FOR THE FUTURE

Malaysia 2019 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

The state of Sabah is striving to achieve sustainable development in a bid to protect its rich and unique biodiversity for future generations.

Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal
BIOGRAPHY
Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal currently serves as Chief Minister of Sabah. He obtained a diploma in management and shipping from London Business College and a bachelor’s degree (honors) in economics from North Staffordshire Polytechnic, UK. He started his career as an economic officer at the Ministry of Finance of Sabah and served in several positions at both the state and federal level before being elected Member of Parliament for Semporna in 1995. Four years later, he became Deputy Minister of Housing and Local Government and Deputy Minister of Defence. In 2004, he was appointed Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs and Minister of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage. In 2009, he became Minister of Rural and Regional Development.

What are some of the cornerstones of your agenda for Sabah?

Under the new government led by Parti Warisan Sabah (Sabah Heritage Party), we are striving to achieve a sustainable form of progress and development, driven by policies for economic growth, environmental protection, and social equity. The interests and welfare of Sabahans always come first in our agenda. In our pursuit of economic growth, we make every effort to satisfy the needs of the people but not at the expense of our precious natural resources. This is important to ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy Sabah's rich and unique biodiversity. To that end, environmental protection plays a crucial part, and we fully appreciate that the foundation for keeping our ecosystem as pristine as possible is to make sure that wildlife and flora are well taken care of and not exploited needlessly. Therefore, we are allocating special zones in our rainforests so wild animals can still have their own sanctuary where they are free to roam and thrive. Likewise, social equity plays a crucial part in Sabah's direction to greater progress and prosperity, and our policy stresses on the importance of meeting the needs of all Sabahans regardless of race and religion. As a multiracial and multicultural society, social equity is important to uphold and maintain unity in Sabah. For progress and prosperity to become real, Sabahans must embrace their diversity. We also have zero tolerance for any kind of extremism, whether racial or religious.

How are you planning to boost human capital development in Sabah?

Since forming the new government in 2018, we have set up a Ministry of Education and Innovation to tailor make courses in order to produce human capital that serves specific industries ranging from hospitality to oil and gas. The mainstream curriculum taught in schools will be supplemented with courses that emphasize on skills. There will be greater focus on skills for specific Sabah-based industries in vocational institutions. Professional occupations in medicine, law, and engineering, among others, remain important, but greater emphasis will be placed on skill training.

How do you view the potential to further develop Sabah as a tourism hub?

Sabah has vast potential to be developed further as a tourism hub. From the mountain tops of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinabalu Park to the deepest waters of the internationally renowned diving treasure of Sipadan Island, there are plenty of attractions to hold any visitor spellbound. What is needed is a more efficient form of coordination and synergy to bring all these attractions together so that they not only offer a visual treat but also create a deeper appreciation for nature. With over 32 ethnic tribes in Sabah, each with their own distinct culture, just discovering about the people in this Land Below the Wind is in itself another attraction for tourists. We seek to increase the number of direct international flights to the Kota Kinabalu International Airport and with our strategic geographical location, we have high hopes of securing that to boost tourism. Similarly, Sabah sits perfectly on the path of cruise liners, and this certainly holds potential that can be explored further.

How do you assess the ease of doing business in Sabah?

Investors will not find it terribly difficult to conduct business in Sabah because of our strategic location within the ASEAN region and the Southeast Asian trade route. There are already tax incentives put in place by the Malaysian government.

Where do you see the greatest untapped investment opportunities in Sabah?

Food production is one such opportunity. Food production in Sabah is largely limited to cottage industries. One example is the honey produced by stingless bees, which are highly prized for its medicinal benefits; however, no major investor has tapped into this. Tawau is one district where tropical fruits such as rambutan, mangoes, and durian can be grown without the use of chemicals and pesticides.