I FEEL rather disturbed by the recent exchange of comments in Parliament about Kelantan. Coming from Kelantan myself, I have long wondered why it is that Kelantan has not made much headway in development. The economy of the state is still in poor shape apparently. It is still relying on help from the federal government. It has always been branded as among the most backward states in Malaysia.
The state has been ruled by different governments all these years since Merdeka. There is no noticeable difference. Maybe one. Kota Baru now has one or two elevated roads. All the other roads remain almost unchanged since my primary school days, except for some widening here and there. Many have been made one-way streets to ease congestion. But come Hari Raya time, the traffic congestion remains almost unbearable.
If not for the unique tastes of nasi dagang and nasi kerabu found only in Kelantan, most of the out-of-state Kelantanese would not want to endure the six-hour journey home. Admittedly, the road journey has improved a lot, what with the completion of the East Coast Highway, which unfortunately ends in Terengganu. It is also unfortunate that the East Coast Rail Link, which should also prove to be a big help in improving the logistics to Kelantan, has been cancelled. It would have eased the travel home by Kelantanese living outside Kelantan. Many Kelantanese reside outside the state. In Kuala Lumpur, many generations of Kelantanese have made the city their home. Many dabble in all kinds of business. But many are professionals holding top positions in companies and governmental institutions. I know not a few have expert knowledge in economic planning.
Kelantan is not short of the key ingredients for economic development. It has the right talent to contribute, though many are spread out in the country. The state is also not deficient in resources. It still has untapped areas of land. Some have been cultivated with the export earning crops of oil palm and rubber. Its timber resources are still sizeable. The state also boasts of many attractive tourism products. In fact, many more from the west coast visit Kelantan than the other states. In terms of flights and express buses, many have Kelantan as their ultimate destination. And Kelantan also enjoys a vibrant border trade with Thailand. Unfortunately, very little is exported out of Kelantan. The Thais export more to Kelantan. Can we change this?
I am convinced that with a bit of shrewd economic planning, there is no reason why Kelantan cannot shake off its backward state image. Firstly, at the moment, most of the raw materials produced in Kelantan are sent to Port Klang and Penang as crude products. We need to add value to the tonnes of crude palm oil and raw rubber before they are sent out.
In other words, we need to attract investments in the downstream processing of such low-value commodities. There are, of course, a few obstacles to make such added-value processing a reality. Reliable infrastructure for more efficient logistics is one.
The state has to invest in roads and also ports. We need to build good ports to enable the state’s finished products to reach markets such as Vietnam, Cambodia and even China. Utilities also have to be reliable if the state wants to attract the downstream manufacturing sector. Such initiatives failed in the past because of poor utility support, especially water.
I believe Kelantan can offer more. It still has many untapped tourism attractions which require some creative refining. I am sure the above is not exhaustive. We need proper long-term planning. It may be time for the state government to assemble a strong team of planners who can think through a good economic plan for the state.
But what is also very important is the effective execution of such plans, with persistence, perseverance and patience. Many good plans have failed because of poor implementation. Get the real professionals to be involved. If the state is truly serious about bringing positive change, it is not impossible. It is doable!
PROF DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Academy of Sciences Malaysia