KOTA KINABALU: Labuan’s economy thrives on its vast oil and gas resources, and at one time it made up to RM15 billion per year in exports of petroleum and gas-based products.
However, all that has been greatly reduced since the fall in oil prices in mid-2015 and the island, which was once bustling with economic life, is now a shadow of its former self.
Many residents in Labuan who worked in the oil and gas industry were retrenched as companies scrambled to cut back on losses.
In turn, the local economy suffered as consumers no longer had the cash they used to, resulting in many closed businesses, including in the once busy and lively Labuan financial park complex.
However, Labuan MP Rozman Isli remains upbeat about his constituency’s prospects, especially under Prime Minister Najib Razak who, he said, had never wavered in his commitment to develop the federal territory.
“Following the recent launch of the Labuan development blueprint and the highly-anticipated Labuan-Menumbok bridge, we have been contacted by investors who show interest in investing money in Labuan.
“This means there will be a lot more job opportunities in Labuan in the coming years. Just last weekend, I attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a premium outlet selling branded clothing near the Labuan International Golf Club,” he told FMT.
The first-term parliamentarian has been kept busy since winning the seat in the previous election, bringing in much needed development projects including new roads, public parks, a new UTC building, upgrading existing infrastructure and new sporting facilities.
Under development are projects such as the 500-unit People’s Housing Project, a new fire and rescue department building, a Giat Mara building, and housing for government servants.
“We will also start constructing a health clinic, complete with staff quarters, later this year.
“Actually, we have many projects already in the pipeline, especially projects related to Islamic education, mosques, and boarding schools for orphans and needy children,” he said.
Labuan, which was controversially ceded to the federal government in 1984 before being made a federal territory, has a population of about 97,000 with about 25,500 voters.
Of the number of voters, 74% are Muslim Bumiputeras, 16% non-Muslim Bumiputeras and 10% others.
Rozman won the seat for Barisan Nasional (BN) in the 2013 general election after obtaining 12,694 votes, defeating PKR candidate Ibrahim Menudin who only managed to gain 6,069. Another candidate, PAS’ Hadnan Mohamad, lost his deposit after managing only 386 votes.
Last year, Labuan was granted RM7 million for an international motorsports circuit which, according to Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, will make the island a playing field for the rich from Sabah, Sarawak and neighbouring Brunei.
The one-kilometre circuit will be able to host various motorsports activities including for super bikes, go-carts, drifters, a mini GP, pocket bikes, super motors and cub Prix.
The project is meant to provide a “brighter future for youths” via a safer racing environment, thus adding motorsports as another tourism product in Borneo, particularly Labuan.
Although the project is touted to bring in much-needed tourism receipts which could help revive Labuan, opposition politicians are less than enthusiastic, believing the money could be better invested elsewhere.
Labuan PKR chief Simsuddin Sidek blasted the project, saying the government should instead look for ways to decrease the high cost of living on the island.
“The circuit will be built with the rich in mind. Well, what about the poor in Labuan? What about the locals who need more affordable homes? Isn’t that more important than building a motoring circuit?” he asked.
He told FMT that the government should actually go down to the ground and find ways to provide jobs for locals instead of building “entertainment” places for outsiders.
Simsuddin said Labuan now was totally different from the Labuan four years ago where oil money helped keep the island afloat despite the depressingly high cost of living, even back then.
“Unemployment is up to the roof now and people are earning a living by doing odd jobs to earn extra income. Yet the government continues to use old excuses, comparing Malaysia to foreign countries when it comes to rising prices of goods and services to stop the people from speaking up.”
But Rozman defended the government’s projects, including the motorsports circuit, saying they were meant to attract private investors to Labuan and generate money for the island.
“There will also be many projects including joint-venture projects between the private sector and the government. We are doing all these so that more job opportunities can be created and more companies will grow here,” he said.