Must nurture Sabahan business leaders
Published on: Sunday, November 29, 2020
By: John Lo
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Kampong dad better than political leaders.The poorest kampong dad has dreams for his children and would work his fingers to the bone to give them the best possible chance in life, to escape from poverty, to become successful and be somebody in life. 

Unfortunately, the leaders in Sabah do not think like this proverbial kampong dad, they don’t nurture our young business leaders nor do they encourage the established ones to grow bigger and better. There are NO policies for this at all till today.

“Local ginger is not hot”.


It is “本地姜不辣” in Chinese. We pride ourselves of our racial unity and religious harmony. West Malaysians envy us for these. But these attributes have been wasted as we do not monetise them to grow our economy. Sabahans are funny people. To Sabahans, the local ginger is never hot. The English equivalent is “The prophet is not respected in his own land” Have you ever heard any Sabah leader praising a Sabahan businessmen who has done well? Our business leaders have succeeded, not because but despite lack of supportive government policies. Unlike Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Johor, Malacca and Penang, Sabah does not any policy to encourage, protect and nurture business leaders.

Policies need to nurture Sabahan young entrepreneurs.


Many Sabahans have done very well. Coming to mind immediately are: - [a] Tan Sri Lau Geh Poh, his nephew Tan Sri CK. Lau of Hap Seng. Their group has spread to China, Taiwan, South Korea and HK. One of their companies owns the largest Mercedes Benz agency in Asia. [b] Datuk Wong Tse Fatt of Tong Hing and the famous Gardenia Bread. [d] many of the older generations, especially from Sandakan and Tawau like Datuk Hong Teck Guan, who had grown big from almost zero. In recent years, a new generation of successful entrepreneurs has emerged. I have absolutely no doubt that many Sabahans in their 30s, 40s will rise up in the rank if Sabah has a robust set of policies to nurture business leaders.

Sadly, we Sabahans don’t celebrate successes achieved by fellow Sabahans. Instead, we salute non-Sabahans and foreigners who have no roots in Sabah, who don’t employ Sabahans and don’t re-invest in Sabah. They have vacuumed out our economy. Sabahans don’t mind them doing these. More than that, they give them “hero-adoration”.

It is true that Sabahans are our biggest enemies for economic development. This must change.

Sabah’s ugly economic facts. 


Have Sabahans ever wondered why West Malaysians keep on saying Sabah has rich resources? 

Have Sabahans not heard enough from non-Sabahans that the roads in Sabah are paved with gold? Have Sabahans not seen enough that in the richest state in Malaysia, we have the highest rate of poverty, highest unemployment and above all, we own only a fraction of our economic assets? The ugly fact is that we have degenerated as economic refugees in our own state.

Non-Sabahan businessmen own more than 90pc of the oil palm plantations. Sabah has the largest acreage. Sabahans own little in tourist assets, manufacturing, whole sales/retail, malls, vehicle repair workshop, petrol stations and even coffeeshops. We got practically nothing from oil and gas compared with Sarawak. Is there any wonder why our GDP per capita is on same standard as Kelantan’s? One of the most obvious reasons for all these ugly facts is simple this, Sabah does not have enough good business leaders.

Why Sabahans are economic refugees in our state?


Behind these ugly economic facts are some very horrid reasons. [a] Successive Sabah governments have failed to nurture Sabahan business leaders. Instead, they abuse these business leaders, they treat them as political footballs, to be used or discarded at will, NOT CREATORS OF WEALTH FOR SABAH. Most Sabah leaders have selfishly over focused on their own financial and political interests at the expense of Sabahans’ interest. [b] They prefer to deal with non-Sabahans and/or foreigners over Sabahan businessmen in working out deals. They would sell lands, assets and projects which they have got through “back door” from their positions in government to outsiders.

Sabahan businessmen have to undergo painful adjustments or else, got squeezed every time there is change of government. Non-Sabahans who are far away do not suffer the wrath of the leaders in a new government. 

Tan Sri Harris had a simple policy in this matter. He practiced “Sabahan first” in economic development policy and “Sabahan businessmen first” in business development. There was more Sabahan business leaders than at any time before or since. Wealth generated stayed in Sabah. Cash flow was abundant. After he left office, it was all the way down because of the policy “Sabahan businessmen last” by political leaders after Tan Sri Harris.

Reinstate “Sabahan businessmen first” as an explicit policy.

No apologies needed here. Like the proverbial kampong dad, Sabah should have a set of comprehensive policies to create as many Sabahan business leaders as possible, especially those between 30 to 50 years old. This is the only way Sabah can keep our wealth, our economic assets in Sabah. 

No political shame to practice “Sabahan businessmen first”. In fact, this policy is in our best interest for these reasons: - [a] Successful Sabahan business leaders stay in Sabah. Their first home and their families are in Sabah. Their children will stay in Sabah. [b] Their Head Offices are in Sabah. [c] They employ Sabahans first. I have spoken to a number of successful Sabahan businessmen who have confirmed most of their employees, including executives, are Sabahans. [d] Their profits stay in Sabah. [e] They reinvest in Sabah. [f] They create new business, thus more employment in Sabah. 

Sabah should, as starters, emulate Sarawak’s policies that Petronas MUST award contracts to Sarawakian companies and use “made in Sarawak products” for government contracts. 

Create policy to nurture young Sabahan businessmen.


In addition to policy of encouragement and retention of successful Sabahan businessmen, there must be a comprehensive set of explicit policies to nurture young Sabahan businessmen. There are many up and coming young businessmen who, if given a conducive economic environment and empower-ment policies by Sabah government, can bloom and prosper to greater success. We need these young aspiring Sabahan business men with their youthful zeal to expand Sabah’s economy. 

Datuk Tan Kim Beng and I have met some very impressive young businessmen on 24 November. All of them are based in Sabah. They are more than eager to go for it and have the capacity to achieve great things.

Nurture Sabahan business leaders to reset our economy.

Very much of having the kampong dad in mind, I will conclude with 3 aspirations for Sabah. 

[a] No country can prosper without her own bedrock business leaders. Foreign investors should only be a welcome supplement. China has achieved historical growth cos she has nurtured her own business leaders from day one. Likewise, Sabah MUST HAVE OUR OWN BUSINESS LEADERS, OUR OWN SABAHAN SONS AND DAUGHTERS AS ECONOMIC LEADERS to build, to steer our economic destiny and to retain our wealth in Sabah.

[b] Sabah political leaders must keep faith with our own business leaders so they can be Sabah’s “本地姜不辣” or in English, Sabah’s “local ginger is hot”.

I look forward to the day when Sabah has some “本地姜不辣” or “local hot ginger” BILLIONAIRES.

[b] A new dawn is coming. Things are about to change in unprecedented ways. Datuk Hajiji is pro-development of Sabahan business leaders, especially the young ones. I hope they can come forward to partner with Datuk Hajiji in rebuilding the Sabah’s economy. 





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