Key lies in achieving balanced growth
Published on: Sunday, June 30, 2019
By: Datuk John Lo

In a civilised society, a certain minimum standard must be observed when conducting debates or discourse. I am afraid this standard is not being observed in the social media in the case of the on going discourse regarding the dam in Papar and TAED [Tanjong Aru Eco Development]. It is getting very personal, name-callings, and some unproven accusations like billions being pocketed are being hurled in social media. With the benefit of hindsight, claiming the change of government Sabah in GE14 was due to objections to TAED lack serious veracity and legitimacy.

Admirable that there are Sabahans who are passionate in fighting for some causes. This sort of spirit is essential for progress provided it is within the reasonable bounds of decency. By all means fight for what you deem is right.

However, it should be recognized that leaders have been elected to take care of the overall welfare of the people, environment being just one of them. The CM and his cabinet in particular are leaders for all Sabahans and for all aspects of lives be it social, economic, political, environmental and health.

The days are gone when in the name of economic growth or progress, we can throw environment out of the window.

China has done that. Now this country is paying a heavy price in health and environmental related problems. I must give credit to China for her tenacity in solving this problem. She has made great strides and has become the leading nation in clean energy!

The Chinese experience has taught us a balanced development between environment and economic development projects can be beneficial. It should not be a zero-sum game or mutually exclusive. In fact, there are many cases where economic projects can enhance environment and economic growth. Outstanding example is Singapore which has expanded its land mass by 27pc by reclamation.

Singapore’s choicest commercial, housing, tourism attractions and recreation facilities have been developed on reclaimed land at Marina area —- Garden by the Bay, Marina Bay Sand, both of which are tourism icons, generating tremendous tourism receipts and favourite spots for tourists and Singaporeans alike.

The Marina Financial Centre is the financial soul of Singapore! Changi Airport which is constructing its 5th terminal has been built on reclaimed land in 1975. It is now handling 50m passengers and will up this figure to 80m on the latest terminal’s completion.

Netherland is another excellent example. Any Dutch would be proud to say “God has created the world; the Dutch has created Netherland” for most of Holland is under sea level. Most of the country have been reclaimed. Netherlands has a booming economy, major ports and tourism built on reclaimed land. Holland has developed an extensive and sophisticated agriculture that is worth Euro 92 billion export! 

Let us not hastily condemn the new government for adopting and wishing to proceed with TAED even though this project is from the previous government. Strictly speaking, there is only one GOVERNMENT, there is no BN government or Warisan government. Nothing wrong if the present government wants to continue with TAED as it has with SICC. Let’s work together on these projects for the benefits of Sabahans. Let those in government prove they can make it work for us. 

I would be worried if the government has not done a proper environmental impact study. If it has done it in accordance with proper procedure, then we should accept it. For those who think otherwise, it would be good if they can produce evidence of omissions or an alternative/ better one. Always easy to criticise or scream “no!”. Can they produce solutions for us to achieve economic progress, jobs and better income? 

The next important question that needs addressing is – are public facilities and access being looked after? Are they better or bigger than it is now? The beach is public in Sabah by law. Has this been changed?

Let us not apt some western countries, especially USA which has backed out from the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Accord.

They are the biggest polluters. Now the Americans are putting out the message that China by buying soya from Brazil, a lot of trees will be cut down in Brazil to grow soya for China. If US is truly concerned, then it should ask American farmers to plant trees back on land they have cleared for soya before. Or can US follow China’s effort of planting trees in the desert.

Sabahans have a lot riding on tourism. Tourism, in term of employment and business opportunities, is critical and is more important than oil palm. It has great potential for growth. KK would be a “dead town” if not for tourism, especially Chinese tourists. KK is much more vibrant than Kuching and all other cities in Borneo because of tourism. TAED can be a great game changer to elevate tourism to the next level. TAED is the first planned and designed tourism destination in Borneo.

Hopefully, there will be more TAEDs in Sabah to solidify our present leading tourism position. We cannot rest our laurels, must move on with exciting tourism projects like TAED. We want to catch up with Bali and other tourism destinations in ASEAN.

I do not have up to date number of Sabahans engaged in tourism as employees [direct and indirect], employers and investors. It must be in 10s of thousands. They and their loved ones are dependent on tourism for their livelihood, to put food on the table. In debating the pros and cons of TAED, consideration must be given to these Sabahans.

I have constructed the above  chart to show what TAED can do when fully implemented on the assumption of 8,000 rooms.

Total investment on average of RM500,000 per room plus other facilities will amount between RM4b to RM5b. 

Admittedly, the figures above are guess-estimates. Sufficient that they serve to show what TAED can potentially do for Sabahans. This one TAED project can produce more direct and indirect employments for Sabahans than the whole oil palm industry. Think of the unemployed who are dying for a job and the new labour force coming out from the education system each year. And it won’t need foreign labour like the oil palm industry. Tourism receipt can almost equate the Sabah government budget. We ought to bear in mind in these uncertain economic times and less than satisfactory financial position of the federal government. Looking at the lackadaisical attitude of federal leaders towards Sabah on 40pc revenue share and 20pc oil royalty, we Sabahans must get our act together to push on economic development. Under these circumstances, RM4b to RM5b investment to be generated by TAED is very attractive and must be welcome, not to be simply spurned and scorned. Think of economic potentials that the additional 1 million of tourists can bring.

Like most development proposals of this size, there are always rooms/adjustments for improvements. Let’s not fight for TAED’s demise. Let’s work as Sabahans to realise TAED in its best possible form for the economic and social benefits of Sabahans. With noble intentions and good will from all sides, TAED can bring much needed progress to Sabah. 


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