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Hajiji’s emerging econ strategy for new destiny
Published on: Sunday, November 19, 2023
By: Datuk John Lo
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DATUK Seri Hajiji, as the new CM in September 2020, inherited a very poor economy after the Covid pandemic, almost empty state coffer and negative GDP at 8.7%.

Investment was zero. Most serious was that the Sabah’s economy needed to be restructured very badly. His hardest task was to realign the Sabah/Federal relationship, especially in oil and gas. 

Understandably, Sabahans are impatient. They want an instant cure which, reason will tell, is impossible in the context of Sabah’s long history of economic mismanagement. And they want Sabah to emulate Sarawak blindly. Extremely unwise as Sarawak and Sabah have very different historical political and economic developments.

Vast differences in present political and social circumstances. Sarawak has established self-rule since the days of the White Rajahs and political stability much earlier than Sabah.

Notwithstanding, Sabahans must take charge of our future, must chart our own destiny, topmost priority is to become the economic master of our state again.

2. Hajiji’s strategic economic path for Sabah.

Turning around Sabah’s economy is tough and will continue to be so. Hajiji must have spent much time and effort to choreograph his economic turnaround for Sabah. He has implemented a number of policies deftly.

These policies are showing results. Here are some of the most outstanding ones which Hajiji has implemented and/or is implementing, separately and/or sequentially:

[1] His policies of being CM for all Sabahans and Sabahans First Policy to strengthen unity among Sabahans. Unity is key for Sabahans as a people, to unite and prosper. Divided, we surely will suffer worse fate. Last 40 years have confirmed it. 

[2] To attract various investments, he has initiated a variety of investor friendly policies. As a result, unprecedented investment $$$ have come in and much more are in the pipe line.

[3] He has succeeded to re-align a much more equitable Sabah/Federal relation which has resulted in Sabah regaining a number of rights, the most outstanding of which are in oil and gas and power generation. 

[4] Hajiji and Minister Shahelmy, for the first time in Sabah’s history, have already taken the bull by the horn to solve Sabah’s 30 years old infrastructure problems--namely water and power. 

[5] He has been wise and highly innovative to gather a number of prominent non-politician-Sabahans to assist and advise him. Most outstanding are Tan Sri David Chu [Chairman of SEAC and prominent proper developer], Tan Sri David Wong [former Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak], Tan Sri Andrew Sheng [current Economic Adviser to HK Government and recently appointed Adviser to the China National Financial Regulatory Administration], Datuk Seri Lim Haw Kuang [Former Executive Chairman of Shell Companies in China and current Executive Chairman of SDB]. Hajiji is the first CM to reach out to prominent non-politician Sabahans in business, legal and other professions for advisory. 

[6] Also, Hajiji is the first CM to top-prioritize his attention to solve Sabah decades-old economic problems. 

[7] Hajiji has revamped some GLCs/departments and appointed quite a few proficient officers including State Public Service Director General Zainuddin and Harun to SOGIP. I hope he will make many more similar appointments. 

[8] The most important is Hajiji’s success to attain political stability at the beginning of 2023. Now, he has got more than 2/3 majority in the Legislative Assembly. The presence of 4 ex-CMs, most notably of whom, is Tan Sri Musa, at the GRS Annual Congress is a significant display of political stability and support for Hajiji. 

Sabah must have this political stability for Hajiji to complete his economic turn-around plan.

3. Hajiji has just undertaken another significant initiative of his economic strategy for Sabah. Boosted by unprecedented investment inflow since 2020, he has proceeded to elevate Sabah’s profile to attract investments further. Not contended waiting for investment to knock on Sabah’s door, he has gone on the offensive: 

[1] Hajiji flew to Shenzhen to meet a number of potential investors on 6th November, 2023. 

[2] In another very significant innovative initiative for Sabah’s digital future, the Sabah Government has signed a MOU with Huawei at its headquarters on 7th November 2023. This MOU with Huawei will give an enormous boost for SKN Safar’s digitization initiative for Sabah and his team headed by Doria Tai.

Safar’s digitalization programme can leapfrog Sabah into the 21st century. This MOU with Huawei will provide Sabahans [especially young Sabahans] the very latest technology and opportunity to conduct business, to be on par with the advance countries.

