Eyes on Sarawak: From soft to heavy economic development


Sarawak being the largest of Malaysia’s 13 states and its strategic location on the third largest island in the world, will take centre stage once again, as it diversifies from its traditional reliance on mining, agriculture and forestry, into a state of infrastructure, high-tech industries and renewable energy source.

All eyes and ears will be on Sarawak, as the Sarawak Cor­ridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) has proven to be the future growth catalyst for the state.

It is poised to drag the state out of its agro-based comfort zone and embrace a range of indus­tries to help the state achieve high-income status by 2020.

“SCORE will help to diversify our economy so we can expand on traditional industries and develop other sectors such as heavy industries, transport, communications, housing, utili­ties, aquaculture and many more,” said Sarawak Chief Min­ister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mah­mud, who has been the driving force behind the state’s rising economic importance for the past thirty years.

“Since we launched SCORE in 2008, we have al­ready seen healthy investments in a range of sectors and it is an excellent start to helping us become a developed state,” he added.

The main focus of SCORE was to leverage on Sarawak’s energy resources, particularly hydropower (28,000 megawatt (MW)), coal (1.46 billion tonnes) and natural gas (40.9 trillion square cubic feet).

These resources would in turn, allow Sarawak to price its energy competitively and at the same time stimulate investment activities in power generation.

Accordingly the 10 industries slated to spearhead SCORE that had been indentified were alumi­num, glass, steel, oil-based, oil palm, fishing and aquaculture, livestock, timber-based, marine engineering and tourism indus­tries. The main thrust was to boost heavy and energy inten­sive industries, resource-based industries, halal products and eco-tourism.

Being one of the five regional economic corridors in Malay­sia, SCORE stretches across more than 320 kilometres of land from Tanjung Ma­nis and into the in­terior of the central region of Sarawak with key industrial zones located at strategic areas along its path.

It was hoped that SCORE would help to make it easier for most companies to do busi­ness in Sarawak and expand the available opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to feed off the activities of bigger foreign and domestic players.

“The transformation of the state economy is no longer an exercise to restructure the tra­ditional economic sectors such as timber and agro-based indus­tries,” said the Chief Minister.

“Instead, we are increasing value-added activities of timber and agriculture products such as transport and communica­tions.

Most importantly, the trans­formation must involve the creation of new sources of economic growth.” He further pointed out that the programme, which adhered to the principles of the Tenth Malaysia Plan (10MP) for economic devel­opment, was also designed to raise the capacity for knowledge and innova­tion as well as providing fresh job opportunities for skilled tal­ent.

A primary mission was to enrich the lives of people living in remote parts of Sarawak and accelerate growth in these areas.

The two SCORE hotspots are the Samalaju Industrial Park in Bintulu and the Tanjung Manis Halal Hub on the western-most part of the SCORE area.

Also significant was the newly completed Bakun Hydroelectric Dam power station on Balui River, which would generate 2,400MW of electricity once fully commissioned and would be the main source of energy for the in­dustries in Samalaju Industrial Park and other areas.

Other hydro-based power sta­tions have also been planned in Sarawak to provide power for more industries coming into the SCORE area.

On the investment front, Sarawak had secured RM28.55 billion, representing 14 ap­proved projects – five involved in aluminum, two were for polycrystalline silicon-re­lated ventures, five related to silicone, manganese ferro silicone and other ferro alloys, while two projects were for the halal indus­try All but the halal-related projects were at Samalaju In­dustrial Park, which had seen frenetic activity since SCORE was launched and was proving to be a template for the pro­gramme’s success.

Fed by power from the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam, several ma­jor heavy industries had already committed to the park.

One of the biggest names was Japan’s Tokuyama Corpora­tion (Tokuyama Corp), which was building two polycrystal­line silicon plants in Samalaju Industrial Park that would eventually have the capacity to produce more than 20,000 tonnes a year.

Three aluminum production facilities involving five inter­ests, including a solo project by Sarawak’s Press Metal Bintulu, were in the process of building plants at Samalaju while maga­nese and ferro-alloy products were also being produced.

According to industry sources, Hong Kong-based Asia Minerals Ltd (Asia Mineral), Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd (CMS) and Aus­tralia’s OM Holdings (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd (OM Holdings) were busy with manganese, silicone and ferro-related projects.

The other key node, Tanjung Manis Halal Hub, a 77,000 hec­tare piece of agricultural land, had already secured a RM2 billion pledge from Taiwan’s Sea Party International for an aquaculture project.

Several Middle Eastern in­vestors had also expressed interest in Tanjung Manis, which harboured ambitions of becoming the world’s leading halal centre.