Interview

Shafie Apdal

Chief Ministers of Sabah

We need to build up our capacity and that is why we have set up a ministry of education and innovation for the first time in history. To ensure that we will have enough supply of human capital capable of providing the skills, that will be required in all the priority sectors.

Asean Business Leaders: You have been appointed the new Chief Minister of Sabah earlier this year. What would be your main priorities to take under your leadership?

Shafie Apdal: First of all, I would like to say thank you for inviting me. The question that you’ve asked is a big question, but to start, we are so grateful we have won the last election (GE14). We believe it was a voice coming from the people and we believe that the people who voted us in have in mind that we will do something different and that it will definitely benefit Sabahans and put Sabah in the right place.

Not only to provide job opportunities but also to ensure that Sabah will be a developed state. Having said that, I am looking into certain criteria where Sabah has some advantages in comparison to the other states in Malaysia and also comparing with other regional countries, like Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. We must be so grateful that Sabah is blessed in terms of resources, culture and the beauty of the place.

If we want to know to what level we want to bring Sabah, we have to look at what we want to become. We have the necessities to become a competitive state in this part of the region. That’s one of the reasons why the way forward is industrialization. I believe that it has been seen in many parts of the world that many countries are blessed with resources, but they have not gone far with exploiting these resources to the maximum. Our focus is to ensure that the way forward is industrialization. However, we do need the appropriate manpower. We also need to identify the best sector that has the biggest advantage; we cannot be too ambitious. We have limited capacity in terms of finance and human resources, so these areas need to be enhanced to make sure that we are on a competitive level when the time comes. At the end of the day, the people in Sabah will benefit out of industrialization because job and business opportunities will be there. It cannot be done overnight, but it will be done. Sabah has the most potential and not only the state will benefit out of it, but the whole country. One good example is the tourism tax where 70% of the tax collected goes

to the central government fund. So, it is not only for Sabah, but also for Malaysia.

Asean Business Leaders: What are the measures and plans for the government of Sabah to upgrade the infrastructure in terms of connectivity. I heard that there’s a local carrier “Sabah Air” in mind, could you please elaborate on this?

Shafie Apdal: We need to build up our capacity and that is why we have set up a ministry of education and innovation for the first time in history. To ensure that we will have enough supply of human capital capable of providing the skills that will be required in all the priority sectors. So, infrastructure is definitely one area we are focussed on. Networking and connectivity are indeed very crucial parts we need to strengthen. We are indeed a bit behind when you talk about infrastructure; this is something we definitely need to look into. Whatever we have, we must maximize to the best possible. Recently in Budget 2019, the Central Government is going to allocate RM5 billion (approximately USD1,195 billion) and I do hope that some of the areas I mentioned will be enhanced. I’m quite sure that when that’s done, Sabah will become a better place.

Asean Business Leaders: According to our research, one of the most ambitious projects that is undergoing in Borneo is the expansion in Sabah Ports, particularly at the Sapangar Bay Container Terminal.

Can you please elaborate a bit here and to what extent do you consider that this project might become an important contributor to serve the East Asean Growth Area that will cover Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and The Philippines (BIMP-EAGA)?

Shafie Apdal: As I said earlier, we are so blessed with all the natural resources. However, if we want to move forward the market will not only be in Sabah, but the whole region. This is the area where we need to have proper infrastructure, in terms of roads, an improved and extended rail line and more ports. I am sure we can export all goods, but we need to have a proper deepwater port to make sure Sabah can be easily accessed by the nearest markets. Kota Kinabalu and Sapangar ports have been there, but the capacity needs to be enhanced. For this, we need to look at the environment within that area. For the time being we need to analyse what is the best way to enhance and the way cargo can be handled most efficiently. I’m quite sure this will enable Sabah to move forward, to make sure we can not only import cargo to the state but also export out of the state. I will say it again, industrialization is the only way forward. The way forward will also require a new port. Sabah is located quite centrally, it’s near to Japan, China and Hong Kong. So, if we were to develop new port like in Kudat, besides Sapangar, I’m quite sure the country will benefit.

Asean Business Leaders: Education is one of the most important social aspects; you just mentioned that for the first time there’s a ministry of education. How do you think this will impact on the development of human capital in the State?

Shafie Apdal: For us to develop Sabah, we need the human capital and the right kind of skilled manpower, so that they can be in sync with the industrialization plans. You can’t have the right manpower, if you keep depending on foreign workers. For the long run we have to develop the human capital in Sabah coming from the local’s self. But we must prioritize certain sectors. To ensure we have the right manpower, the new ministry must be imbedded with all programs that we have planned. On our roadmap to move forward, in order to develop the necessary skilled labour, we have to discuss with the industries what the requirements are. For us it is important to have that comprehensive way forward for Sabah on human capital development and this is what we are doing.

Asean Business Leaders: It is well-known that Sabah is blessed with abundance of natural resources. Which areas of the economy the state of Sabah would like to see more foreign participation?

Shafie Apdal: We are blessed with oil and gas. I think it’s now important for us to discuss how to further develop and expand the capacity of this industry we have. We are looking in to going downstream. Take timber for example - if we go downstream, it will not only generate more revenue, but more job opportunities are also offered. We shall look in to the various institutions that we need to develop, not only gas and natural resources, but also in terms of timber and palm oil. I believe Sabah has been the backbone for Malaysia in terms of providing palm oil, but we need to ensure we also have value-added downstream activities.

Asean Business Leaders: What Mahathir’s return means to Malaysia and the state of Sabah?

Shafie Apdal: Having someone like Mahathir is definitely a blessing, because I believe that there was something wrong previously with our system. Now many people realize that we have heavy debts to be paid. We need to have a proper leader, with the right leadership values and strong will power, just like Mahathir. Someone who can ensure Malaysia will be on the right path. Although he’s already at an advanced age, he still has the desire and knows what is best for Malaysia. We have the ability to pay our debts, but also the security that Malaysia will be competitive and not only be known in our region, but to the world. To have Mahathir is what Malaysians want, to ensure we are on the right track. Mahathir is the right guy for this country. At this age he should be spending his time with his family, but as a person who is so devoted and compassionate, he chose to lead Malaysia back to the right track. And we are indeed grateful to have him around to lead the country.

Asean Business Leaders: Is there any topic that I left out that you would like to mention?

Shafie Apdal: I hope that for the future there will be a lot of investors coming in to Sabah, to ensure that we have the financial capacity to develop the state. Although, we have the resources, in terms of manpower and finance we are quite limited. There are also constraints with energy and water supply but all efforts are being made to overcome these issues. We are already making headway in solving these constraints and we are confident that Sabah will become a hub for investors in the near future.