KOTA KINABALU: Former chief minister Yong Teck Lee wants the Sabah government to heed the call of palm oil groups and allow their plantations and processing mills in Tawau, Lahad Datu and Kinabatangan to reopen.
He said the closure of the plantations and mills in the wake of the movement control order would actually create more opportunities for the spread of the virus.
“It seems the decision-makers who ordered the shutdown of plantations and mills have no idea how a palm oil plantation or mill operates.
“There is little physical contact among the workers who are separated far from each other. Each plantation is a self-contained community,” the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president said in a statement here today.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Association and the Malaysian Estate Owners Association had recently urged the Sabah government to consider allowing firms to resume operations for essential procedures such as harvesting, crop evacuation and milling despite the nationwide MCO.
Yong said the industry’s proposals, including by the Tawau Chinese Chamber of Commerce, included the offer to ensure their workers adhere to the same hygienic practices at essential services such as food supply, transport and supporting industries.
They had also offered to pay for Covid-19 tests at their plantations and mills without the workers having to leave their places of work, he said.
“The industry suggested that only the two or three oil palm mills that have cases of infection be closed down for tests and for disinfection. There is no need to close down the industry in the entire areas of Tawau, Lahad Datu and Kinabatangan,” he said.
Yong contended that closed plantations and mills would force “tens of thousands” of workers to leave their places of work and move about, although some would remain in their quarters.
“The consequence is that many more workers and families at the housing quarters will be put at a higher risk of infection than if the workers were out working in the field.
“Hence, it is clear that the abrupt stoppage of the palm oil industry in the three districts is a mistake that must be reversed as soon as possible,” he said.
Yong reminded the Sabah government that the oil palm industry was the saviour of the state’s economy during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997/98.
“Post Covid-19, Sabah will once again rely on the oil palm industry to revive its economy because this industry is an established industry with ready markets,” he said.