KOTA KINABALU: Sabah has built up a cash reserve of about RM6.78bil, says Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor, adding that the additional funds would be released for urgent projects beneficial for the people.
"We have to build up the reserve and it will be used prudently for the benefit of the people and future generations," he said on Wednesday (May 24) when winding up debates on the motion of thanks for the Governor's Sabah Assembly opening speech on May 22.
Hajiji said this when answering a barrage of questions over various issues mainly from Opposition Warisan assemblymen led by Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.
Hajiji told the house that the state's finances was improving, with income derived from its State Sales Tax (SST) and other investments that saw the revenue rise to about RM7bil against expenditure of about RM5bil in 2022.
On a question about whether the state would terminate the contract with the Tawau gold mining company that is under investigation by MACC for cheating the state of royalties, Hajiji said the matter was under investigation and they were waiting for more details.
He added that they would ensure that the state recovers any money it might have lost.
However, Hajiji agreed with the suggestion for the state to carry out a detailed forensic investigation to ensure the state does not lose out on monies due.
Last week, several people, including directors of the gold mining company were arrested for allegedly under declaring gold mined in Tawau to avoid paying the 5% royalty to the state.
On issuance of mineral prospecting licences, Hajiji said that 30 licences were issued to various companies to prospect for various minerals.
However, he said prospectors need state government approval, as well as environmental and forestry clearance, among others.
"It is only for prospecting, there is no guarantee that there are minerals," he replied to Shafie who asked about a company which was given prospecting licences to mine for nickel in Tongod and Kuamut.
On an order given to former Sabah Forestry Industry (SFI) workers in Sipitang to immediately vacate the workers' residence at the company complex, Hajiji said SFI was bankrupt and the state had asked another company to take over.
So far, the company has yet to make any progress, Hajiji said, adding all the workers have been advised to find alternative jobs and places to stay.
Hajiji said the state would try to assist the former workers of the company which was declared bankrupt over four years ago.
"We have helped them, we have paid their electricity (bills). They have to find new jobs and move forward," Hajiji said.
In his speech, he also addressed logging issues at the Yayasan Sabah concession area in Tawau, progress of oil and gas development in the state as well as informed the house that there were no concrete plans as yet on the Tanjung Aru Eco-Development (TAED) project.