Sabah’s stake in Pan Borneo Highway
Published on: Sunday, April 04, 2021
By: Datuk John Lo
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BOLD headline on 22 March 2021 of the leading Malaysian financial news, the Edge Market has hit the nail on the head, quoting PM’s suggestion “SABAH SHOULD TAKE BOLD STEPS ON DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS VIA PFI” [Private Finance Initiatives].

Tan Sri Muhyiddin has further stressed “The time has come for the Sabah state government to take bold steps to forge more cooperation with foreign investors in implementing development projects through private financing initiative (PFI) widely.”

PM made this timely suggestion at the launch of the RM2.3b cooper foil investment by SK Nexilis of South Korea. 

It is also a clear signal from PM for Sabah to take a fresh approach on implementation of economic development projects to expedite progress. 

No longer should Sabahans just wait for government funds to fall from heaven. For past 50 years, this source has been short and excruciatingly slow in coming.


Pertinence of Pan Borneo, PFI.

PM’s suggestion is particularly significant in the context of Pan Borneo. Since its inception in 2015 [should have been completed by now!], implementation, progress of Pan Borneo is like half dead, like a cripple’s slow painful steps. 

It has never gained momentum like a priority project should be.

At the present rate of progress and the painfully slow flow of federal funds, it may take up to 30 more years to complete if Sabah is lucky. 

It is not for lack of technical know-how. The pivotal factor is finance. 

No money, no talk. As advised by PM, with PFI, construction time can be reduced by half or less.

PM’s suggestion to use PFI is therefore timely and appropriate. PFI can expedite Pan Borneo’s completion within 10 years, at worst, 12 years. 

Definitely not 30 years which is totally unacceptable to Sabahans. Pan Borneo has been flaunted as an economic game changer. 

It is rapidly becoming a fuss like so many other broken promises. Understandably, Sabahans have gotten fed up. PFI is the answer to Sabahans’ deep frustration.

Pan Borneo, PFI & Sabahans First Policy.

Speeding up Pan Borneo can be a unique opportunity for the implementation of Sabahans First Policy. Pan Borneo is being marketed as “THE SAVIOUR PROJECT” for Sabah. 

If Pan Borneo is to have real meaning to Sabahans, it should go beyond just the physical completion.

Pan Borneo can be a decisive opportunity for the Federal Government to show its sincerity in wanting to develop Sabah in all aspects of economic development, meaning 

[a] the physical completion of this highway. 

[b] suitable PFI arrangement, especially Federal government support/guarantee in a speedy manner. 

[c] Capacity building of Sabahans’ companies.

Many non-Sabahan parties, backed by KL vested interests are encircling “Pan Borneo” like sharks. 

Awarding Pan Borneo packages to non-Sabahan companies over Sabahan companies by the Federal government will further confirm that vested interest in KL is in cohort with non-Sabahan companies to grab all federal contracts to the exclusion of Sabahans. 

This has been happening in the past, like the tiny Skybridge in KK. 

The Federal Government must stop this practice, clean up its acts of allowing vested interest to deprive Sabahan companies. In the context of Sabahans First Policy, I like to stress in no uncertain terms that the Federal Government must/should give first preference to genuine Sabahan companies in the award of all the packages of Pan Borneo. 

Sabahans can no longer accept exclusion of Sabahans. The time has passed.

Federal and Sabah Governments must not let non-Sabahan companies, directly or indirectly, be awarded. 

All too often and it is still happening now, that non-Sabahan companies and some hiding behind Sabahans’ name, are awarded contracts. 

All projects in Sabah, be it Federal or Sabah, should be for Sabahans as a matter of economic justice for Sabahans.

The awards of Pan Borneo’s various packages will be the acid test for the sincerity of the Federal Government, political leaders in Putrajaya and senior officials. 

Not giving priority to Sabahans’ companies, especially those that have ability to secure PFI is like rubbing salt to the 50 years festering wounds of economic neglect.

The authorities should also ensure that Sabahan sub-contractors are given a decent price and equitably paid promptly. 

West Malaysian contractors are notorious for absconding paying Sabahan sub-contractors. 

Many have gone bankrupt. They have suffered silently. Nobody in government cares! 

A system can be worked out easily to protect Sabahan sub-contractors. 

Can Sabahan Companies Do It? 

Since time memorial, reason for not awarding contracts to Sabahan companies has been their lack of capacity, etc. 

Please throw such shallow, trivial reasoning out of the window. Sabahans aren’t taking this anymore. 

I am sure there are some, on their own or in consortium with other Sabahan companies can undertake the Pan Borneo.

I am also sure that some Sabahan companies, in their individual capacity or in consortium, can raise the necessary PFI.

Raising PFI by Sabahan companies, with Federal government’s guarantee, should not be an issue.

Why I say that some Sabahan companies can do it? 

Simple. Construction of Pan Borneo is not like going to the moon. Sabahan consultants have the technical knowledge or they would know where to get the solutions.

Sabah’s Ideal Solution—-Political Unity and Assertiveness.

I will say it again and again. The single most serious problem in Sabah’s backward economy is our politicians spending way too much time on political inconsequential trivialities and no focus on economic development and fight for protection of our economic rights. 

Bipartisan approach, combined with assertiveness, is the only solution to Sabah’s bad and underperforming economy. 

Pan Borneo is a God-Sent opportunity for them to showcase this unity. Can the politicians in opposition, as a gesture that they would work for Sabahans’ economic interest, express support for the Sabah government’s “Sabahans First Policy” in Pan Borneo? Can they emerge from their cell to rebuild Sabah’s economy?


The Pan Borneo Highway.

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