KOTA KINABALU: Former Sabah deputy chief minister Christina Liew has called on the federal government to improve road connectivity and air links, especially in the east coast Tawau district.
She said this was important in view of Indonesia’s relocation of its capital to East Kalimantan.
Liew, who is the Tawau MP, said she had been pushing for the expansion of the Tawau airport and for its status to be upgraded to that of an international airport since 2018.
“In 2019, I led a delegation, as the tourism, culture and environment minister, to meet the federal ministry on the matter, but our application for expansion of the airport was turned down,” she said in a statement here today.
“I urge the federal government to review our application in anticipation of the influx of tourists into Sabah once international borders are reopened in the near future.”
Liew said the airport can accommodate the A320 aircraft, which flew into the district before the Covid-19 pandemic, and had a passenger handling capacity of 1.4 million passengers.
This capacity was exceeded in 2018 when it handled almost 1.7 million passengers and by 2019, it had handled 2.4 million passengers.
“Given Indonesia’s impending shift of its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, Sabah’s road connectivity and air links must be improved to tap into the huge economic potential from this development.
“Like Sabah, East Kalimantan, which is the second largest province in Kalimantan, is rich in natural resources like oil, gas, coal and gold,” she said.
Liew, who is also the Api-Api assemblyman, said the business community in Tawau was also waiting for the suspension of flights from Tawau to Tarakan in North Kalimantan to be lifted.
“We hope the revival of this service is being considered in the government’s economic recovery plan,” she said.
Liew also called on Putrajaya to consider upgrading the 30km stretch of road from the Kalabakan district to Samarinda, which is the largest city and capital of East Kalimantan.
She said the Sabah government had, as early as 2003, made efforts to explore the prospects of economic cooperation between Sabah and East Kalimantan.
This was with the aim of forging closer trade ties and promoting investments in agriculture, infrastructure and tourism.
She said the business fraternity also wants the federal government to re-establish direct air links between Kota Kinabalu and Balikpapan, the gateway to East Kalimantan.
The first direct Kota Kinabalu-Balikpapan flight service was inaugurated by Malaysia Airlines (MAS) in July 2003 to promote cross-border trading between Sabah and East Kalimantan.
In 2012, MASwings also started its operations from Kota Kinabalu to Balikpapan but this stopped after 2014.