Ground checks before allowing oil palm estates to reopen, says Shafie

Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal (right) receiving a mock cheque for RM2 million from Warisan Harta Sabah Sdn Bhd CEO Ahmad Rizal Dahli for the state’s Covid-19 disaster fund.

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal says he has instructed the Health Department and police to conduct ground checks before the state decides whether to allow the oil palm industry to resume its operations during the movement control order (MCO).

Shafie said he needed facts and could not merely depend on assurances from those affected in the industry that they were free from the Covid-19 outbreak.

“It’s not that I don’t want to listen to them at all but I want the facts.

“I have issued instructions to state health director Dr Christina Rundi to make the checks and the police Special Branch to look at the grassroots level,” he told reporters here today.

The state has been under pressure to loosen its ban on oil palm plantations and palm oil mills operations during the MCO, which ends on April 14.

Plantations and Commodities Minister Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali, former foreign minister Anifah Aman and former chief minister Yong Teck Lee had been among leaders who had previously urged the Sabah government to reconsider its stand on the closure of oil palm plantations and palm oil mills.

Last week, Sabah expanded the shutdown of palm oil plantations and factories from three districts to six, until April 14, after several estate workers tested positive for the virus.

Shafie told a press conference today that the checks by the authorities will determine whether the plantations and factories were really free from the virus.

“Sometimes, for instance, a plantation in Semporna will have to send its oil palm fruits to a factory in Lahad Datu. So, there’re already risks involved there.

“Some areas like Felda Sahabat (in Lahad Datu) have reported six positive cases. And there are 15,000 people in Felda Sahabat.

“Even Sabah Softwood, our government-linked company, has been instructed to close. This is not about profits but about human lives,” said the Semporna MP.

Shafie said state secretary Safar Untong, who also chairs the state’s Covid-19 command centre, will have a meeting to discuss the options tonight.

“If the companies are in compliance with the guidelines to curb the spread of the virus, then we can consider their appeal to continue operating,” he said.

Shafie said the state will come up with another stimulus package to help business sectors in the state affected by Covid-19 and the MCO.

He said he had ordered the state’s Economic Planning Unit to study in detail the matter, adding they are looking to help various sectors, such as tourism, fisheries, agriculture, food and construction, which have been badly affected.