2018 Sabah Budget: People-Centric No Doubt, If Not For The Missing Link

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A Scarlet-rumped Trogon found at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. – Photo credit Tabin Wildlife Resort

By DR JOHN TAY
LETTER: WWF-Malaysia applauds the recent announcement of the ‘rakyat-centric’ 2018 Sabah State Budget with the theme of ‘Strengthening the Economy, Prospering the People’ (as unveiled by Musa Aman). The prosperity of the rakyat is placed at the core in building unity and strengthening economic growth.

Coming as no surprise, the surplus budget of the State relies heavily on our natural capitals to usher the economic profit for 2018. Nearly half of the state’s RM4.16 billion revenues are derived directly or indirectly from our natural heritage.

However, what is missing from the 2018 State Budget is a clear link between the “goose” that lay the golden eggs and the budget allocation.

JOHN TAY

Only 3% of the budget was allocated to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment when the tourism industry provides a handsome receipts of RM6.4 billion up to October this year; proving that Sabah’s niche nature tourism is becoming a reality in the state’s economy. However, for ecotourism to succeed, it goes without saying that our natural heritage must retain its biodiversity, “feel-good-factor” and natural beauty.

As for the Ministry of Community Development and Consumers’ Affairs, the allocation’s adequacy is questionable when it has to be distributed across 12 Priority Skill Development Programmes as well as fulfilling her environmental agenda.

For a State that depends on her natural resources to spur its economy, the need to safeguard the environment is a given. Kudos to the Sabah government for increasing totally protected forests to 26% of the landmass of Sabah, and with more to come. This is an impressive achievement relative to other regions in Malaysia.

Similarly, the gazettement of the largest Tun Mustapha Park is not a small feat for a relatively small State in the Island of Borneo. Both are Sabah’s Jewels in the Crown to the national and international commitments of the Aichi Targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Past conservation milestones include the gazettement of the Kinabatangan Corridor for Life, Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary, Danum-Maliau-Imbak conservation areas and several more.

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Simple logic will remind us that these world-renowned visiting destinations require sustainable financing, without which, there will most certainly a spiral downwards into deterioration. If so, Sabah will not be able to achieve the desired prosperity in the long run.

Without exercising environmental stewardships, the 2018 State Budget remains a promise. The extent of disturbed forests in Sabah is large after many decades of indulgence. On the forest floor, there is much fuel and the risk of fire outbreaks after a prolonged drought is a real threat.

How can we build a climate resilient forest in light of recurring extreme weather? What is our preparedness to fight another major fire in Sabah? WWF-Malaysia hopes that allocations are made for the necessary pre-emptive measures.

The recent increase in totally protected forests of some 1 million ha in addition to the logged production forests need plenty of tender loving care to bring back the trees and health of these disturbed forest ecosystems. Restoration of these natural capital is vital to speed-up their recovery and rebuild timber and ecotourism revenue generation.

Albeit Sabah is moving in the right direction with jurisdictional certification, there is still plenty to do in bringing the 1.6 million ha of oil palm landscapes into best management practices.

Female banteng shot by poachers in the vicinity of Maliau Basin last October 2017. – Photo courtesy of DGFC

Otherwise, our freshwater systems will continue to suffocate from pollutants by fertilised agriculture lands and pesticides. Not just freshwater bodies are impacted but also the fish breeding areas along the coasts that are critical to the aquatic life.

Wildlife poaching is considered as one of Sabah’s visible threat. Escalating to national security problems, there is a dire need to strengthen the enforcement and protection capacity of wildlife and illegal trade.

Perhaps, the creation of Rapid Specialised Response Units are timely to eradicate illegal and unsustainable hunting and fishing. Additionally, modern surveillance equipment and adequate financial support are needed.

Another significant contributor to the State’s economy for the 2018 State Budget is fisheries receipts. This sector of the economy has far-reaching economic spin-offs including the food, animal feeds and health industries.

The allocation to the Department of Fisheries and KO-NELAYAN in the 2018 State Budget should also be distributed towards improving the management of fisheries to ensure life below water in the oceans are not depleting.

These developmental patterns are just a short-list of a longer one enshrined in the SDGs of which there are 17 interrelated global goals. Each of the goals has several targets, which altogether comes to 169.

The SDGs cover a broad range of social development issues, such as poverty, hunger, health, education gender equality, social justice, sanitation, social justice in addition to land, water and environment. True prosperity will require all the 17 Goals to work in synergy, and in an integrated approach to successfully address complex development issues.

If the 2018 State Budget is truly for the rakyat, it is urged that there should be a fair balance in the budget allocation between development and conservation. WWF-Malaysia stands ready to assist the state government in meeting the objectives highlighted above.

Through safeguarding of our natural environment, Sabah’s economy will be strengthened and the rakyat of Sabah will surely prosper.

• Dr John Tay is Head of Conservation Sabah, WWF-Malaysia

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