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Opportunities aplenty
Published on: Sunday, November 05, 2017

By Datuk John Lo
Najib delivered the best ever budget on 28th October 2017 since assuming office as PM.

It is an election budget and the opposition should have expected it. No point to say that PM has used 2018 Federal budget to press for political advantages. Anyone would do it. I would do it if I were in his position.

Also, there is no such thing as a perfect budget. It is natural that the opposition, in the performance of their duty as opposition, will endeavour to tear it to pieces. In all these years, I have never seen a perfect budget in any country, including USA, UK, Australia and Japan. No opposition would praise a government’s budget.

It is just the nature of things in a robust democracy.

I have many issues with Najib. The 2018 Federal budget is not one of them. I wish to compliment Najib for it.

The 2018 Federal budget is as inclusive and comprehensive as it can be. No section of the population has been left out, most touching is those for mothers and new born babies. It is not a “golden spoon” for the new-borns but it is the first in our history and may be also first in world. For the first time, the 2018 Federal budget is racial and religion neutral. Najib has exhibited that he can be PM to all Malaysians.

In as far as Sabahans are concerned, we should look at this budget positively and take up the challenges to continue to improve our personal economic positions with more self-driven determination in the context of the “Musa’s vision for Sabah”. Najib has recognised two very key points about Sabah in his 2018 Federal budget.

Firstly, he has taken into consideration Sabah’s pivotal role of the national political scenario.

Secondly, he has given recognition that Musa has transformed Sabah’s economy. He has therefore incorporated a number of “boosters” in this budget that can propel Sabah’s economy further.

In assessing the 2018 Federal budget, Sabahans should not look at it strictly from the traditional point of how much Najib has allocated for Sabah directly though this is important. We should also look at the indirect effects too. Having said that, Sabahans should not wait for the durians to drop but must go all out to grab the advantages on offer in this 2018 Federal budget. We should do it, as Malaysians in all other states, from Kelantan to Sarawak, will do it with vigorous single mindedness.

2018 Federal budget Direct Benefits for Sabah: - There are too many items but I will select a few for illustration of the direct benefits for Sabah.

[a] RM1.1 billion for rural development. This huge amount is to be shared with Sarawak for bridges, roads streetlights and prayer halls. This item has come in the most appropriate time as many critical small infrastructures in the rural area have been destroyed or damaged in the recent exceptional rain storms.

[b] Rural Electricity: - RM672 mil is allocated including RM620 mil for Sabah and Sarawak involving 10,000 homes. RM300mil for Sabah and Sarawak provided for clean water supply involving 3,000 homes.

Having electricity for these rural homes will complement very well, with the Communal Titles.

These rural folks have land security and now electricity and clean water in their homes, bringing their status equal to or better than many rural residents in the advanced countries.

[c] Airport Expansion for Sandakan: - This expansion will enable Sandakan airport to attract more tourists, especially from China directly. The people of Sandakan can now begin to seriously plan for programmes and tourism products that will give reasons for more tourists to stay longer. If Semporna can attract around 250,000 tourists a year, why not Sandakan where there are many big businessmen who can invest serious money into tourism.

[d] RM2bil for the Pan-Borneo Highway: -This RM2 billion will push for the completion of the next stage of the Pan Borneo Highway. It is already useable in Penampang and has improved land value for many.

The Pan Borneo Highway, when completed, will be the most important economic artery.

[e] RM1bil for SKMM to upgrade the communication infrastructure and broadband facilities in Sabah and Sarawak:

- This allocation will play the most important role for Sabah’s economy, especially in international trade, tourism and for young Sabahans who wish to enter the internet business or e-commerce.

Musa has just launched free WIFI for KK city recently, bringing us on par with Singapore.

[f] RM1 billion for repair of schools in Sabah: This allocation will go a long way to repair schools in the rural area.

The beneficial effects of having properly maintained schools will be felt for many years into the future.

The Federal Government should consider handing over the responsibility to undertake these repairs to Sabah Government for speed and effective management.

[g] RM20 million for surveying and mapping of communal titles for Sabah: - I find this humble RM20m the most meaningful in term of social economic development for Sabahans in the rural area. This allocation is a perfect fit for Musa’s initiatives to protect their economic interest by issuing communal titles for them.

[h] Najib has given GST relief to companies in the oil and gas industry, importing of oil rigs or floating structures effective from 1 January 2018:- Many Sabahans may not realize this relief is hugely important to Sabah and Musa’s vision for our direct investment in oil and gas industry. He formed a Sabah government owned company for this purpose a few years ago. Sarawak copied Musa’s strategy a few months ago.

