Interview: Awang Tengah bin Ali Hasan

What policies have been implemented to minimise the environmental impact of economic growth, and what more needs to be done in this regard?

AWANG TENGAH BIN ALI HASAN: It is inevitable that as we achieve economic growth and improve living standards, the environment is subjected to strains due to emissions and pollution. Recognising the importance of conserving the environment, the state promotes sustainable development, incorporating and adopting past experiences and lessons from our international neighbours. There are laws in the state that safeguard the environment. For example, all developments are required to undertake comprehensive environmental impact assessment studies under the Natural Resource and Environment Ordinance, and to comply with emissions or discharge limits imposed by the Department of Environment so as not to harm the environment. There are also policies that protect the environment, such as land use policies whereby 6m ha have been identified as permanent forest estates and another 1m ha identified as totally protected areas for conservation of forest carbon stock. Sarawak has adequate regulatory policies in place to ensure the sustainable development of our natural resources as we pursue economic growth and improve our standard of living to eradicate poverty in the state.

What steps is the government taking to provide electricity to rural areas?

TENGAH: There is an ambitious plan in place to provide electricity to the whole population of Sarawak, including those in remote rural areas. This is a very challenging task because of the sparsely dispersed population in the remote interior, which has an unfavourable terrain for typical grid extension. Our electrification rate for the rural population is 83%. Currently, the widely used approach is to extend our distribution grid network to rural areas. However, there are limitations with distribution lines, and most rural areas are supplied by the main distribution network through substations in urban and suburban in the state.

For settlements located in more remote interior locations where it is not feasible to connect to the distribution grid, the state implements renewable systems, such as solar hybrid power projects at Long Semadoh, Long Sukang and Rumah Dau, and the mini-hydro plant at Long Banga. Under Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy initiatives, whereby the development of large hydro plants provides opportunities for connectivity to the hinterland of Sarawak, the state is identifying areas with economic potential so as to supply them through the transmission network with adequate, reliable and quality power that will help spur growth.

Given the limited size of the domestic market, what can be done through the public sector in order to boost Sarawak’s export potential?

TENGAH: We acknowledge the limited size of our domestic market, and the state government is working closely with the federal government to encourage our industries to export to global markets. Our economy has been tied to resource-based sectors, such as timber, oil and gas, and oil palm. These sources are finite, and we need to diversify our economic base to non-resource-based sectors like shipbuilding, electronics, energy-intensive industries and services.

The government is providing the necessary incentives and assistance to facilitate our entrepreneurs’ entry into export markets, especially small and medium-sized enterprises. Such firms are encouraged to form joint ventures with foreign investors, as well as participate in downstream and supporting industries in timber, oil and gas, oil palm, energy-intensive industries, the halal segment, tourism and services sectors, among others. The state government has developed dedicated industrial parks, including: Samalaju Industrial Park in Bintulu for energy-intensive industries; Sama Jaya Industrial Zone in Kuching for the electrical and electronics segment; Rantau Panjang in Sibu and Tanjung Manis in Mukah for shipbuilding; and the Tanjung Manis Halal Hub in Mukah for all halal-related sectors.