AT a recent black tie function organised by the Kota Kinabalu Rotarians, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman was described by his introducer and former banker, Datuk John Lo, as a highly accomplished businessman and politician.
Musa was already wealthy before he was active in politics. In the early 1990s, the speculation was that his net worth was in the hundreds of millions.
When Umno came to power in Sabah, he was called on to head Yayasan Sabah. After that, he became the State’s Finance Minister and eventually Chief Minister in 2003.
The speech given by the Chief Minister at the above-mentioned event went on for more than an hour and though it wasn’t going to win any awards for oratory, it was impassioned and informative. He was in CEO mode explaining the thrust of his “Halatuju” policy and what he intends to do going forward.
Frankly, Sabah has done extremely well under his stewardship, especially when you compare it to the early 1990s when the State Government was so short of funds, that it even had problems making the monthly payroll. Since he took on the position as State Finance Minister in 2001, Sabah’s budget has often turned up to be in surplus, such that the State Government today has around RM3bil in reserves.
At the same time, he has led the Barisan Nasional coalition to sweeping election victories in Sabah during his tenure, to the extent that Sabah is now considered a “fixed deposit”, in election parlance, for the Barisan.
He has also dealt with poverty eradication and his policies have reduced the hardcore poor rate from around 25% to below 5% today. The per capita GDP for Sabah has improved from around RM11,000 in 2005 to around RM20,000 today. While Sabah’s GDP per capita is admittedly low, it has to be balanced with the fact that of its 3.5 million population, 870,000 are not Malaysians, according to a census done in 2015. Sabah is the state with the highest non-citizen population both in absolute numbers as well as percentage of population.
During his tenure, many of State Government GLCs have also been turned around such that today they contribute more than RM200mil a year to the State’s coffers. The State’s civil service too has been generally rated well by Malaysia’s Auditor-General, though the recent corruption scandal involving the State’s water department has put a damper on their reputation, which the Chief Minister has readily acknowledged. He admits the need to push for continual improvement.
While there have been loud calls for Sabah to be given more than the current 5% royalty for its oil and gas, Musa has taken an innovative approach by taking a 25% stake through the State Government owned M3Energy on two major onshore exploration blocks led by Sapura Crest. Should there be any discoveries, Sabah will automatically benefit substantially due to its stake in the PSCs.
Musa admits that his relationship with the Federal Government tends to be co-operative rather than confrontational or combative but feels that this approach benefits Sabah in the long run.
The Chief Minister also outlined the progress of his industrial development policy with the development of the Kota Kinabalu Industrial Park (KKIP), Palm Oil Industrial Clusters (POICs) in Lahad Datu and Sandakan, as well as the Sipitang Oil and Gas Industrial Park (SOGIP).
But the real jewel in the crown for Sabah has been the growth in tourism. The Chief Minister sees this as a major growth industry for Sabah and to this end, there has been numerous high end property developments, especially in Kota Kinabalu.
But what impressed me the most about Musa is his clear call for unity for all races and religions in Sabah. He is not for divisive politics and he walks the talk. His government has funded everything from churches to women’s NGOs in Sabah. He is not your typical populist politician. He is a leader and he runs the State more like a business than a bureaucracy.
From a simply practical point of view, we need Sabahans to be united – both for internal security as well as selling Sabah to tourists as a destination where the people are generally friendly and nice. KK airport is already the second busiest airport in Malaysia after KLIA. KK has also been rated as one of the top ten retirement destinations in the world. In terms of number of tourist arrivals to Sabah, there were 1.1 million in 2002 but this has increased to 3.4 million in 2016 and it is poised to increase significantly in the next few years.
From my own observations, Sabah today has a feel of a place that is about to take off significantly. The hotel room rates in KK are as high as in Kuala Lumpur and the occupancy appears good. The airports are busy and traffic jams are becoming more common. The price of land whether in KK , Keningau, Sandakan or Tawau have all gone up significantly. There is that buzz and feeling of activity.
What is left is to maintain both political and social cohesion within the State and avoid any U-turn in policy and management. I believe Sabah has its best years ahead of it and I hope that the people of Sabah can see that too.
At the end of the above-mentioned KK Rotarian event, a cake was brought out for Musa to celebrate his upcoming birthday. I don’t know what he wished for, but the latest decision by the Barisan Supreme council for the Government not to take up Hadi Awang’s amendments to RU355 or the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, would certainly be a nice birthday present for him and Sabah.
Happy birthday YAB Datuk Seri Musa Aman, many happy returns and wishing you all the best.
Datuk Jema Khan is a former Sabah Umno Youth leader and KL-based businessman who believes in moderation. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.