Malaysia 2016 | SABAH | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Y.B. Datuk Teo Chee Kang, Minister of Special Tasks for Sabah's Chief Minister's Department, on future government policy, investing in infrastructure, and spreading economic prosperity.

Y.B. Datuk Teo Chee Kang
Y.B. Datuk Teo Chee Kang is a UK-trained lawyer, and a graduate of the University of London. He was called to the English Bar in 1994 and then to the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak in 1995. Thereafter, he ran his legal practice in Kota Kinabalu until 2013. This is Datuk’s second term as state assemblyman, after beginning his first term in 2008 as a back bencher.

What is your assessment of how Sabah is situated for development?

The federal government has designated Kota Kinabalu as one of the four cities on the economic hit list under the 11 Malaysia Plan (11MP). We welcome the development assigned to Kota Kinabalu, especially in improving the public transportation sector, connectivity, safety, social services, ICT communications, landscape, and recreational parks. It will be transformed into a gateway for the natural wonders in Borneo. The vibrancy of Kota Kinabalu is further enhanced by the recent completion of the ecofriendly Oceanus shopping mall and the Imago integrated commercial development. In the medical sector, we have the Gleneagles Medical Center and the Jesselton Medical Center, which is a major improvement in our private medical service for the whole state. There are a number of development projects in the pipeline that will change the skyline and the lives of the people living here. The Sabah International Convention Center will further promote Kota Kinabalu as a major MICE destination.

How will new infrastructure projects open up new areas of trade?

The Pan Borneo Highway is a critical project for Sabah. It will form the much-needed infrastructural backbone of the state. Spanning more than 1,000km across Sabah, it will connect major cities, towns, and districts. It is the key catalyst that will unleash the growth potential in both the urban and rural districts of Sabah. Connectivity and accessibility are important enablers for social and economic development. The decreased transportation costs that the highway will bring about will encompass all sectors of the economy including agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, property development, and a whole range of services sector. Another exciting development in the northern part of Sabah is the collaboration with the Palawan province of the Philippines to promote bilateral trade and tourism. The federal government has already granted $2.1 million for construction of a ramp in Kudat port to prepare for the sea linkage. With the establishment of a sea linkage, we can export items such as building materials, household and electrical goods, all of which are in high demand in Palawan. At the same time, we can import agriculture products like pineapple, bananas, and seafood.

With such a huge amount of economic development, how is the government striking up balance between gains in the private sector and raising the standard of living?

Economic development brings more opportunities for the people. Jobs are created and invariably that would also elevate the standard of living of the people here. When we are talking about development of a state, we always have to keep in mind three inextricably connected aspects: economy, society, and environment. The state of Sabah has the Sabah Development Corridor, and we have many different sectorial plans in tourism and agriculture. We are now formulating a holistic plan for the state to move forward in line with the rest of the country toward becoming a developed nation. We have been working on the Sabah Strategic Long Term Action Plan (Sabah LEAP), and with this plan we envision that Sabah will leap from a state where we have considerable poverty, low electricity in rural areas, and a commodity-based economy, to an economically vibrant, innovative, knowledgeable, sustainable, competent, and investment friendly state. Our vision statement from 2016 to 2025 is that the people of Sabah will lead productive and meaningful lives in harmony with nature and supported by a vibrant and sustainable economy, conserving it for future generations.

Which industries are most prominent within this plan?

We have identified new growth areas, such as the creative industry: art, performing arts, and things like that. We are also optimistic about the oil and gas industry, and with new investors we think it can be an engine of growth in our economy that will create more opportunities in downstream activities.