With SEDIA in driver’s seat, Sabah is ready for endless possibilities

With SEDIA in driver’s seat, Sabah is ready for endless possibilities

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Datuk Dr Mohd Yaakub Haji Johari, SEDIA, Malaysia
Datuk Dr Mohd Yaakub Bin Johari
Chief Executive, Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA), Malaysia

With its rich natural resources, diversity in culture and heritage, Sabah has all ingredients to bring wealth and prosperity to every corner of the land. Geospatial technology will help it steer towards this goal, says Datuk Dr Mohd Yaakub Bin Johari, Chief Executive of SEDIA

What is the mission and vision of SEDIA?

SEDIA is the One-Stop Authority which plans, monitors, coordinates and promotes the development of Sabah Development Corridor (SDC). The Sabah Development Corridor is one of the five economic corridors introduced and launched by the Federal Government to bridge the economic gap across the region in Malaysia, while at the same time expedite the economic growth of the country. SEDIA’s objective is to promote and accelerate the development of SDC in a sustainable and inclusive manner. A key mandate of SEDIA is to attract investment towards SDC. We facilitate the creation of competitive economics clusters, based on the economics endowment, which we refer to as Sabah’s Strategic Development Areas (SDAs). There are five SDAs, and each of these has specific economic clusters serving as the growth centres for the respective SDAs. The infrastructure within the economic clusters is supported by the funds allocated by the Federal government, channelled through SEDIA.

The infrastructure provided will allow the economic potential of the respective SDAs to be tapped and attract investors’ interest. To attract investment into the designated clusters SEDIA has formulated fiscal incentives in each of these designated clusters. For example, in the Sandakan Education Hub, we have 100% tax exemption for 10 years.

How do you coordinate with various department and various sectors?

The establishment of SDC and SEDIA are joint initiative of the State and Federal Government. SEDIA is established through an instrument enacted by the Sabah State Legislative Assembly. The development funding of the SDC projects is allocated by the Economic Planning Unit through the Public Private Partnership Unit. The Federal Ministry of Finance allocates the operating expenditure for SEDIA to carry out its responsibilities as outlined in Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority Enactment 2009.

SEDIA provides a link between the State and Federal Governments. The Chief Minister of Sabah is the Chairman of SEDIA Board. The Chief Secretary to the Government, the Director General of Public Private Partnership Unit, Director General of Economic Planning Unit and Treasury Secretary General are members of the Board who represent the Federal Government. Other members of the Board include representatives of the Sabah State Government. The State and Federal governments are clearly well represented in SEDIA’s Board. Apart from the Board, the State and Federal Government are also represented in the various committees under SEDIA. The strong representation of the State and Federal Government within SEDIA’s governance structure facilitated a seamless interaction between the State and Federal agencies.

So would it be right to infer that when you connect the federal and the state government, you are also helping them to connect the industry at the ground level?

Absolutely. One of the key objectives of SEDIA is to promote investment into SDC. MIDA, on the other hand, is the central agency which coordinates investment into Malaysia. We also work in tandem to encourage and bring investment into the country. We provide assistance to them by informing them which designated locations would be best suited for investors. For example, investors interested in palm oil, tourism, agriculture and oil and gas are advised to go to the designated SDC clusters. In brevity, while MIDA brings investment in to the country, we drive it towards the right corridors.

Are your efforts concentrated more towards certain designated sectors?

Yes. It requires huge amount of resources to develop the State and address infrastructural deficiencies. However, there are locations which are already ready for industries to invest in and function. We therefore designate specific sector to be promoted in specific location having taken into account their respective endowment. For example, palm oil industrial cluster is in the oil palm belt in Sabah. So, we invest in building the infrastructure such as the jetty so that the ships can come in. The advantage lies in specific locations.

For instance, tourism is another quick win. We have access to clean and pristine nature-rich marine and biodiversity with sandy beaches. The Coral Triangle, for example, is an area renowned globally for its rich-marine biodiversity. With these iconic attractions being already well-known in the global tourism market, we don’t have to promote tourism very aggressively. Tourism is actually one of our fastest growing sectors. The Kinabalu Gold Coast Enclave is a specially designated cluster for tourism. An oil and gas cluster is located at Sipitang, while an agro-biotech cluster is located at Sabah Agro-Industrial Precinct, Kimanis.