2018 Federal budget Indirect Benefits for Sabah: Unbelievable but true that Najib’s 11,782 word-2018-budget speech has given numerous provisions that can benefit Sabahans personally or indirectly, from a 2pc reduction of income tax to promotion of tourism to benefits for retirees to transportation. Some indirect benefits are for our political leaders to fight for. However, many are there for the taking by private sector players, especially those who are infused with initiatives. The list literally goes on and on. For illustration purposes, I will just name a few.

[a] Boosting Tourism Industry: - This sector is Sabah’s forte. The 2018 Federal budget is expecting 28 million arrivals which I presume does not include domestic ones. We need to assess what percentage of the total tourist arrivals Sabah should achieve within the next 5 years. Sabah cannot rest on our laurels, especially as Najib has designated 2020 as “Visit Malaysia Year.”

RM500m has been provided for development and promotion of tourism upgrading infrastructure and promotion of homestay and eco-tourism programmes. Sabah can be at the forefront on these.

In view of the shortage of hotel rooms in KK and Semporna, the tax incentives for investment in new 4 and 5-star hotels should benefit Sabah tremendously. Sabah must go all out to promote construction of these hotels.

This incentive has been extended until 31 December 2020.

Likewise, the tax incentive for tour operators has been extended to year of assessment of 2020.

Medical tourism has been given a RM30m to the Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council for promotion.

The private hospitals must pursue this aggressively.

Whole of Sabah must get excited and gear up to welcome an additional 1 million Chinese tourists that Beijing has promised Musa during his last visit to China with DPM.

[b] Prioritise the Welfare of Senior Citizens, People with Disabilities and Children: - The Government will provide an allocation of RM1.7 billion for the welfare of senior citizens, PWDs and children.

[c] Transportation: A sum of RM1 billion has also allocated to Public Transportation Fund for working capital and procurement of assets such as buses and taxis;

The Government has allocated a sum of RM3.9 billion for goods and transport subsidies including cooking gas, flour, cooking oil, electricity and toll.

[d] Schooling Assistance: - A total of RM2.9 billion is also allocated for food assistance, textbooks, per capita grants and Federal Scholarships for schools.

[e] Boosting Agricultural Sector

A large allocation of RM6.5 billion has been provided to assist farmers, fishermen, smallholders and rubber tappers. Sabah must get a fair share in this allocation.

[f] Sabah Labuan Bridge study: -This will be a game changer, if it is to be implemented in the near future.

It will bring economic some relief for Labuan which is suffering from its worst economic depression and a lot of economic development for the south west part of Sabah. Tan Sri Harris has submitted a proposal 4 years ago that will entail exchange of land for the bridge. This proposal can “kill two birds with one stone”.

The bridge will be built without incurring cash payment by the Federal Government.

At the same time, the development on the land to be swapped on both sides of the bridge will provide high end economic activities for Labuan and Sabah, making the bridge viable in the shortest time.

Impacts of 2018 Federal budget in the context of The Musa Vision for Sabah: -

Musa’s Halatuju since its initial launch, has made significant progress into transforming the economy of Sabah.

Because of this, there are many aspects of the 2018 Federal budget that dovetail with the overall future direction of the Musa vision for Sabah. First coming to mind is tourism which I can see will have a major impact on Sabah in view of the many incentives and big promotion sum allocated in the budget. On Sabah’s part, SICC, TAED, many hotels are coming on stream, some of which will be completed in time for the 2020 Visit Malaysia Year.

The drive by Musa to diversify into service industry will pay handsome dividends for Sabahans.

This industry will generate a lot more employment in the near future.

The Sandakan airport extension will position Sandakan as the eco-tourism capital of Malaysia: - The tourism players and tourism assets owners must put their act together.

The GST relief for the oil and gas industry will likewise benefit Sabah, more so if we go into on-shore exploration. Musa has already got for Sabah a 25pc share of Production Sharing Contract.

The Halatuju has foreseen a great need for skilled manpower in our drive for high income status.

Towards this end, there are many incentives, including scholarships and technical training courses in the 2018 Federal budget that can complement the ongoing efforts of the Sabah Government. These are just a few of the many examples.

Najib’s 2018 Federal budget, Halajutu and Musa’s 2018 Sabah budget: - The 2018 Federal budget has been presented in Parliament. Halatuju is widely known. Musa will present his 2018 Sabah budget this month which I am certain will synergise with the first 2 documents. Don’t allow anyone fool you that these 3 documents are political. They are not. These 3 documents are the manifestations of the most important operative/official economic strategies, directions and policies of Federal and Sabah Governments for 2018 and beyond.

In these 3 documents, Sabahans can find the opportunities of economic advancement in carriers, employment and business. Out of sync with these documents is to be out of tune with economic reality, just like swimming against the current. Sabahans, especially those in their 30s and 40s who are keen to get on in life, should undertake some serious perusals of these 3 economic documents so that they and their families can benefit from the many new and exciting opportunities therein.

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