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Of economic leadership and political leadership
Published on: Sunday, October 22, 2017

By Datuk John Lo
THE General Election can be called anytime between now and May 2018 when the term of this Parliament will end.

Voters should take any General Election, especially the next one, with seriousness as their choice will fundamentally impact on their economic well-being. They should, first of all, be discerning, rationale, objective and not be taken in by racial and religious bigotries or unrealistic promises, make efforts to examine the manifestos of the main contending parties, their policies, characters and their “brain” capacities.

Do the politicians have the necessary credibility and sincerity? Where will these politicians lead Sabah to?

Can they give us more economic progress or bring us into economic stagnancy, ignominy, into a labyrinth, into a black hole?

Sabah voters are matured, having changed political parties in government more times than any state – from Unko to Usno to Berjaya to PBS and to BN. Sabahans have also tasted the sweetness of economic progress and bitter medicine of economic regression. Tan Sri Harris gave us the economic “golden era”.

Then a change of government brought a severe downturn for 9 years. Most of what Harris had built up disappeared like smoke blown away by the wind. Tan Sri Musa began Sabah’s economic rehabilitation with his vision of Halajutu with Sabah’s participation in oil and gas, his vision on tourism, his land reform, especially the implementation of Communal Land Titles which have given land security and certainty to Sabahan natives.

Letting an economy slide down hill is easy and fast as we have experienced in the 1980s.

Nursing and nurturing it back to health and vibrancy is a tough task that needs time, vision, brain, all round experience and above all, strong political will and smart leadership.

Sabah voters must exercise judicious judgement when casting their votes as Sabah is no longer just a single commodity economy, solely dependent on timber. Sabah’s economy may not be as sophisticated as the advanced countries but we already have an economy that is diversified, value-added and service based.

Given the guiding hand of the right person, Sabah can progress by leaps and bounds after the next GE.

With a wrong person in charge, it can slide back into an economic abyss from which we may not climb out again for another generation.

For starters, don’t waste time on political parties and politicians who have been hibernating since the last General Election. These people have only selfish interest in mind, making a lot of noise in the hope of being bought off with a tidy sum. Don’t waste time on them for they are as opportunistic as they come, politically prostituting themselves. Same with the many political frogs.

Then there are some perennial political parties and politicians who may have been in power before but can no longer command much support or those who hope to get elected by whatever means.

Lastly, there are the serious political parties and contenders.

We should focus our attention on the last category. What attributes to look for?

Look at China, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Australia whose citizens enjoy much better income and higher standard of living than us. All their leaders have essentially one focus – competing in offering policies and economic programme with the promise of better quality of lives and good, responsible government to their voters.

What should Sabah voters look for, what should they expect from politicians in this coming GE?

Fortunately, Sabah is free from the W Malaysian madness of racial and religious bigotries.

So, if any political party or politician is tempted to use this narrow-mindedness for campaign, please send them the clearest message possible – We don’t want these bigotries.

To keep our love, respect and harmony in our society, we must encourage and render support to leaders, especially the Chief Minister to be “the leader for all Sabahans”. Our diverse cultures and racial integration are our most precious heritage.

Caution is the “better side of valour” if any political parties/politicians can only scream slogans.

Rousing up emotional support with “Sabah for Sabahans”, reclamation of “Sabah’s lost rights”, “Sabah’s pride” and similar sloganeering “do not bring food to the table”. our future lies with a SOUND economic plan and well-thought out implementation strategy. The bottom line for Sabahans, especially parents with growing children is that such catchphrases cannot create employment, do not provide a monthly pay cheque, generate business opportunities or attract foreign investments.

Sabahans were doped by slogans once upon a time. The economic consequences for Sabahans, except for the very few who got very rich, were calamitous. We have lost a whole generation of economic progress.

Let us not tread this same path again.

-LEADER FOR ALL SABAHANS: Sabah’s unique racial and religious harmony must be maintained at all cost.

We represent the very best of what Malaysia should be. We must elect a leader who can be the leader of all Sabahans.

-ABILITY TO CONTROL AND MANAGE STATE ADMINISTRATIVE MACHINERY: The government machinery can be a monster without good leadership and control. Instead of being an important tool for economic development, it can become the biggest hindrance for progress. Sabah’s administration is in good shape now.