So it is good for the growth of the state’s economy.

Yes, it’s good for the State. However, the strain is to keep the pace of investment as it requires to undergo numerous processes, such as business registration, planning, licensing, project planning, site selection planning approvals and funding. Sometimes, when you are working on a new sector such as in agro-biotech, you are not quite exactly sure whether you have the appropriate by-laws in place. What slowed our pace now is these implementation issues regarding preparation of master plans, licensing and building plan approval and financing. In tourism sector, some buildings were planned using new materials and around the area where the banks tend to be very conservative.

Geospatial is known to be a technology that helps in good decision-making. How does the government plan to use it?

I have a limited understanding of this but I do believe that there are areas where we could utilise the technology. In this regard, I need the advice of technical experts. In any case, we have been using the Geographical Information System (GIS) and remote sensing technology. We are also aware of potential applications such as traceability technique using RFID, and geospatial technologies in logistics and goods tracking. For example, if we take the case of livestock export, sometimes buyers want to track the location from where the product was first procured. Location-based tracking enables us to trace back the source, and at the same time helps in logistics and resource management.

We have developed a system funded by MOSTI called Herbal Knowledge Database. This herbal medicinal database lists plant species throughout the State that has medicinal value. Geospatial technology can help us in many more ways but we need industry to assist us in understanding how we can optimise its application. At the same time, we have limited resources. Therefore, we want to see how best it can be leveraged.

But good technology always comes with good spatial database, what is the status of land records and mapping in Sabah?

The land and survey department has started moving in that direction. I think all that is needed now is to show the capability and how we can integrate it with various other spatial databases to initially support and facilitate development and project planning as well as resources and land management in general.

Does the end-user usually ask for additional details such as 3D models of the land or its usage, or vice-versa? Is the system in place adequate?

Sometimes customers do look for it. But we need greater sophistication. For example, we want to know the terrain of an area where the project will be developed. If there is a 3D model of the area available, it will obviously help us a lot to understand about the land use pattern and its development and economic potential.

At the same time, the private sector players may hire relevant consultants and carry out an aerial survey or employ similar technologies regardless of whether the Land and Survey department can provide the data or not. Often, the private sector approaches the government once it has done the necessary survey and mapping.

In fact, I feel these technologies should be availed by the private sectors. Government has certain capabilities but at the same time government agencies have to adhere to protocols and certain processes. Sometimes this slows down the adoption rate of innovation. But for the private sector, if they smell profit, they will just pay and take care of the rest. This approach also leads to faster approvals.

But then, as a coordinating agency, your job also involves getting a lot of data from a lot of department. So do you have a ready-access to that data, and is it standardised?

We normally fall back on the consultants to advise us but we try to build our own internal capacity as well. However, till now the data is more statistically-oriented. For example, how much we spent on development projects, investment data, income generated and employment. In terms of visual data, we still visit the area to capture images and study them. Obviously, there is a lot more we need to do. We need to see different models of capturing, monitoring, and studying data. Also, we need to train people, and I think it’s just a matter of time.

Is data sharing still a critical issue that has to be dealt with?

Obviously, it’s the problem because, when people build their own resources, access doesn’t come easy. Often the hurdle is the silo mind-set quid pro quo thought process and protocols. In fact, one of my key functions is to assist and facilitate the interface between the various stakeholders as a One-Stop centre by holding discussions and meetings between various departments and the private sector and encourage information exchange.

Is your department planning to create a geo-portal where data is accessible?

If we come across a feasible proposal, we are prepared to consider. We are also open to outsourcing it to third-parties.

A lot of advisory agencies across the globe are moving towards a single window clearance. Are you also in favour of such frameworks?

Although I like the idea about single window clearance, I can see numerous obstacles when it comes to implementing the idea. Some agencies don’t freely open up, unless the decision is executed from the highest level.

Do you think the market in Sabah is matured enough to understand and apply this kind of technology, or are you talking from very visionary point of view?

It’s basically about the ease of utilising a technology. The capacity and demand exists but as I mentioned some of this require the participation of everybody and sometimes other agencies have their own priorities. Some agencies also feel that certain information should be kept confidential, whereas we believe in being transparent. So such hurdles exist. In this regard, SEDIA could be a bit more visionary.

What is your message to private geospatial industries?

