Interview: Mohd Yaakub Johari

Have SEDIA’s priorities shifted following the launch of the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP)?

MOHD YAAKUB JOHARI: We are heading towards the third and final phase in the growth of Sabah Development Corridor (SDC), having established much of the architecture to support investment, accompanied by incentives customised to investors’ requirements. Key to the third phase will be expansion of Sapangar Container Port, a master plan for the planned aviation and air freight logistics hub, construction of a jetty in Palm Oil Industrial Cluster Sandakan, and the overhaul of internet connectivity in the state’s capital, Kota Kinabalu.

The Sapangar expansion is a game-changer for the transformation of Kota Kinabalu, and we aim to launch the tender process in 2017. Now that opportunities are opening up via participation in the ASEAN Economic Community we are engaging more with foreign investors. Federal government support through the 11MP will also allow us to engage more with our regional trading partners. With the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, I am more optimistic about our development. Once the agreement comes into effect we would like to tap Canada, the US, Mexico and Chile. There are also plenty of opportunities for private investors in Sabah due to funds allocated through SDC authorities. Through them we can enhance private participation in the state’s development, and there will be many opportunities for public-private partnerships (PPPs). We have already attracted considerable investment in infrastructure development via PPPs, and Sabah is one of the largest beneficiaries of public facilitation funds in Malaysia.

How is traffic being reduced in Kota Kinabalu?

JOHARI: In partnership with the federal government, in 2016 we will commence development of a bus rapid transit (BRT) system. BRTs have the advantage of a short development cycle, and we have seen successful examples in cities ranging from Kuala Lumpur to Boston to Bogotá. In areas that are too congested we will build overpasses. The government is optimistic that this will enhance the efficiency of public transport and increase the city’s sustainability.

What can be done to harness Sabah’s potential in value-added, knowledge-intensive industries?

JOHARI: Support from the federal government has made it possible for us to increase our activity in knowledge-intensive industries. We also have great potential in agro-biotechnology, which uses resources such as our untouched rainforests and marine diversity. A dedicated industry cluster for agro-biotech industries with incubator facilities for start ups has been built. Sabah has the natural resources for such ventures to thrive. In the creative industry we have supported the development of University College Sabah Foundation, which has started producing animation for major producers in the US. We are hopeful that film producers across the world will begin to see us as a viable option for the outsourcing of animation. We have been providing financial support to the industry for the past five years, and in the last year it has attracted a range of participants, from producers to technical experts.

How is Sabah working to improve its global connectivity and draw foreign direct investment?

JOHARI: There is room for improvement. There is substantial trade between Singapore and north-east Asia, and until recently the highest container throughput in the world occurred along this route. Sabah is not featured in this configuration despite its strategic location, but with support from the federal government we seek to change this through enhancement of our port facilities. This is a major development and will improve our competitiveness as a business location. We are also working to enhance our connectivity by upgrading our airports and internet infrastructure.