Archive for August 29, 2019


Besides the economy, Sabah and democracy are themselves undergoing a stress-test.

It is commonly understood that the most acceptable marker of economic growth of a state is its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Economists, who rarely agree with each other, acquiesce with this economic measure; that is a considerable achievement by itself.

However, since CM Shafie Apdal took charge of Sabah on May 12, 2018, after the defections of Upko assemblymen who after winning their five seats on the BN symbol, flags and manifesto led to the loss of Musa’s majority. Ever since then, Sabah’s GDP has become a subject of controversial discussions, especially since it accompanied several grotesque claims of government achievements that appeared questionable.

While the Opposition decried the GDP chest-thumping roar as akin to cockamamie, the Shafie Government gloated on its spectacular accomplishment, its spokespersons hyperventilating on TV screens and social media.

Something is clearly amiss. Many think Sabah’s data under Shafie is not just cooked but barbecued.

I try to unravel this intriguing conundrum, in brief, by addressing questions that crop up with predictable regularity.

What was the GDP inherited by the present Shafie’s Government from the former Musa’s Government?

It was 8 per cent – healthy, strong and recovering robustly.

But, Shafie and his Warisan coalition through their massive propaganda machine spread the canard of apocalyptic doom that “Sabah was on the verge of a collapse”, as fearmongering and manufacturing anxiety suits. In May last year, Chief Minister Shafie Apdal claimed that Sabah was in financial difficulty and the previous Musa administration did not leave RM4 billion reserve as claimed. Shafie, who is also Sabah’s finance minister, insisted that the state’s reserves were in the negative.

Since then, however, the auditor-general’s report for 2017 has indicated otherwise, leading the state’s Opposition to dispute Shafie’s claim.

After confusion and controversy over Sabah’s financial health, state treasurer Rusdin Riman said that the state grew its reserves by over RM4 billion last year-2017.

What about the claim by Shafie that his government is responsible for the miraculous turnaround to make Sabah the fastest growing economy?

It is an absurd proposition that even a kindergarten child will debunk. How can a economy make such a dramatic turnaround within 15 months, one which was being disingenuously trashed by Shafie as a failure just a few months earlier?

The truth is that Sabah moved into the global financial arena taking giant footsteps under the 15-year period of then CM Musa Aman.

Many have called it the golden period of Sabah’s economy, as for the first time ever, we witnessed a 10-year average GDP growth rate of 7.7 per cent and lifted a million people above the poverty line, reflecting the successful model of inclusive growth.

In successive years, between 2003 to 2018 April, Musa’s government reached growth rates of 8 per cent, hitherto deemed unreachable, almost reaching double digit growth levels.

In short, Sabah was much better under Musa than under Shafie now. How do you compare the Musa’s GDP performance over that of Shafie?

There is no comparison whatsoever; GDP went up by over 300 per cent during the 15 years of Musa government. The Musa government performed extraordinarily better compared to the anaemic, almost lackadaisical numbers of Warisan-Upko-PH government.

In fact, Shafie’s government had a great opportunity to build on a strong inheritance from the previous Musa’s government, but wasted a burgeoning growth momentum.

One must remember that the Musa’s government succeeded despite facing Malaysia’s worst economic crisis, recession of 2007-08, low oil prices, drop in timber royalty due to export ban and running a difficult coalition government, and facing repeated sabotage by Shafie at the Federal level and a very difficult Vice President of Umno to deal with.

Why is the ground reality so different from the headlines and the hype?

Under Shafie, what you see is not what you get; there is selective cherry-picking, exaggerated claims, new methodologies adopted to make a sheep look like a lion, and in many cases, data that inspires grave apprehensions about their authenticity. Shafie indulges in a lot of puffery.

Thus, we have this atrocious contradiction where Shafie claims that Sabah is a growing economy, but the farmers are crying under severe rural distress, joblessness, private investments, exports, aggregate private expenditure are all looking dismal.

It hardly needs further assertion that the rural economy, in particular, has crippled small businesses. Lucky for Shafie, there is tourism, thanks to previous Musa’s government for laying the groundwork and logistics.

The damage is still being undone.

Is GDP the only macro-indicator of the health of the economy?

No, it is not, it is just the easiest one. The true health of Sabah is determined through a more detailed biopsy of economic and social indicators, mostly job creation, per capita income, export performance, gross fixed capital formation, reduction in poverty levels, per capita expenditure allocations to health and education.

On all these factors, Shafie has slipped by having both feet on a banana peel. We must not forget that the relevant index for Sabah is Human Development Index. The fact that we have seen an alarming dip in Poverty Index, or the Gender Disparity Index should tell us that this government has merely indulged in headline-hunting, rhetorical speeches, statistical manipulation and massive publicity blitzkrieg.

Besides the economy, Sabah and democracy are themselves undergoing a stress-test due the presence of huge number of illegals immigrants with fake IDs.

About time. Governance in a democracy is like a fishbowl, everyone must know the truth. But under Shafie opacity rules, or as Salman Rushdie would say, there is a lot of chutnification going on. But truth does ultimately win.