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Sabah’s private sector must perform its bounden duty
Published on: Saturday, January 06, 2018

By Datuk John Lo

There have been many economic/geopolitical uncertainties in the world in 2017. 2018 will be more challenging. Oil and gas industry continue to be weighed down at low level with Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, trying to find a new economic direction.

Already its economic and diplomatic pre-eminence in Middle East and world stage has dimmed substantially. Malaysia can no longer depend of this resource as our cost of production, being mostly in deep sea, is no longer competitive.

Besides, many major nations especially China, are making tremendous progress in alternative energy.

EV [electric vehicles] will put paid to the future of oil and gas.

Added to these is “loose cannon” Donald Trump with his “America First” policy for a declining American super power. There is no longer a western alliance coherence as can be seen in his recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital. This alliance is crumbling. Whole of Europe is against him. Many traditional US allies are looking to China for economic co-operation much to American chagrin. More worrying is we do not know Trump’s intended action on North Korea and South China Sea. He is now whacking Pakistan. His unpredictability is casting dark clouds.

The world cannot have Trump as a world leader.

In our country, economic performance has been out-staged by political uncertainties and corruption.

GE 14 will determine the future of Malaysia. Very central is that despite credible economic growth, there is substantial unhappiness, the major cause of which is the lopsided distribution of wealth and cost of living outrunning effective income for ordinary Malaysians. More worrying in the long term is whether Malaysian leaders can restructure the economy for us to face future challenges. The present Malaysian economic model, which has not worked well for some years, must be modified.

Fortunately for Sabahans, Sabah’s economic model is functioning well. Many may be unaware, Sabah has been spared full blunt of the global and national uncertainties because Tan Sri Musa has diversified and geared our economy towards value add and service based industries. His efforts have given Sabahans a soft landing.

I have written before and will reiterate without fear of being long winded that Sabah must continue to value-add, diversify and expand our economic base urgently. Towards this end, Sabah’s private sector must rouse up to take advantages and opportunities in the context of Halatuju. We should not let them go and let non-Sabahans come in to have them taken away from us completely.

Before proceeding further let me define “Sabahan private sector” By this I mean the part of the private sector that is owned and operated by Sabahans or those who have settled down and call Sabah home.

In defence, there is such an implicit tendency for each state in Malaysia. I won’t apologise for it.

The Sabahan private sector players have this rather odd disease to “complain first but slow to grab” if “not given things on a platter”. I stand corrected if I am wrong but allow me to share some of the reasons to back up this assertion.

Many Sabahan-owned companies, like those in W Malaysia, have potential to grow much bigger but the owners lack focus to do this. Consequent to this is that many non-Sabahan companies have entered the state and have dominated the best part of Sabah’s economy. Then we wail and moan to no avail for economic opportunities, like time and tide, wait for no man, not even Sabahans in our own state! Reality of economic life.

You think not true?

[a] We have given up on the palm oil plantation sector. It is almost 100pc non-Sabahan.

Luckily there is Hap Seng, Teck Guan and a few smaller Sabahan players. Sabahans own only a small number of CPO mills and down-stream.

[b] Sabahans are in a minor role in 5-star hotels and resorts. Thank God, we have Bunga Raya and Shangri-La Tanjong Aru Resorts [60pc Sabah Foundation owned].

It is my fervent hope to see a Sabahan hotel management group soon. Sutera Harbour, Rasa Ria and Karambunia are non-Sababan. [c] This is becoming true in SMEs and increasingly down to motor workshops, car dealers, unbelievable but true, coffee shops also. Real estate development is going, going fast!

Sabahan ownership in the economy, if left to the Sabahan private sector, would have been negligible if not for Musa’s transformational effort to turn around and make profitable all the GLCs.

In their rejuvenated state, these GLCs such as Sabah Foundation [oil and gas, hotels, tourism, plantation], SEC [oil and gas, supply base] Sawit Kinabalu [plantations], Progressive Insurance [insurance], SDB and Sabah Credit[banking] and Suria Capital [ports] and Desa Cattle [dairy products especially milk] are still in Sabah’s ownership.

Let’s not talk politics for politics have only given us tons of heartaches and headaches.

Talk about the lack of economic transformation in the Sabahan private sector. Look at the harsh reality.

The Sabah economy, in broad general terms, has only two parts. The first part, thanks to Musa, is with the Sabah government. The 2nd part belongs to non-Sabahans. What is left is an insignificant part that is owned by the Sabahan private sector.

The Sabahan private sector should ask these questions. Why has it been relegated to become an insignificant partner in Sabah’s economic development, almost to the brink of irrelevance? Why is it that the private sectors of other states have been able to “invade” and “transgress” into our economy in such a big way?

How many Sabah companies have penetrated into other states or other countries?

The Sabahan private sector used to be the “master of our own economy” during Tun Mustapha’s and Tan Sri Harris’ time. Where has Sabahan private sector gone wrong? The time has come for the Sabahan private sector to retrospect and introspect on these and many other economic questions and produce honest and holistic solutions.

The biggest mistake will be to point fingers or be defensive. The solution is how it can assist and complement Musa’s economic drive to expand Sabah’s economy. The ultimate answer is for the Sabahan private sector to become an integral, full-fledged partner with the Sabah Government in developing our own economy.

We cannot be “economic foreigners in our own state”.

An expanding Sabahan private sector can also assist the Sabah government in diversifying sources of development funding by listing on to KLSE .

I have written on the critical role of economic leadership in Sabah’s economic future.

Musa’s economic leadership have put macro and micro economics in place, the best in Sabah’s history, better than most of the states in Malaysia This has benefitted many Sabahans. Many more Sabahans can enjoy higher economic benefits and more employment opportunities if the Sabahan private sector can undertake proactive economic role in their business expansion, creation of new businesses, increase innovative and creative capacities, make money and reinvest back in our own state. In this way, Sabahans will have a chance to have higher effective income, contain high cost of living and better quality of life. The economic spin offs of an active, vibrant Sabahan private sector will be immeasurable.

To do this, some genuine and able economic leaders must emerge from among the leaders in the Sabahan private sector. These leaders can play a proactive role in offering ideas and policy recommendations to the Sabah government. They should stop being silent bystanders. The Sabahan private sector comprising the crème de la crème of Sabahan society should ask “not what the government can do for them” but say to themselves, “what they can do for Sabah”.

Sabah was not short of business talents in the past. I am confident that when the Sabahan private sector has become more proactive again, local born talents, especially from the Y generation, will be forthcoming and this momentum will gather strength. If Sabahan private sector can also produce good economic leadership, then our economy will become more resilient to withstand the vagaries of global and national economic uncertainties.

Let there be a 2018 resolution for the Sabahan private sector to become more proactive, to play its rightful economic role in Sabah’s economy and to assist the State Government in economic development in a concrete and realistic manner. The Sabahan private sector has the bounden responsibility and for its own interest, to assist the Sabah Government to transform Sabah into the greatest state in Malaysia.


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