Well, I think the Federal government and State government recognise the importance of technology. We realise the importance of technology in fostering innovation and I can see the important role geospatial technology plays. We know the importance of ICT and we need to embrace the technology even more. We feel that there is great potential of private geospatial industries. The private sector should lead the way by investing aggressively in the geospatial industries while the government facilitates.

What is the mission and vision of SEDIA?

SEDIA is the One-Stop Authority which plans, monitors, coordinates and promotes the development of Sabah Development Corridor (SDC). The Sabah Development Corridor is one of the five economic corridors introduced and launched by the Federal Government to bridge the economic gap across the region in Malaysia, while at the same time expedite the economic growth of the country. SEDIA’s objective is to promote and accelerate the development of SDC in a sustainable and inclusive manner. A key mandate of SEDIA is to attract investment towards SDC. We facilitate the creation of competitive economics clusters, based on the economics endowment, which we refer to as Sabah’s Strategic Development Areas (SDAs). There are five SDAs, and each of these has specific economic clusters serving as the growth centres for the respective SDAs. The infrastructure within the economic clusters is supported by the funds allocated by the Federal government, channelled through SEDIA.

The infrastructure provided will allow the economic potential of the respective SDAs to be tapped and attract investors’ interest. To attract investment into the designated clusters SEDIA has formulated fiscal incentives in each of these designated clusters. For example, in the Sandakan Education Hub, we have 100% tax exemption for 10 years.

How do you coordinate with various department and various sectors?

The establishment of SDC and SEDIA are joint initiative of the State and Federal Government. SEDIA is established through an instrument enacted by the Sabah State Legislative Assembly. The development funding of the SDC projects is allocated by the Economic Planning Unit through the Public Private Partnership Unit. The Federal Ministry of Finance allocates the operating expenditure for SEDIA to carry out its responsibilities as outlined in Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority Enactment 2009.

SEDIA provides a link between the State and Federal Governments. The Chief Minister of Sabah is the Chairman of SEDIA Board. The Chief Secretary to the Government, the Director General of Public Private Partnership Unit, Director General of Economic Planning Unit and Treasury Secretary General are members of the Board who represent the Federal Government. Other members of the Board include representatives of the Sabah State Government. The State and Federal governments are clearly well represented in SEDIA’s Board. Apart from the Board, the State and Federal Government are also represented in the various committees under SEDIA. The strong representation of the State and Federal Government within SEDIA’s governance structure facilitated a seamless interaction between the State and Federal agencies.

So would it be right to infer that when you connect the federal and the state government, you are also helping them to connect the industry at the ground level?

Absolutely. One of the key objectives of SEDIA is to promote investment into SDC. MIDA, on the other hand, is the central agency which coordinates investment into Malaysia. We also work in tandem to encourage and bring investment into the country. We provide assistance to them by informing them which designated locations would be best suited for investors. For example, investors interested in palm oil, tourism, agriculture and oil and gas are advised to go to the designated SDC clusters. In brevity, while MIDA brings investment in to the country, we drive it towards the right corridors.

Are your efforts concentrated more towards certain designated sectors?

Yes. It requires huge amount of resources to develop the State and address infrastructural deficiencies. However, there are locations which are already ready for industries to invest in and function. We therefore designate specific sector to be promoted in specific location having taken into account their respective endowment. For example, palm oil industrial cluster is in the oil palm belt in Sabah. So, we invest in building the infrastructure such as the jetty so that the ships can come in. The advantage lies in specific locations.

For instance, tourism is another quick win. We have access to clean and pristine nature-rich marine and biodiversity with sandy beaches. The Coral Triangle, for example, is an area renowned globally for its rich-marine biodiversity. With these iconic attractions being already well-known in the global tourism market, we don’t have to promote tourism very aggressively. Tourism is actually one of our fastest growing sectors. The Kinabalu Gold Coast Enclave is a specially designated cluster for tourism. An oil and gas cluster is located at Sipitang, while an agro-biotech cluster is located at Sabah Agro-Industrial Precinct, Kimanis.

So it is good for the growth of the state’s economy.

