Don’t let ‘outside’ events distract us

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CHIEF MINISTER’S CHRISTMAS MESSAGE

First, let me extend a very warm Christmas greetings to all our Christian friends. On behalf of my family, I would like to wish all our Christian friends a Happy and Merry Christmas.

It is the time of the year again that Christians look forward to with full of hope. Twenty-fifth December, every year, is a time of great rejoicing and celebration for our Christian friends.

As always and true to the spirit of our unity in diversity, people of different religious and racial backgrounds are also sharing in the fun and joy of Christmas as a manifestation of their deep respect for the beliefs, custom and tradition of their fellow Sarawakians.

Let us not be distracted by events and happenings outside Sarawak that tends to divide us for as the saying goes “united we stand divided we fall”.

Let me give the reassurance that our state government is one that is committed to being fair to all its people besides Muslims. The setting up of Unifor (Unit for Other Religions) is testimony to our commitment to help other religions besides Islam.

Since this is the end of the year and looking forward to a new year, I would like to share with you some of the things that we have done this year and also in the last two years to ensure that Sarawak is strong in its economic front. To be strong economically is the way forward to build a prosperous Sarawak that all Sarawakians can be proud of and empower us to do many things for the benefits of our people.

With a land size almost as big as Peninsular Malaysia and blessed with abundant resources, the state has tremendous potential to be an economic powerhouse, not only in Malaysia but also in the region. We have to invest heavily in upgrading our infrastructure to harness this potential.

The importance of good road connectivity cannot be overemphasised in the effort to spur economic growth. Without good road infrastructure, we cannot expect to have easy movement of goods and people from one place to another.

A number of large bridge projects have been launched this year across the major rivers to plug the missing links in our connectivity system. When all these bridges are completed, road travel from Sematan to Miri, Limbang and Lawas will be so much easier. Good connectivity is a pre-requisite to a strong economy.

Our agricultural transformation programme also hinges on good infrastructure especially in the hinterland of the Regional Corridor of Renewable Energy or Recoda and the northern part of the State.

In order to be more focused in our approach and for easy management, these hinterland areas have been segmented into three development areas under the Upper Rejang Development Agency (Urda), the Highland Development Agency (HDA) and the Northern Region Development Agency (NRDA). A total of RM4.5 billion will be allocated to develop the infrastructure in these interior areas that include small airports.

By being merely rich in resources would not make the state rich unless we have a well-structured plan to ensure that these resources are used optimally and sustainably to build the economy. We have oil and gas, land and water and the forest, and coupled with human capital and a well-thought out plan, we have all it needs to be a developed state by the year 2030.

We started charting our economic enhancement initiative when the state took over the Bakun hydro dam in 2017 with a very reasonable price of RM2.5 billion from the federal government. We are now in complete control of our power resources and this allows us to better manage our power generation to power the energy-intensive industries, especially in the Samalaju Industrial Park in Bintulu.

This was followed by the formation of the Development Bank of Sarawak or DBOS that has given us the flexibility to fund strategic projects without having to borrow from outside sources.

Our normal yearly budget is not quite sufficient to fund extensive infrastructure development to increase road connectivity, especially in the interior areas of the state and DBOS have allowed us to source for funds internally.

The extensive plan of infrastructure development in Ulu Rejang, the highland areas and the northern region is made possible with the financial facilities offered by DBOS. Therefore, I consider it lucky that we could have DBOS approved by Bank Negara in record time in order to facilitate our development.

In order to have the regulatory power over our oil and gas resources based on our authority under the Oil Mining Ordinance 1958 (OMO 1958), Petros has been set up to be our flagship in furthering the state’s participation in the upstream and upstream activities of the oil and gas industry in the state.

Very soon, as part of its growth, Petros will be tasked with the managing of the domestic gas business in the state that is now under Petronas. The next few years will see more involvement of Petros as more investments are expected in the oil and gas and petrochemical industries in the state.

Being more aware of our rights led us to recognise our power to introduce new revenue streams.

Starting next year, we are also charging a one percent sales tax on aluminium products for export much in the manner we are currently charging the same quantum on palm oil thus treating fairly our export products. This will bring in more revenue that will be channelled back to the people in the form of infrastructure and utilities projects.

With all the various initiatives in place, we can look forward to 2020 with full of optimism. We are fully aware of the fact that we should always be mindful of the three important aspects of managing an economy namely, savings, consumption and investment in order for the state’s economy to be healthy and robust.

The government will continue to take steps to ensure investment, consumption and domestic savings continue to be strong so that Sarawak can sustain its growth and provide the right ecosystem to upgrade the living standard of its people. Starting this year, we are charging 5 percent sales tax on oil and gas products for export that brings home a revenue of about RM3 billion yearly.

As a concerned government, the Sarawak government has implemented a number of programmes and initiatives to help reduce the financial burden of the people, especially the disadvantaged.

Beginning Jan 1 next year, the cost to connect electricity supply service lines to homes worth up to RM5, 000 will be borne by the government. Apart from that, a 70 percent discount will be given if the cost is over RM5, 000. This initiative will enable more disadvantaged group to enjoy electricity in their homes.

For rural and remote areas which are not accessible by the main grid, electricity will be supplied through the Sarawak Alternative Rural Electricity Supply (Sares) using solar power.

The government will also bear the water bills up to RM5 (equivalent to 11,300 liters of water) starting Jan 1 next year where it is expected to benefit 600,000 households statewide.

Similar to the Sares initiative, the Sarawak government has implemented the Sarawak Alternative Water Supply (Sawas) programme as an alternative system to provide clean water to rural people.

In addition, the state government will provide RM450 to mothers who give birth starting next year. This assistance is expected to ease their financial burden on buying a variety of necessities after delivery.

Another aid to mothers is the grant of RM1, 000 to every child born on January 1 next year. The endowment grant that can only be issued once the child reaches the age of 18 is intended to help parents whose children will be pursuing tertiary education.

As we look forward to 2020, I urge all of you to continue to strengthen our commitment to contributing to the state’s harmony and development.

Finally, once again, my family and I wish all of those who are celebrating Christmas, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to all Sarawakians.

Have fun with your family and friends. Thank you.

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