LAHAD DATU,: Sabah has held an ambition to be developed and be a high income state for as long as anybody could remember and serious changes, or at lease moves to change, are expected when Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor visits Lahad Datu.
The Chief Minister’s main itinerary is the launching of the POIC Port and the POIC Bulking Installation.
Both are located within the state-owned POIC Lahad Datu with a rising profile among state initiatives towards realizing the numerous growth goals of the State Government under its Sabah Maju Jaya development blueprint.
Initiated by the state in 2005, POIC Lahad Datu is primarily conceived to serve as an industrial park to promote the downstream industries leveraging on the abundant palm oil and plantation/mill residues to manufacture value-added products.
For the record, Sabah has over 1.55 million hectares of high yield oil palm plantations until taken over by Sarawak recently as Malaysia’s top palm oil producer.
55 foreign and Malaysian companies have ploughed in over RM3 billion in investments.
The upcoming visits by top state leaders is expected to bring into focus the state’s desire for Sabah’s east coast, particularly Lahad Datu, to be the funnel through which major new investments will come through.
Although huge potentials still abound in oil palm, the new narrative is global – presenting:
First Sabah’s centrality in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which, combining the economies of its 10 ASEAN members with five partners (China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) is touted as the world’s largest economic partnership;
Second combining Sabah’s resources and potentials as a package with its member territories of the four-nation BIMP-EAGA polygon of 80 million people spread over 1.6 million square kilometres of land and sea with resources from oil palm to petroleum to timber and coal; and
Third Lahad Datu’s natural deep harbour being located along the increasingly important Lombok-Makassar shipping route vital to mega vessel movement from the Indian Ocean and Oceania Australia, and New Zealand to China, South Korea, Japan and the Pacific.
The potentials of Sabah’s east coast anchoring on Lahad Datu were acknowledged by the State and federal governments through a combined funding in access of RM1 billion for the POIC Lahad Datu industrial park and its port facilities.
Between 2013 and 2018, the POIC Port complex that combine a terminal each for barging, liquid bulk, dry bulk and container cargo went into operation one after another.
As of July 2022, the terminals combined for about ten million metric tonnes of cargo. Port throughput determines its profitability.
Under its parent POIC Sabah Sdn Bhd, plans have been drawn to offer Sabah as a logistics hub for BIMP-EAGA.
One aspect seeks to draw the numerous resources from the region for amalgamation and attract investors to go downstream, thus generating cargo.
For example, edible bird nests and seaweed widely produced in BIMP-EAGA could potentially be value-added at Lahad Datu for export to the rest of the world.
Hajiji’s administration has approved the start of a study into the viability of building an international airport at Lahad Datu, as well as a maritime transport hub that will be a boom to connecting the mostly island territories of EAGA and facilitate trade.
The visit, Hajiji’s first to POIC Lahad Datu, is likely to stimulate dialogue on Sabah’s need for new revenue potentials, like any business needing to create additional income streams to grow income, Sabah’s desire to shake off its dubious title as a poor state can start with looking away from traditional income headings in the state GDP.
The latest GDP figure shows Sabah’s manufacturing sector stagnant at just 8.5% of its GDP.
The national figure 24.4%. Sarawak, which used to lag behind Sabah for many year, recorded 11%.
Appropriately, Sabah Maju Jaya wants that figure at 30% by 2025. Sceptics have dismissed that as overly ambitious.
If the cards are played right and ambition tempered, an economic miracle may yet emerge from a presently nondescript region of Borneo where, about an hour’s flight away, a spanking new capital of Indonesia call Nusantara is slowly but surely emerging.