtime investors remain reluctant to spend here.