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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Sarawak needs conducive environment to sustain growth, says economist


Two economists say Sarawak is ‘going in the right direction’ to be the nation’s leading state. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Sarawak must establish a conducive environment to support economic expansion and growth to become the strongest Malaysian state for the next 50 years, says an economist.

Universiti of Malaysia Sarawak honorary professor Madeline Berma said the vision set by Sarawak premier Abang Johari Openg is realistic and achievable through long-term economic growth.

Achieving such growth, she said, would require investing in physical capital, human capital and technological advancement, particularly with the Bornean state’s emphasis on the renewable energy sector.

“It needs to invest in human capital development, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to meet the demands of the new economy based on alternative energy.

Madeline Berma.

“Sarawak is going the right direction. It is using its power exports to make it into the centre of renewable energy for Southeast Asia. The federal government needs to support Sarawak’s effort in this area,” she told FMT.

Socio-Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie agreed, saying Sarawak could become a hotbed for investments – both foreign and domestic – if it continues to build up its infrastructure and talents.

Lee cited the state government’s focus on education as well as its abundant natural resources, but also pointed out the necessity for better transport and utility infrastructure.

Lee Heng Guie.

He said Sarawak had “all the ingredients” and catalysts to be the top-performing state in Malaysia, with its growth potentially exceeding the national average.

“Their revenue has increased significantly over the years, giving them the fiscal buffer to hold social development programmes.

“But we also hope they can further relax certain rules, particularly when it comes to facilitating West Malaysian investors in investing there,” he said.

Last week, Abang Johari urged his Gabungan Parti Sarawak coalition to groom more young leaders to ensure Sarawak becomes the “strongest state in Malaysia for the next 50 years”.

To keep local talent from leaving for West Malaysia or other nations, Berma said the state government needs to create economic opportunities in rural areas and Sarawak’s interiors.

“(Sarawak must also) develop and strengthen its middle-class, narrow income inequality between rural and urban areas, as well as between ethnicities,” she said.

She also said alleviating poverty was a crucial aspect, with Sarawak among the top four states with the highest poverty rates despite being resource-rich.

Meanwhile, Lee said the Bornean state’s diversity and proficiency in various languages would pull investors, citing its emphasis on mastering English and recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC).

He expected the shift of Indonesia’s capital to Nusantara, coupled with the imminent completion of the Pan Borneo Highway, to further boost Sarawak’s economic aspirations.

Sarawak’s economy is currently the fourth largest among the Malaysian states, and contributed to 9.3% of the national gross domestic product in 2022.

It also achieved a record-setting RM13.1 billion in revenue in 2023, beating its previous record of RM11.9 billion the year before. - FMT

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