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The Musa factor
Published on: Saturday, November 11, 2017

By Datuk John Lo
The Y generation will have a great impact on the result of the coming GE14.

At the same time, they will also be voting for their future. The world belongs to the Y generation.

As my generation is about to pass, I hope they will allow me to share some economic reflections with them in this article.

The battle line for GE14 is pretty well defined in Sabah now. On one side is BN whose leader is Tan Sri Musa, the Chief Minister of Sabah since 2003. On the opposition side are two coalitions, Gabungan and Pakatan, a few individual parties including Warisan. Musa has been Chief Minister for 15 years and has built up an impressive record of economic achievements, considering the stage of the economy he has inherited.

I shall revert to this later. All the presidents in the opposition parties have been in BN government before.

Shafie [Federal Minister for Rural and Regional Development]], Yong Teck Lee [Chief Minister], Wilfred Bumburing [Minister], Lajim [Deputy Chief Minister], Dr Jeffery [Director Sabah Foundation]. Never in government are Christina Liew and Stephen Wong who are branch heads of their respective parties.

I like, if I may, look back a little in economic perspectives. I have the fortune of living long enough and the opportunity of knowing many political leaders including most chief ministers, present and past.

Being apolitical and an ex-banker I therefore have a bird’s eye view of Sabah’s economy for many years.

It is true that we can never escape from or completely ignore the past. Better still, if we can differentiate the good from the bad and profit from it. Many actions taken by our past and present leaders, are still impacting and will continue to impact us . Of course, no one is perfect.

During the era of Tun Fuad and Tun Mustapha, Sabah’s founding fathers and political giants, Sabah’s economy was purely based on timber for revenue. Cutting down trees was easy and there was a lot of money around.

Such a model was clearly unsustainable. Then Tan Sri Harris, with his “out of the box” strategy and only a true economic leader can, initiated many exciting development programmes, among which are tourism, increased timber price to more than USD500, a level never seen before, industries in paper, gas, hot briquetted iron, ship building, supply base, one million acre-cattle farms in Australia, land for landless Sabahans, and many more.

Harris was the Chief Minister who, with his vision and drive, transformed and propelled Sabah to the number two position state after Selangor. Having done all these, he still could leave office with a huge RM2.5 billion state reserve – a truly remarkable feat of economic leadership. The importance of this reserve has seldom been fully recognised.

After Harris, Sabah become an opposition state. The rationale was political, not economic.

Economically, Sabah then went into a downward tailspin which lasted 9 years. Political leadership without economic leadership ability can bring dire consequences as has been the case in this period of time.

The Harris’ legacies, including the RM2.5 billion reserves soon disappeared. After that, Sabah became a BN state again with Mahathir’s “in and out” two year-rotation for the post of Chief Minister.

It was a sad time for this period was marked with economic “directionless/muddling-through,” – one chief minister after another until Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat seeing Sabah can no longer continue in this “neither here nor there” situation, tried his best, within his 2-year window, initiated a number of actions to restore some semblance of administrative order in Sabah Government.

Musa succeeded Chong. Having achieved a very sizeable business and financial success prior to active politics, Musa immediately began to work on terminating the 2-year rotation. Continuity was important for steady economic growth. Proceeding forward, he set to diversify Sabah’s economy into value added and service industries. Musa’s outstanding economic initiatives include, among others, POIC in Lahad Datu which has become a boom town since.

Tourism has become an important industry, soon to be more sophisticated with SICC, TAED, and many more international hotels. Semporna, was a sleepy little place where tourists would bypass on their way to Pulau Sipadan for diving. No longer. Semporna is now a destination by itself with more than 250,000 tourist arrival each year. Tourism is destined to grow much bigger with his success in reaching an understanding of another one million tourists from China. Looking at the treatment given to Sarawakian bumiputras by the Sarawak Government, Sabah bumiputras are receiving a 5-star treatment/attention as the issuing of NTs is a priority in Sabah. The communal titles to safeguard their land ownership is bringing a new chapter of economic development for them for which efforts, the Chairman of Suhakam has given his full endorsement as the best practice in the country for the Sabah Government.

Musa has built up Sabah’s state reservs to more than RM4 billion. Sabah’s reserve is bigger than Penang’s and Selangor’s. Like an individual with a sizeable saving in the bank, Sabahans can sleep well, knowing there is this RM4 billion to rely on in time of need. It is now acting as an economic stabilising force in the current global economic uncertainties.

For the young, techie generation, Musa has launched the free WIFI service for business executives on the move, convenience for residents and tourists throughout the centre of KK city. This free WIFI service, which is probably the first from any state government in Malaysia, has been made possible by a grant from the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia. KK has been transformed into a smart city with this very important competitive edge that is essential in the digital age.