SABAHANS CAN STAY IN SABAH AND GO INTERNATIONAL! Even our farmers, equipped with just a mobile phone, can enjoy direct market access. China has used such technology to give market access to millions of farmers and fishermen!

[3] Hajiji has opened another valuable door for Sabah to reach out to the international economy/market when he called on the Hong Kong Chief Executive Mr. John Lee. They have agreed to establish G to G relationship to advance economic collaboration. HK, being one of the most dynamic financial centres in the world, will be an important window into China and the wider world for Sabah’s GLCs and businessmen.

I am not surprise that Hajiji will establish more G-to-G relationships with other key governments in the near future. The widening development of G-to-G relationships with other governments is very important for the elevation of Sabah’s economic profile.

Sabahan business communities and professional, please take note of this development.

4. As the Hajiji’s economic strategy is progressively taking shape, the following Sabahans must charge up.

[1] There are a few GLCs which are well managed, have strong Boards of Directors, decent management with creditable track records. These are INNOPRISE, SOGIP, SABAH ENERGY, SURIA CAPITAL and KKIP. Individually or combined, these few GLCs have billions and billions of assets that can be unlocked to fuel Sabah’s economic expansion further.

These GLCs have great potential to undertake new economic projects on their own, JV with each other or with non-Sabahan investors.

[2] All too often, Sabahans like to compare Sabah government’s performance with Sarawak government. How comparison Sabahans vs Sarawakians? 


[a] 9 out of 10 Sabahans complain only but contribute little. 9 out of 10 Sarawakians are proactive with their contribution. They have even “invaded” Sabah by the thousands. Sabahans must stop complaining and start contributing.

[b] In the past, our timber tycoons cut down the trees and siphoned off their money to be parked in HK. Sarawakian timber tycoons use their profits from timber to expand Sarawak’s economy and their business in Sabah, W Malaysia, internationally. 

[c] No Sabahan businessman/professional have expanded into Sarawak. Hundreds of Sarawakian businessmen and some professionals have expanded and have well established businesses/practices in Sabah. What does it say about Sabahans in general and Sabahan businessmen and professionals in particular? Sabahan businessmen and professionals better wake up and do something! Stop complaining!

5. Message for Sabah’s private sector—-Ask not what Sabah can do for you. Ask what you can do for Sabah. Sarawak has a much stronger private sector.

[1] There are too many do-nothing-complain-only aging traditional Sabahan businessmen who complain incessantly. They are the HAVE BEENs, they have become history. Same is true for Sabah’s business NGOs including the Chamber of Commerce which have become impotent and irrelevant.

These have become social clubs, made to sever personal interest. Luckily many young Sabahans including a number of returnees from overseas, are proactively establishing new business or taking over their family business.

They are our future, our hope. I appeal to all these young Sabahans to come together, form a new economic force to explore new economic frontiers and to assist Hajiji to expand the Sabah’s economy. 

Towards this end, MIDE Minister Phoong is the most qualified Minister and political leader to work with young Sabahans to create a future for them and for Sabah. Phoong is himself young, energetic, dynamic and can talk the lingo of generation X and Y. What’s more is that entrepreneurship is his portfolio. Hit the jackpot!

[2] The Sabahan business community and professionals must wake up quickly. Stop complaining and bitching. Many non-Sabahan companies are already swarming into Sabah having smelled the scent of opportunities in Hajiji’s new Sabah Economy.

The Sabahan business community and professionals must stop waiting for the MUSANG WANG to drop. They must stand up and march to the forefront in the economic development of Sabah.

6. Sabahans must have self-respect, self-pride and be our own independent people in Malaysia.

To Sabahans who can’t stop complaining, take note of this. Nothing wrong to learn from others. But stop the ceaseless self-humiliation, the self-depreciation, stop the condemnations. Sabahans can be just as good or better. Take up the challenges and opportunities in Hajiji’s economic transformation for Sabah. Stop being the proverbial horse “you can lead the horse to water but you can’t make him drink”.

Sabahans must become the thirsty horse that will drink and drink fast, to take up the challenge to control our economic destiny and regain our economic ownership. Let’s all be Sabahans, united, confident and work hard for Sabah’s future generations.

- The views expressed here are the views of the writer Datuk John Lo and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

- If you have something to share, write to us at: [email protected]



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