Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bintulu's Fourth Boom Staying Power

Why is it that this fourth boom will lead Bintulu into a new era of millennium growth and prosperity?

For one, the nature of plantation and agro-based industries is that it is self-sustaining and tend to upscale itself as time goes forward. For example oil palm fruits will keep on peaking production when it matures( 5 - 15 years) and forest timbers are harvested 5 to 10 years after they are planted.

Secondly, the promising scenario of another Regional Development Authority (RECODA) smack right on the doors of Bintulu will make Bintulu its natural gateway and logistics hub because of the presence of Bintulu deep water port and established trading houses already set up during the last three economic booms. As a gateway , more foreign capital and local human will have to come principally from Bintulu because they can transfer their decades of experience and success stories to the new regional development growth areas like Mukah.

Thirdly, the readily available renewable 'green' energy source from Bakun ( hinterland of Bintulu) will help Bintulu proper to sustain more investments in light and heavy industries, on top of its existing record as the industrial showpiece of Sarawak.

Fourthly, the improved air links that Bintulu gained a few years ago with the development of an international style airport ( some 22 km from the Bintulu town proper) brings it into the forefront of tourism development by capitalising on its indigenous attractions like culture, adventure and nature (CAN). Tourism has had very uncertain fortunes during the first three booms . Domestic tourism will be given a major boost following improved road links and therefore relatively cheaper land transportation costs compared with air travel.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SIME in the making of Bintulu's future.

In 2002, Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd ( a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Ministry of Finance, MoF) awarded the Bakun contract to a consortium organised by Sime Darby group, called the Malaysia-China Hydro Joint Venture ( MCH - JV)

Sime Darby is a very diversified conglomerate, dealing with an extensive array of businesses locally and abroad. They are in plantations, manufacturing, heavy equipment, motor vehicle distribution, property development, insurance services, energy and trading.

In Bintulu, for instance its presence is seen in the massive tracts of land at Similajau and further into the interiors of Labang where it owns hundreds of thousands acres of oil palm plantations and palm oil refinery at Kidurong industrial estate.

More importantly , with the Bakun contract it will get to own vast reserves of Sarawak's renewal energy and export it to Peninsular Malaysia. In 2004, about 40% of Sime Engineering Sdn Bhd's revenue were derived from the Bakun contract. Here are some features of Sime's involvement in Bakun:

1) Cost overruns .. as at December, 2007 = RM 700 million.. ( and counting) from an initial contract RM 9 billion. Extra funds required by Sime are easily provided by means of a loan facility by the government of Malaysia
2) The first turbine is now expected to be operational in August 2009 after an initial schedule of August 2007.
3) On top of the generation project, Sime also is given a US 2.5 billion project to transmit the power generated at Bakun to Peninsular Malaysia ( over a 700 km submarine cable)

Who gets the contract to pull the lines from Bakun across Sarawak's hinterland is still a big question mark? The on land transmission contract from Bakun to the coastal area of Sarawak where the cables will journey undersea is still undecided. Will the cables head off to South China Sea at Bintulu, Mukah , Matadeng or Kuching? This question will be decided as much by economics and as well as Sarawak's "politics of development".

What does Bakun mean to Sarawak?

The logic of the development is that power generated will be owned by a Federal entity. But for Sarawak, the retailing of this power within the georaphical boundaries of Sarawak will be as usual given to SECSO by virtue of our unique local state laws. However, Sarawak's consumption pales when compared with Peninsular Malaysia, where the retail rights would be given to Tenaga Malaysia Berhad(TNB)

Bakun's direct benefit to Sarawak is thus the usage of about 1000 megawatts (from a total output of 2400 megawatts) for its sole consumer that is the proposed aluminium smelting plant at Similajau, Bintulu's northern most geographical region. Only with cheap electricity from Bakun is the smelting venture a feasible undertaking.

There again, with Bakun's massive supply of cheap renewable energy, it is to be awaited whether this could spell lower electrical rates for ordinary consumers of Sarawak and Bintulu in particular. Or will it mean an increase in electrical rates in order that Sime can recover its investment in Bakun?

In all probability its the old tunes back again, " Que Sera Sera, what ever will be, will be. The future is not ours to see, Que Sera Sera"

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bintulu's Fourth Boom

I meant to be writing more on modern Bintulu history this year. These are initial notes on Bintulu's Fourth Boom .
Initial Notes
Unlike the earlier three economic booms that Bintulu was fortunate to enjoy continuously over two and a half decades starting in 1979 and which were based primarily on the oil and gas sectors, this latest boom is agro-based . The new employment generators driving the fourth boom are:
a) Oil Palm Plantations - development of new estates
b) Oil - palm based industries - bio-diesel, edible oils manufacturing, oil palm bulk installations and refining
c) Main beneficiary as gateway and logistic hub for the new Regional Development Corridor, (renamed SCORE to reflect the importance of renewable energy as its main employment generator) due to the presence of Bintulu deep water port and trading houses already well established in Bintulu.
d) Aluminium smelting plant and new township situated at Similajau ( another satellite town for "Greater Bintulu" development plan strategy)
e) Tourism and tourism-related industries

Monday, January 7, 2008

Bintulu born exCM/exTYT mends wounds

Tun Rahman cutting his birthday cake on Thursday night (3/1/o8) with Pehin Sri Taib and Head of State clapping .

Widely reported in the local press was an embrace between Tun Rahman, the Bintulu born ex CM and ex TYT with our present CM, Pehin Sri Taib. Tun Rahman was born in Bintulu on 3rd January,1928. He is now 80 years old.

The embrace was somewhat embarrassing for two groups of political aspirants in Sarawak over the years.

The first group comprised of Dayak politicians who were hoodwinked by Tun in the Ming Court affair. They were under the spell of the " shadow play" theory which is now confirmed with the embrace.

The second group consisted of a pack of insider politicians within the Parti Bumiputra ( Taib's party) who had big egos and were bent to snatch the leadership role by joining forces with Tun in an opposition party called PERMAS.

It is clear that the "shadow play " theory and the "weeding out" theory was part of a overall grand strategy to defend the forte.

Between uncle and nephew they have maintained a bloodline rule over Sarawak's politics for a sum of 35 years( and counting..)

If not for Tun Rahman, Bintulu would not have become what it is today. He was solely responsible to bring into the DUN's approval the Bintulu Development Authority Ordinance in 1978, paving the way for massive investments and confidence from Peninsular Malaysian politicians to commit making Bintulu into an industrial showpiece it is now.

However, this political gesture is yet another embarrassing reality for those who fought hard to discredit Pehin Sri's leadership role and ambitions over the way forward for Sarawak.

It would seem that Pehin Sri is now more powerful with the senior statesman clout and the aura of Tun around him. Or is it?