Talking about loss of rights. Musa prevented the sale of Sabah Foundation timber land when he was the Director of Sabah Foundation. Had this been allowed to go through, a big part of Sabah Foundation’s timber concession would have fallen into private hands. This would represent a major loss of economic rights for Sabah’s in history.

Of necessity, I can only give a very brief account of the past up to present. The Y generation should take time to learn from the past/present and reflect on the future that they desire. They must play a major role in shaping Sabah’s future. Musa has expounded his vision “Halatuju” for Sabah with a lot of success as per above and his “Vision for Sabah” on 26 March 2017. This was published widely by Daily Express and other newspapers.

There are a number of leaders in opposition who may wish to covet the job of Chief Minister or play an important part in Sabah’s future. Coming to my mind are Shafie of Warisan, his deputy Darrel Leiking, Christina Liew of Pakatan Sabah, Yong Teck Lee and Dr Jeffry among many others. Would be appropriate if all these leaders, individually or through their respective parties, give Sabah’s Y generation a chance to size up their respective visions, plans and implementations for Sabah. Always easy to criticise. Much harder to manage and produce economic results. Therefore, all leading opposition leaders should give our Y generation a detailed account of the past economic performance/contributions to Sabah and their detailed economic visions, plans and implementation schedules.

To provide proper perspective for the benefit of Y generation, most of the opposition leaders who, at one time or another, have held high Federal and State level political offices. They should explain to the Y Generation as to what have prevented them from speaking out when they could still do while in government?

In fact, some of them have been urging Sabahans to support the BN government of which they were very much part. While it is their rights to switch parties, the Y generation should be given the opportunity to assess the political convictions of these leaders.

Professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a very well-known Malaysian economist at MU, has expressed a political fact in an opposition forum in KL that the Peninsular leaders of Pakatan are clueless of what Sabahans [and Sarawakians] want on 5th November 2017.


They fly in and out, make rousing speeches, whip up emotion, promise many things.

They don’t say how they will deliver them. They don’t give a coherent vision, no plan. It’s all in the air.

A careful analysis will reveal that different W Malaysians Pakatan leaders can give differing statements on what they want to do for Sabah. Taken all these together, these W Malaysian Pakatan leaders are wanting to serve a “rojak dish” to Sabahans. They only want our votes. All these speeches, by themselves don’t give Sabahans, especially our Y generation a good future. They talk down to Sabahans. They don’t talk with Sabahans.

They have preconceived ideas of our needs. They don’t ask what Sabahans want. This confusing situation has arisen because of the lack of an effective collaboration among the Sabah Pakatan leaders who are overzealous to attack but don’t sit back to think and plan for the future. Some Pakatan ideas are in fact contrary to their practices in Peninsular Malaysia, like limiting the term of office for Chief Minster. Lim Guan Eng has presented his 10th budget and is unlikely to let go of this office. The Sabah Pakatan leaders should bridge this communication gap between them and their leaders in W Malaysia?

Musa will present his budget this month. Can the opposition parties, produce an alternative budget to show that they are serious about managing Sabah’s economy? If they fail to do so, it will give a “red alert” on their incapability to manage Sabah’s economic future.

Pakatan’s manifesto for Sabah is skimpy with promises of autonomy, etc. For the Y generation, they need more than mere statements for their future.

Up to today, opposition coalition or individual party has only slogans and glimpses of their vision for Sabah – no vision, no plan no budget.

The best way to regain Sabah’s pride and economic respectability is for Sabahans to enjoy high income and rewarding employment. Achieving this is not easy. Sabah must have 1st class management in government, a diversified economy with a broad revenue base to finance the expenditure side of the budget and sound economic/financial policies. The opposition must tell the Y generation how they intend to do this, what is the strategy? What are their policies?

Nothing can destroy faster on what have already achieved economically than having a weak political leadership.

So far, the opposition parties, taken as a whole, has not produced a clear leader to lead them into election When selecting a search engine to browse the internet, the Y generation’s first preference is Google by far, which commands more than 60pc of total search by computers and 90pc by mobiles and tablets in the world.

The Y generation’s preference for Google over many other search engines has solid reasons like reliability good service and performance among many others. Their decision is very rationale. They can use the same basis when giving their votes to the leader/party of their choice in the GE14, bearing in mind that “a bad political leader resorts to useless catchy slogans to rouse emotion, a good political leader promotes harmony.

A leader with bad or no economic vision bankrupts the country, a leader with a good economic vision benefits the country with prosperity, employment and financial security for all.

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