Yes, it’s good for the State. However, the strain is to keep the pace of investment as it requires to undergo numerous processes, such as business registration, planning, licensing, project planning, site selection planning approvals and funding. Sometimes, when you are working on a new sector such as in agro-biotech, you are not quite exactly sure whether you have the appropriate by-laws in place. What slowed our pace now is these implementation issues regarding preparation of master plans, licensing and building plan approval and financing. In tourism sector, some buildings were planned using new materials and around the area where the banks tend to be very conservative.

Geospatial is known to be a technology that helps in good decision-making. How does the government plan to use it?

I have a limited understanding of this but I do believe that there are areas where we could utilise the technology. In this regard, I need the advice of technical experts. In any case, we have been using the Geographical Information System (GIS) and remote sensing technology. We are also aware of potential applications such as traceability technique using RFID, and geospatial technologies in logistics and goods tracking. For example, if we take the case of livestock export, sometimes buyers want to track the location from where the product was first procured. Location-based tracking enables us to trace back the source, and at the same time helps in logistics and resource management.

We have developed a system funded by MOSTI called Herbal Knowledge Database. This herbal medicinal database lists plant species throughout the State that has medicinal value. Geospatial technology can help us in many more ways but we need industry to assist us in understanding how we can optimise its application. At the same time, we have limited resources. Therefore, we want to see how best it can be leveraged.

But good technology always comes with good spatial database, what is the status of land records and mapping in Sabah?

The land and survey department has started moving in that direction. I think all that is needed now is to show the capability and how we can integrate it with various other spatial databases to initially support and facilitate development and project planning as well as resources and land management in general.

Does the end-user usually ask for additional details such as 3D models of the land or its usage, or vice-versa? Is the system in place adequate?

Sometimes customers do look for it. But we need greater sophistication. For example, we want to know the terrain of an area where the project will be developed. If there is a 3D model of the area available, it will obviously help us a lot to understand about the land use pattern and its development and economic potential.

At the same time, the private sector players may hire relevant consultants and carry out an aerial survey or employ similar technologies regardless of whether the Land and Survey department can provide the data or not. Often, the private sector approaches the government once it has done the necessary survey and mapping.

In fact, I feel these technologies should be availed by the private sectors. Government has certain capabilities but at the same time government agencies have to adhere to protocols and certain processes. Sometimes this slows down the adoption rate of innovation. But for the private sector, if they smell profit, they will just pay and take care of the rest. This approach also leads to faster approvals.

But then, as a coordinating agency, your job also involves getting a lot of data from a lot of department. So do you have a ready-access to that data, and is it standardised?

We normally fall back on the consultants to advise us but we try to build our own internal capacity as well. However, till now the data is more statistically-oriented. For example, how much we spent on development projects, investment data, income generated and employment. In terms of visual data, we still visit the area to capture images and study them. Obviously, there is a lot more we need to do. We need to see different models of capturing, monitoring, and studying data. Also, we need to train people, and I think it’s just a matter of time.

Is data sharing still a critical issue that has to be dealt with?

Obviously, it’s the problem because, when people build their own resources, access doesn’t come easy. Often the hurdle is the silo mind-set quid pro quo thought process and protocols. In fact, one of my key functions is to assist and facilitate the interface between the various stakeholders as a One-Stop centre by holding discussions and meetings between various departments and the private sector and encourage information exchange.

Is your department planning to create a geo-portal where data is accessible?

If we come across a feasible proposal, we are prepared to consider. We are also open to outsourcing it to third-parties.

A lot of advisory agencies across the globe are moving towards a single window clearance. Are you also in favour of such frameworks?

Although I like the idea about single window clearance, I can see numerous obstacles when it comes to implementing the idea. Some agencies don’t freely open up, unless the decision is executed from the highest level.

Do you think the market in Sabah is matured enough to understand and apply this kind of technology, or are you talking from very visionary point of view?

It’s basically about the ease of utilising a technology. The capacity and demand exists but as I mentioned some of this require the participation of everybody and sometimes other agencies have their own priorities. Some agencies also feel that certain information should be kept confidential, whereas we believe in being transparent. So such hurdles exist. In this regard, SEDIA could be a bit more visionary.

What is your message to private geospatial industries?

Well, I think the Federal government and State government recognise the importance of technology. We realise the importance of technology in fostering innovation and I can see the important role geospatial technology plays. We know the importance of ICT and we need to embrace the technology even more. We feel that there is great potential of private geospatial industries. The private sector should lead the way by investing aggressively in the geospatial industries while the government facilitates.