You will be voting to decide Sabah’s economic future
Published on: Sunday, April 15, 2018

By Datuk John Lo
Since gaining independence, Sabah has experienced two distinct periods of good economic growth.

For the rest of the time, there was moderate or bad economic performance. Tan Sri Harris was truly a pioneer and a visionary, well ahead of his time. Had leaders after him continued his efforts, Sabah would have seen a lot more economic growth.

He initiated many things that would have established Sabah’s economic foundation.

Some examples are Sabah’s 1st 5-star hotel [Shangri-La Tanjong Aru Resort], paper and pulp mill, feed mill, shipyard, gas, 976,000 land for landless Sabahans [unfortunately this was hijacked after he left office], hundreds of miles of rural roads. On top of all these initiatives, he still managed to leave more than RM2 billion reserves in the Treasury. Investment was flowing in. This was Sabah’s golden era.

After Harris, came a long period of deep depression. Sabah assets were put on cheap sale. Genuine businessmen avoided coming except those looking for short term “sales deals”. The state reserves of RM2 billion plus accumulated by Harris plunged to more than RM2 billion negative – more than RM4 billon had disappeared.

The state government was forced to take federal loans to pay civil servants

Under the initial part of BN rule, the 2-year rotation musical chair for CM was a very bad idea.

The economy was directionless and rudderless. Due credit to Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat who had the foresight to initiate reform in the state administration. After him, Tan Sri Musa, with his business back ground, turned the economy around.

Pulling it out from the economic abyss in the 1980s and 1990s to its present level was an onerous job.

With his Halajutu vision, he has expanded and value-added on tourism, oil and gas manufacturing and agriculture. All the GLCs are now profitable. These GLCs accumulated billions of losses in the 1980s and1990s.

Most importantly, Sabah’s coffer has more than RM4 billion reserves.

I have written above before and like to take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of economic leadership after G$14. As voters, Sabahans have placed minimal emphasis on economic policies, performance and ability.

We tend to complain and gossip about politicians but have failed to demand those in power to perform.

What is the purpose of general election? It is our constitutional right to elect representatives to WORK FOR US.

If we vote in a CM with self-interest, incapable to perform, then it is us who is at fault. We deserve who we voted for. Sabahans, by and large, are not bothered about this as they have voted some really useless politicians who have been in office for years and years. We use our hearts and not our heads.

Some have blamed Sabah’s lack of economic growth on the Federal Government. I would say this.

Sabahan leaders who are poor in economic leadership, incapable and selfish are just as much, if not more, to blame as the Federal Government. Many have sung praises for the Federal Government while holding high office.

When they are out, they sing a different tune. They have, by their very neglect, failed to protect Sabah’s economic rights. They have cared for their political interest and pockets at our expense.

Sabahans should take care to study all the manifestos carefully with some of the undermentioned considerations.

Who is best to be Sabah’s CM after GE14? Our choice of CM for GE14 is very important for our economic future.

Our economic future will be in his hands.

There are several political coalitions with their respective heads hoping to be Sabah’s next CM.

The CM post is the highest office in Sabah. We should put aside emotion and carefully consider who is the right person Sabahans should vote for CM after GE14.

Wrong choice could mean regress back to the 1980s and 1990s. Right choice will bring more progress, more business opportunities, more employment, more tourists, more investment and greater state reserves.

The votes are ours to cast. Who to be Sabah’s next CM is for us to decide – our responsibility to decide.

What to look for on Sabah’s next CM?

Foremost, look at the person. Does he have the economic charisma [as opposed to political charisma] to bring us progress? Does he have the right track records? What economic progress has he brought for Sabahans when he was in high office? Has he been able to “think out of box” to solve Sabah’s economic problems?

Has he introduced new and/or value-added industries like MICE and Sabah International Convention Centre?

Can he manage the economy?

Can he steer our economy into more growth in a global economy that is increasingly getting more complex, competitive and uncertain? Does he have the credentials to attract investments?

Does he have the capability to continue the present good relationship that Musa has cultivated with China and other countries?

Most Sabahans would have their own questions. To me the most important thing to look for is – does he have a good economic vision and capacity to implement it to enhance the economic prospects of our future generations.

Examine the manifestos. All the coalitions will publish their manifestos before polling day.

All the CM hopefuls are senior leaders who would have final say to their respective manifestos.

Though manifestos are not economic visions like Musa’s Halajutu, they do provide some insights.

Examine them carefully. Are there sufficient economic considerations in the manifestos?

Do they make sense to you? Can you see your and your children’s economic future in these manifestos?

Can he manage and grow the economy? Don’t take political talks and promises at face value.

Sabahans have seen many such promises only to be disappointed by none or poor delivery.

In assessing whom we should vote for CM, we must put him under close scrutiny with special focus on his track records in economic management, his economic contributions in creating new industries, better job and business opportunities. Measure his performance in relations to budgets allocated to him. Has he been able to translate his budgets into economic opportunities for Sabahans? This assessment can be done as all those aspiring to be CM after GE14 have been CM, federal ministers and/or held high state/federal political offices.

Consequences of wrong choice. There is no need to deal with the scenario of Sabahans having made the right choice on CM after GE14 except to take comfort that current economic path of more economic opportunities and more jobs will continue. Utmost important is for Sabahans to realize the consequences of a bad choice for CM after GE14.

To ruin the economy or cause it to collapse is easy. We have seen it in the mid 1980s.

All it takes is a few years if the CM after GE14 cannot manage or is greedy to wipe out what we have now.

Don’t think this will not happen as it has happened before. If Sabahans make the wrong choice, the consequences can be very serious. Growing the economy, creating jobs and new industries and attracting investments need brain, hard work, vision and most importantly, economic leadership. Democratic practice, competitive visions, plans and implementation strategy.

Manifestos are not good enough. In accordance to normal democratic practice in advance countries, all aspirants to be CM after GE14 should, in fairness, offer their respective visions, plans and implementation strategy.

Any candidate who has not or could not produce a better, competitive vision, plan and implementation cannot expect Sabahans to entrust their future into his hands. Sabahans must be able to compare and assess these candidates in a logical and objective manner. Sabahans should choose the best man to serve our economic interest.

Do ourselves a favour ignore the emotion, throw away the political double talks, give your vote to the person who can best deliver.

A vote for the right candidate is a vote for ourselves, for a better economic future for ourselves and our children.

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