The benchmark standard to look for is easy – the reports of the Auditor General and Malaysia Credit Rating Agency. These can be easily obtained from Google.

-LAND MATTERS: Ability to administrate land is crucial for Sabah as it is a vast resource with great economic potential. Majority of Sabahans are dependent on it for a living. A bad leader will alienate strategic land for selfish reasons. Hence, almost 100pc of Sabah’s palm oil have ended in the hands of non-Sabahans.

A good leader will ensure that land will ultimately benefit Sabahans, especially our future generation.

As our economy grows, the following type of land become valuable – [a] Beach land. [b] Waterfront land. [c] Hill land. [d] Land for affordable housing. [e] Land for agriculture, especially for food production and high value crops.

[f] Musa’s initiative on Communal Land Titles must continue to provide security of landownership for bumiputras.

[g] Sea for cultivation of marine products. [f] Efforts must be made to provide more development opportunities for NT landowners.

-ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION: Many world-renowned environment agencies and NGOs have given credit to our present environment management. Clean air and good environmental practises are healthy for all Sabahans and have already become an important selling point for tourists.

-REFORESTATION: Selfish leaders want to cut down trees for their bank accounts.

Good leaders will endeavour to plant trees for future generations. Sabah has become the world’s leader in tropical reforestation with more than 800,000 ha. An enlightened leader will want to continue with this programme.

-TOURISM: Tourism has become a major provider of employment, business opportunities and major foreign exchange earner in the last 10 years. SICC, TAED and many hotels are coming up.

These will propel the tourism industry higher.

Tourism is employing more Sabahans than any other industry and is perhaps the biggest direct contributor to GDP per capita for Sabahans. The leader after the next GE must be able to provide leadership to leverage SICC, TAED and other many projects already in the pipe line and to produce a MARK 2 tourism vision.

Given the right person to lead, tourism will become a high value industry in Sabah.

-OIL AND GAS: Given that oil consumption by vehicles will decline over the long term as electrical cars take over, Sabah’s strategy to encourage and invest in down-stream, value added industry in Sogit has put Sabah on the right track. Attracting more investment in oil and gas will require a business savvy Sabah Chief Minister.

This industry requires long term heavy investment. His ability to instil and inspire confidence on the investors will be critical.

-ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS: Sabah’s influx of migrants, legalised or otherwise, is already a factual reality.

While they have taken up jobs that Sabahans are reluctant to accept, they have also become a hindrance for us to achieve a higher income regime. More low-level immigrants will act against our efforts to achieve high income.

An important question for Sabahans to ask is – will we want to elect a leader who will encourage more low-level, low skill migrants?

-SABAH GOVERNMENT’S RESERVE: Older Sabahan civil servants will remember that the State Government was so poor at one time that it had to rely on Federal loan to pay the civil servants. Our Sabah pride hit the dirt floor!

Sabah can command respect now because we have a healthy reserve which is better than Selangor and Penang.

This reserve is now giving us an important force of stability. A good Sabah leader should continue building up this reserve – not spending it for short term political interest.

-SABAH’S ECONOMIC JOURNEY: Harris started Sabah’s economic journey on a high note, then it was grounded to a stop after he stepped down. Musa has the onerous task of re-energizing it again.

We have made a lot of progress but this economic journey towards high income economy still has a long way to go. For sure, stopping this journey or let it regress back again is not an option. We must push on. -VISION, POLICIES, MANAGEMENT: Last not least, let me touch on policies and vision a good leader should have for Sabah. As I have said earlier, Sabah’s economy has evolved and become fairly sophisticated since Musa became CM. Leading and directing Sabah’s prosperity into the future will be a complex challenge, one that will need economic leadership and brains not brawn.

Once GE is over, politics should recess into the background. Economic development should be the focus.

Don’t waste your votes on a sloganeering politician. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore had transformed Singapore into a world class country because he was an exceptional good economic leader.

So was Deng Xiao Ping who had initiated a miraculous transformation for China.

Invest your votes and your future in a leader with proven economic leadership.

A sloganeering leader will produce economic stagnation and regression.

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