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Sabah needs to address system failures
Published on: Sunday, July 18, 2021
By: Datuk John Lo
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IN advanced countries Government policies and administration/implementation system are in sync with the private sector, government leaders providing leadership to drive the economy with clear directions, well defined policies, effective implementation strategy and where appropriate, financial assistance and/or incentives for the private sectors to thrive and prosper. Singapore and China have gone one step further with their excellently well managed GLCs or SOEs [State Owned Enterprises]. Often, these organizations are the economic engines, occupying pioneering leadership roles in seeking out new economic endeavours, expanding their business foot prints overseas, creating economic opportunities for the domestic private sectors. This is even evident in Sabah as more and more China state owned contractors are snapping up most of the major projects.

Hidden cost of Sabah’s High Business/living Expense.

Why doing business in Sabah is expensive? Because Sabah has many aspects of government policies and administration/implementations that [a] are not conducive for development of the private sector and foreign investors who have come from a very efficient/competitive environment. [b] lacking in clarity. [c] mushrooming unnecessary hidden expenses. [d] reducing competitiveness edge. 

All these hidden costs from our systemic system failures add up to make Sabah one of the most, if not the most expensive place to do business and to live. No running away, they can’t be ignored, we must face the devils and resolved our fundamental faults.

In the followings, I will endeavour to show what I mean.

Time Is Money, Delays Are Costly.

We pride ourselves when outsiders praise us for easy going, Sabah is relaxing. Why? In much of Sabah’s government system, time is eternal, immaterial and costless. Much too common is this, there is no fixed time frame to provide a response to query or request from members of the public. Usual answers are >>>[a] “Come back” without even bothering to provide a specific a day or time. Often, the same answer would be repeated in the next visit. This can continue ad nauseum. [b] “The officer has gone for coffee break.” Why should service stop just for an officer to go for coffee? Why should members of the public wait for the officer to return. [c] Service can also stop for a few days to weeks when an officer has gone to attend meetings at HO or on a course. [d] In the Federal offices, the most popular response is “waiting for Putrajaya”. Is there no delegation for mundane stuff? What are the chauffeur-driven, highly paid federal officers doing in Sabah? Have they no power at all to decide? Or are they just messengers? The basic principle should be for the federal officers to solve and approve at least 90pc of Sabahans’ requirement. [e] The most damaging case are road repairs which cause massive traffic jams. The time cost to the public and fuel wasted in these jams must be tremendous. But nobody in authority cares or bothers to plan to minimize inconvenience to the public. [f] The already too well-known long delays and the administrative nightmares of developers in getting development approvals are costing them tons of money. Such costs, without exception, are passed down to house buyers. Masidi has vowed to sort out this perennial cancer.

All these and more examples of systemic system failures in time management by government are very costly, a huge damper to economic growth and serious deterrents to investors. Much of the government’s administrative system needs a total revamp to transform it to time sensitive. This will involve system and above all, mindset transformation [more of this later].

How nice if all the departments/agencies can provide quality service like those in the UTCs.

Simple “Follow-Ups” Can Improve System Immensely. 

Follow up is the simplest management tool ever invented by man. Even the “brain dead” can do it. Every successful person uses it to succeed in life. You strike lottery if you have been accorded a “follow up” from a politician or a government officer who has followed up with you on any matter. On the contrary, if you follow up on any matter with a politician or a government officer, it is like chasing after a ghost cos, inevitably, he does not know what you are talking about, there is no record in the system, or the filing is missing. So, you have to start explaining from the beginning all over again.

In a well-managed country, follow ups are common. It is so easy nowadays with computerization. 

Policies, Administrative System Must Facilitate, Not Obstruct.

Many policies look beautiful in words, coated and crafted in flowery language, uttered by sleek tongues. Had some of these policies been genuinely and promptly implemented, Sabah should not have such extensive poverty. 

Reality in every day practice? Almost without exception, everywhere is an unfathomable maze, from missing files to pushing the buck, to insinuations, to “you know what to do lah”.

For Sabah to progress, the public and private sectors must synchronise as a single unit. Policies and administrative system must facilitate and not obstruct like now. Getting decisions/approval and things done in Sabah are like pushing a buffalo through the hole of a needle. 

The private sector should and must NOT be treated as an object for fleecing.

There are more far too many obstractive practices than helpful ones.


Heavy Cost of Procrastinations, Systemic System Malfunctions.

Procrastinations and systemic system malfunctions are very costly and are one of the main unrecognized reasons for Sabah’s economic backwardness >>>[a] They cause poor implementation of projects, costly delays and poor quality. Don’t need to look further than our bumpy and potholed roads in the city, awful maintenance in rural roads. [b] They cause poor quality in construction, especially government buildings. Also, inferior houses which are 30pc more expensive. [c] All these are creating heavy financial burdens in interest cost and cash flow problems throughout the economy, especially for businessmen. [d] The government is also a victim in that it has much lesser or slower collection of revenue, high unemployment rate, constricted/smothered multiplier effects. All these inflict heavy negatives on Sabah’s economic growth.

The real victims? Sabahans in the form of higher prices and lower income. 

Mindset Change A Must For Sabah’s Economic Improvements.

Proposal for solutions to all the above re no better than unproductive platitudes and worthless promises being regurgitated daily by many politicians in the newspapers if there is no mindset transformation>>>[a] among political leaders who, I hope, can acquire the rare attributes of statesmanship, economic leadership and vision to put things right for Sabah. Political leaders with these 3 qualities stand head and shoulder above other politicians. They are genuine leaders in the truest sense of the word. Such political leaders are ‘blue diamond” rarities. Everyone can be a politician but few can achieve statesmanship. [b] When politicians have matured to statesmanship, the civil service, by natural extension, will be transformed. I have met many senior officials who are perfectly capable of assuming transformative roles but given no opportunities to do so. Likewise, the private sector. [c] Ultimate priority for mindset change is to achieve upgrade and protection of Sabahans’ economic interest.

Give priority to solve these simple housekeeping problems as they are within Sabah’s total control. 





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