Tanjung Manis, long a favourite hobby horse, has begun to run out of steam.
The oft touted 77,000-hectare swathe of coastal land earmarked to turn Sarawak into the home of a hub all things halal has slid off the developmental agenda.
Leadership of the integrated port project has been reshuff led; governmental backing has since wavered.
Its fate, at the moment, seems bleak and uncertain.
That recent reconnaissance which unveiled less than promising vital signs is another nail in the coffin of confidence for what was originally envisioned as a crucial element in the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).
As a report published in the Borneo Post on July 20 detailed, “activities to suggest that work had begun in earnest” were hard to come by at sites in Tanjung Manis.
Instead, what the entourage of reporters discovered were dense forests and roads catered from the weight of overloaded trucks hauling out palm oil bunches.
Tanjung Manis faces more hurdles than just plain old neglect.
Just next door, Brunei has already drawn out a plan to build a halal hub of its own, but with an overwhelming 1,000 halalcertified factories.
This would serve up a devastating amount of competition, all in the same neighbourhood, for Tanjung Manis that could prove derailing during its juvenile stages of development.
The Koperasi Bumiputera Bersatu Bhd (KBBB), a large cooperative in Brunei, has billed the mega-project the Asean Halal Food Park.
The last significant news out of Tanjung Manis came in the beginning of July, when it was announced that Kuwait Finance House would be opening up a branch in the wind-swept town – the first commercial bank on site.
This is a plus and comes much awaited to many Sarawakian backers, but it could be a bit too little too late.
Perhaps the largest impediment for Tanjung Manis is that it has quietly fallen out of favour with top officials, who instead prefer to now highlight Samalaju’s success, reserving the halal hub as an anecdote for a challenge that was certain to be relegated to its current unimpressive condition.
Tanjung Manis, it could be said, is in danger of becoming a dud.
But is there any hope for SCORE’s black sheep? Taiwan and Japan have made committed investments in the halal hub – why they were not highlighted or their facilities made public in photos is another story.
Nonetheless, interest has been signed and billions of ringgit already pumped into basic infrastructure, such as roads, electricity, water and an airport.
Sarawak will need to instantly address the deflated image the project has garnered if confidence is to be salvaged, as well as this public spending.
Tanjung Manis isn’t a goner yet, but it will be worth it to watch what happens to this sinking ship.
Justin Calderon is a research analyst at www.investvine. com, a news portal owned by Inside Investor focusing on Southeast Asian economic topics as well as trade and investment relations between Asian and the Guld Cooperation Council.
The views expressed are his own.