YES, Minister: All eyes on transforming economy, strengthening resilience


In Bali, Abang Johari receiving award from Dr Danis Hidayat Sumadilaga, the president of the Institution of Engineers Indonesia and chairman of the Asean Federation of Engineering Organisations. — Photo courtesy of Sarawak Public Communications Unit

THE progression curve over the past three years is very telling. The economy of Sarawak has moved up and beyond at a robust pace, and its resilience has been bolstered by steady investments.

A new story on Sarawak’s new economy is emerging, with chapters that promise to captivate and propel the state and her people into uncharted territory and new frontiers.

We take great pride in the socio-economic accomplishments of the state and the impetus for growth that has persisted has given our people great hope and optimism for the future.

Facts and figures speak volumes, even in the absence of superlatives, and the most cynical of cynics in the academic and political circles would not hesitate to rise in admiration.

Yes, Minister, as Sarawak is making significant strides in its transformation strategy, prudent planning and investments in areas of high priority for the people have paid off, on our path to another surplus budget.

Biggest revenue collected

The healthy financial situation of Sarawak was revealed by the Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg during the delivery of the 2024 Budget speech at State Legislative Assembly (DUN) on Monday (Nov 20).

Its current performance reveals the biggest revenue collection in Sarawak’s history, exceeding all previous records.

Sarawak’s revenue collection, as of October 2023, is RM11.630 billion, which is above the initial revenue forecast of RM11.035 billion. Based on the revenue performance thus far, the revenue collection for 2023 is estimated to be RM12.718 billion.

This is an impressive increase of RM808 million, or seven per cent, over the revenue collected in 2022.

The government has forecast RM12.749 billion in revenue for 2024, which is the biggest amount ever for Sarawak. It also shows how dedicated the administration is to strengthening the state’s financial position. Not easily overwhelmed by the impressive projected revenue generation, the Premier has decided to take a cautious and conservative approach.

Averting unfavourable economic situations

To control economic development or avert unfavourable economic circumstances in the future, the government may choose to restrict specific elements of economic activity. Generally speaking, the public’s economic interests are protected and advanced when a government actively responds to and shapes the economic conditions of a nation.

In the 2024 State Budget, the people factor takes centre stage and underscores the policy thrust on development and a commitment to deepening the people’s participation in all aspects of development and progress – from planning, decision-making, implementation to progressive evaluation.

The Budget’s theme ‘Development for All: Together, Building A Prosperous, Sustainable and United Sarawak’ should effectively translate into a mantra to reinforce and codify the government-people relationship in the new economy and transformation path.

The theme should be seen as more than simply a guiding concept, and must manifest as the government’s steadfast commitment to the people of Sarawak.

In other words, it is expected to be embedded in the development agenda, and to be understood and effectively put to action by those in the public service and corridor of power.

Yes, Minister, as we celebrate the impressive financial achievement and acknowledge the immense opportunities the resource power could generate, we can never be far away from pointing to the importance of ensuring equitable distribution and fairness so that even the most ordinary poor villager in a remote corner of Sarawak will benefit and experience change.

People-centricity still holds sway as a key definer of the development agenda, its underlying philosophy and thrust for balanced and distributive growth.

Budget 2024 has been meticulously crafted to ensure that development reaches every corner of Sarawak. This realisation is mirrored in the Premier’s vision for the impoverished and rural areas.

Sarawak has to move up the ladder to a future where everyone shares prosperity, not just a few, by bridging, if not completely closing, the divides between its rural and urban areas.

Striking a balance

Consistent with his desire and long-term commitment to uplift the well-being of the people, especially those in the rural areas, the Premier has taken a bold and courageous step to strike a balance between responding to the immediate challenges faced by the rural communities, creating more opportunities for Sarawakians, laying a strong foundation for a more resilient and secure economy, and ensuring long-term fiscal sustainability. It is a mightily challenging jugular feat that the Premier has to perform.

On a broader scope, sustainability, adapting to the new wave of challenges and opportunities of the digital economy, exploring and breaking new frontier to harness the local resources, continued political stability and inter-ethnic harmony to ensure Sarawak remains an attractive investment destination, remain essential components of the development story that is dear to Sarawak.

Yes, Minister. They all form an integral part of the development strategy and long-term programme that the Premier has set in motion, and he has been consistent in highlighting them throughout the development narrative.

Value-added industry

The government is dedicated to pursuing an industrialisation agenda to develop the value-added industry, especially the petrochemical industry and the agriculture sector.

This is part of the strategies to turn Sarawak into a resilient and competitive economy.

The state budget reinforces this policy thrust with the provision of increased allocations and expanded initiatives and enablers.

The government will persist in a number of efforts to entice private companies, domestically or outside, to enter Sarawak’s commercial agriculture market. Expanding food production regions by building necessary infrastructure in these areas is one of the major measures to provide funding for more private sector engagement in the agriculture sector.

‘Green economy’

Also central to Sarawak’s industrialisation programme spearheaded by the Premier is the development of the ‘green economy’, which is an alternative growth and development strategy that has the potential to increase social and environmental well-being in addition to economic and quality of life gains.

An essential component of the green economy plan is encouraging the development and use of ecologically-friendly technology.

Premier Abang Johari has taken the lead in steering Sarawak’s seamless shift to a hydrogen-based economy with few complications.

Sarawak is poised to begin large-scale commercial production of green hydrogen by 2027 towards promoting renewable energy and reducing the carbon footprint.

H2biscus and H2ornbill, two noteworthy projects to create hydrogen in Bintulu Petchem Industrial Park in 2027, are worthy of praise. The plants will create new hydrogen-based industries like those that produce fuel cells and electrolysers.

Yes, Minister, Sarawak is dedicated to leading the region in the green economy, and has enacted comprehensive plans and regulations to maximise benefits for companies and the environment.

All of the hydrogen-related projects came into focus in the post-Covid-19 era after the Sarawak government unveiled the Post-Covid-19 Development Strategy (PCDS) 2030 – a comprehensive plan and guide for boosting the state economy and laying the groundwork for a sustainable future for the people.

By launching the hydrogen mission, Sarawak has shown courage and boldness in its efforts to reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and the usage of petroleum, while also advancing the commercialisation of hydrogen and hydrogen fuel-cell technology.

There are already moves underway to hasten the adoption of more environmentally friendly hydrogen energy sources, with Sarawak slated to become the first hydrogen-powered economy in Southeast Asia.

Yes, Minister, the state is anticipated to gain from the transition to a hydrogen-driven economy in a variety of ways, including reduced carbon emissions, improved energy security, and the possibility of economic development and job creation.

The wheel of transformation, incorporating the key enablers and components of digitalisation, green economy, value-added industrialisation, social safety net, people’s participation and increased private sector investment, has been set in motion.

Ahead of the 2030 deadline for transformation, the 2024 State Budget and Development Blueprint have increased the stakes and accelerated the pace.

* Toman Mamora is ‘Tokoh Media Sarawak 2022’, recipient of Shell Journalism Gold Award (1996) and AZAM Best Writer Gold Award (1998). He remains true to his decades-long passion for critical writing as he seeks to gain insight into some untold stories of societal value.