Friday, January 21

Developing Tongod from backwater to modern township

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The row of SEDCO shophouses (left) at Tongod.

TONGOD (Nov 14): In the early 90’s, Tongod, a small town in the heart of Sabah, about 270 km from Kota Kinabalu, was literally an economic backwater and almost completely out of communication.

The only physical landmark to speak of about this underprivileged far flung settlement area at that time was an old district office building, a government rest house and a water treatment plant which was still not fully operational.

However, a government proposal to create new townships in Sabah under the 1996-2000 Seventh Malaysia Plan l has brought a new hope and future for Tongod as it was one of the districts in the state earmarked for the proposed high impact rural transformation project.

In 1998, the Sabah Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO), was assigned by the state government to build shophouses in Tongod which was carried out by one of its wholly owned subsidiaries, Perkasa Realty Sdn Bhd (PRSB).

The state government also appointed the Housing and Town Development Board to coordinate the implementation of new township programme in Sabah.

PRSB General Manager Joidin Gahim said SEDCO and PRSB’s success in modernizing a secluded rural district like Tongod was very significant, since it was helping the government to implement one of its important rural transformation programmes.

“SEDCO, a state agency under the State Industrial Development Ministry and at Federal level, affiliated with the Federal Ministry of Economic Affair, set up PRSB in 1977 with a main role to develop shop houses and provide soft loan facilities to Bumiputra entrepreneurs,” Joidin told Bernama.

SEDCO completed building its first 12 units of one-storey shophouses or kedai SEDCO in Tongod in 2001 and another eight two-storey shophouses in 2019, which is now known as SEDCO Tongod Plaza.

SEDCO’S participation in the establishment of new townships in Sabah was being realized through the formation of its wholly owned company, PRSB, which is also involved in bringing socioeconomic development for the Bumiputra entrepreneur community in the state, namely enhancing their ownership of business premises.

The SEDCO shophouses have now become an important landmark in many parts of Sabah, namely in Kinabatangan, Beluran, Beaufort, Sook, Nabawan and Pitas.

Up to 2020, PRSB has implemented more than 80 socio-economic projects, including the construction of 1,353 units of shophouses throughout Sabah, which are mainly catalyst to the creation of new township.

“The bulk of the shophouses were sold to eligible Bumiputera entrepreneurs, while the rest are owned by PRSB with some being rented out,” he said.

Joidin said PRSB’s infrastructural and building component projects were financed through loan and grants from the state, while the Federal Government also provided grants and subsidies.

“God willing, despite of the current economic slowdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic , we’re seriously exploring some diversification initiatives while continuing our core business,” he said.

He said the 20 SEDCO shophouses in Tongod are owned by Bumiputra entrepreneurs, while the town itself is now a scene of thriving business activities supported by much needed infrastructural facilities, including a secondary school, police station and hospital.

Matsaidi Minting, 55, PRSB’s operation manager who was involved in building the SEDCO shophouses in Tongod said he was somewhat shocked when he first arrived there in 1996.

“The place is tranquil and looked more like a ‘lost world’ because the only available facilities were an old district office building and a rest house. Even its water treatment plant was still under construction.

“The physical land view of the old Tongod was so typical of a backward rural district in Sabah and the absence of communication facility made the place almost cut off from the rest of the world. The nearest place to find such facility is at Telupid, which is about 75 km away,” he said.

According to Matsaidi, the nearest village around Tongod was a resettlement scheme at Kampung Magatang about ten kilometres away.

He said the most challenging part however was travelling by land from Telupid town to Tongod, which was either through a 75km red dirt road or 100 km logging track.

“We (PRSB) were supposed to build the first 12 units of single storey shophouses in nine months, but it took us 24 months, due to delays in delivering building materials from Telupid town to Tongod.

“We normally used the red dirt road because of its shorter distance but it gave us a lot of problem especially during rainy days, causing the truck carrying the building materials getting stuck in the mud,” he said remembering the old times there.