SANDAKAN,. Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal today said that the state government plans to repurpose the ailing Palm Oil Industrial Cluster (POIC) here by turning it into a hub for the timber furniture industry.
Shafie said that the industry which he believes can be the new main income earner for the state would be strategically placed in Sandakan, close to several forest management units (FMUs).
“It will be the new furniture centre for Sabah, close to the Lahad Datu port which is suitable due to its deep sea facilities,” said Shafie.
Shafie said the facility was vast and under-utilised with 500 acres of space available.
“We are expecting to confirm a furniture factory by next week or mid-month, and they will be exporting furniture from here, using our resources to the Maldives and other international markets.
“Based on my engagement with them in KL last week, they would like to expand here. Once that is realised, they can utilise the Lahad Datu port,” he said.
Among the first moves, Shafie made when he came into power as chief minister last May was to ban all timber exports as well as halt current timber concession contracts to review the process.
He had said that timber supply would be better utilised in the state as raw material for furniture companies locally which would provide jobs to Sabahans rather than just royalty collection.
Launching the new State forestry policy here today, Shafie said an updated policy was needed to stay relevant with the current needs.
He said the current policy which comes with seven core thrusts and a 111- step action plan would replace the last one that was drafted in 1954.
“In the 60s, Sabah depended on its forestry supply as its main income earner – but not now. Now the industry brings in RM150 million or RM200 million a year from royalties but it could mean so much more if it benefits the people as well,” he said.
In its heyday, the timber industry made billions of ringgit per year and made many tycoons.
Shafie said that he expects between RM10 million and RM20 million from the timber furniture industry if it goes into high-value wood like red Seraya, Acacia, Eucalptus and Belian.
He said the new policy approved by the State Cabinet, gave more emphasis in protecting wildlife that also contributes to the state.
“The government is committed to gazetting 30 per cent of its land mass, or 2.2 million hectares as Totally Protected Areas by 2025,” he said.
Under the new policy, Shafie also said that he was entrusting Sabah Foundation to be the sole extractor, purchaser and exporter of all timber resources in the state, taking over from the various timber concessionaires which was previously monopolised by the same licensees.
“They might not have enough capacity now, but they will need to beef up. We want Yayasan Sabah to earn so that it goes back to the people,” he said.