Banning Sabah log exports a misguided move, says Yong

Former chief minister Yong Teck Lee says it is better for Sabah to focus on the services industry than the wood processing industry.

KOTA KINABALU: Former chief minister Yong Teck Lee believes that Sabah had made a mistake in banning log exports, saying the state was not ready to properly manage its effects when the ban was imposed last year.

Describing the ban as “misguided”, Yong said many aspects such as the mechanism and infrastructure to complement the ban should have been in order before the move was taken.

He said banning log exports was only one of several key components necessary to have a successful wood processing industry.

But banning log exports alone could not contribute to the development of the industry, the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president told reporters here today.

“Did the government prepare the entire industry for the ban? The impact (of the ban) is immediate but the preparation of the industry, to develop the economy, takes years.

“If we have a sudden ban on log exports, we immediately deprive the government of a few hundred million ringgit due to revenue loss in timber royalties.

“At the same time, your infrastructure, the marketing strategies and investment are not ready. Therefore, I think the approach is misguided,” he said.

Chief Minister Shafie Apdal had imposed the ban, including on cultivated plantation logs, last May in a drastic move to ensure sufficient supply of timber for factories in the state and job opportunities for the people.

Yong said that to have a successful wood-based industry, the state needs proper infrastructure in place such as port services, sufficient supply of affordable electricity tariffs and qualified manpower.

“You, of course,  you need an investor who can design and produce quality and marketable furniture and other wood products.

“You also need a strong marketing plan so that the products can be marketed internationally to as many countries as possible,” he said, adding that western countries have strict environmental compliance certification.

He said the government would have to guarantee investors, who are mostly from foreign countries, ample supply of logs for them to consider building wood processing factories in the state

“This would come from our forests and ultimately it would lead to more logging,” he said.

Yong said it is no secret that a majority of the workers in the wood processing industry are not Sabahans.

“The big players are also not Sabahans,” he said, contending that the industry is not of major benefit to the ordinary people.

He also said the development of wood-based industries is not new, and that it was discussed extensively among state and federal agencies and business leaders when he was the industrial development minister in 1990.

Yong said it is better for the state to focus on developing the services industry which, according to him, is more popular among Sabahans.

He said that “by nature and by character”, Sabahans prefer to work in the services industry, which is rapidly expanding, especially in tourism, environment and resource management.

“So, I would think the better way would be to put more emphasis on the services industry, starting with tourism and hospitality.

“Somehow, Sabahans like to work in this sector. There are quality jobs, they pay well and the prospects are good. The future is in the services industry.” he said.