No plans to privatise public utilities

KUCHING: It is currently more suitable for the state government to manage public utilities such as power and water supplies, rather than privatising them as they require substantial funds to run and develop.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg noted that other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States had multiple utility companies, but pointed out that these are developed countries.

He explained that the viability of having multiple utility companies depended on the country’s level of development.

“For us in Sarawak, we are still a developing state and utilities are a very essential infrastructure in order to move our economy forward. At this stage, I think it is better for the government (to manage and develop utilities) because a lot of funds are required for us to build a strong infrastructure,” he said.

He said this in response to a question from the Sarawak Electrical Association during the Chief Minister’s Webinar, titled ‘Sarawak 2021 Budget: Towards a High-Income Society in 2030’, hosted by the Sarawak Business Federation on Monday (Nov 23).

As an example, he said the construction of hydro dams was rather enormous and needed the guarantee of the government.

“At this stage, let the government develop utilities, including water and power. I think the time has not come yet for us to transfer to the private sector because of the enormous budget required,” he said.

Abang Johari said there are also other necessary infrastructure assets which would have to be developed as well in this regard.

On the matter of consolidating different utility bills, he said this was being done by the Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA) in collaboration with the utility companies.

“This means you would be able to pay in one-go via mobile payment — you can amalgamate the whole lot under one platform,” he said.

In response to a question from the Sarawak Association of Marine Industries regarding the status of their application for a piece of state land in Sibu to construct a maritime museum, the chief minister said the application had been received and is being evaluated.

“We will let you know. If the land you are applying for is not suitable, maybe we can have an alternative site for the maritime museum. We will look into it,” he said.

Also present during the webinar were Sarawak Business Federation president Datuk Abang Abdul Karim Tun Openg and deputy president Datuk Philip Ting, who also moderated the session.