LAWAS: A five-year socio-economic development plan is being established to bridge the income gap of rural residents in Limbang and Lawas by maximising the economic growth of the northern region.

To achieve this, Regional Corridor Development Authority (RECODA) today launched a two-day Northern Region Development Agency (NRDA) Socio-Economic Lab in Lawas, involving local elected representatives, community leaders, public servants and stakeholders.

The lab will gather feedback and baseline data for the NRDA Socio-Economic Development Plan (2022-2026), involving an overall analysis of the socio-economic landscape of the northern region.

Deputy Premier and NRDA Chairman Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan who launched the lab today said the economic potentials of Limbang and Lawas must be fully explored to ensure a balanced and sustainable growth, in line with the the Post Covid-19 Development Strategy 2030 (PCDS 2030).

“The objective is to turn Sarawak into a developed state by 2030 and to ensure that is balanced economic growth among all the regions in Sarawak. We want to make sure there that no one area can be said to be suffering from under-development,” he said.

“The lab that we are holding here not only gathered experts of their fields, but also community leaders and representatives from NGOs. We are obtaining the input and views not just from the top-level experts but also from the grassroots,” he added.

Awang Tengah said it is through infrastructure development, such as construction of bridges, roads, electrical & water supply and communications systems, that would draw investors into the state.

“For us to move forward we also need the involvement of the private sector. This means investment. The government’s role is to facilitate the involvement of the private sector, which is important as they are the engine of growth,” he said.

Socio-economic activities that have growth potentials include agriculture, fisheries, the making of ikan tahai (smoked fish), buah ulu and beads, he added.

Today’s lab is part of a series of socio-economic labs that kicked off in Miri by the Highland Development Agency (HDA) on March 3, and capping off in Sibu with a final lab by the Upper Rajang Development Agency (URDA) on March 28.

Each regional development agency under RECODA will have its own socio-economic development plan for the next five years.

NRDA has been allocated with RM1.5 billion by the Sarawak Government to implement 168 infrastructure projects in the northern region.

In addition to these projects, Awang Tengah said the Sarawak Government is also funding the proposed 88-km Northern Coastal Highway (NCH) mega project that will link Limbang and Lawas through Brunei, and then connect to Sabah.

The proposed road alignment for the Northern Coastal Highway will also incorporate future development needs such as the proposed New Lawas Airport.

Awang Tengah said Limbang and Lawas are strategically located as they are located within the Brunei Darussalam–Indonesia–Malaysia–Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) and are set to take advantage of the relocation of Indonesia’s new capital to east Kalimantan.

He added that with commitment of community leaders, elected representatives and government officers, the objectives set out PCDS 2030 can be achieved.

“We don’t have the luxury of time. But I am confident if we are all committed and we work our hardest, I believe we can all succeed with all the investments available. This will give great impact to small and medium businesses that form the foundation of the economy of rural communities.”

“We want to uplift the people here, so that there are no one is left behind due to poverty. That is our responsibility. And we want the community to thrive, not just in terms of economic growth but also in terms of overall happiness,” he added.

Earlier, chief executive officer of RECODA Datu Ismawi Ismuni said local communities may be able to adopt to new business models that allows access to financing and new markets.

“This lab is also an excellent platform to discover what training or skills development may be needed by local communities, or maybe identify which cultural assets that can be leveraged,” he added.

RECODA has already implemented several socio-economic programmes in the region such the donation of outboard motors to fishermen, and economic assistance programmes for the parang-making and ikan tahai industries.

A potential in the eco-tourism sector is the traditional knowledge in fisheries and agriculture, as well as well-preserved cultural traditions that can be tourist attractions, Ismawi said.

“We need a long-term socio-economic development plan that can further increase the revenue of local communities in line with PCDS 2030,” he said.

“This socio-economic lab is a platform for us to hear suggestions and views from all parties on how we can implement the socio-economic development plan.”

“All these suggestions and views will be collected and made into a report for the attention of the Sarawak Government so that it will be implemented for the prosperity and well-being of the rakyat,” he said.

RECODA is a statutory body set up in 2006 to oversee and manage the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) project.

In addition to drawing investments and creating job opportunities for Sarawakians, RECODA serves as the implementing agency for infrastructure and socio-economic development projects in the SCORE region, which covers 80% of the state’s land area.

Since 2017, RECODA has been entrusted by the Sarawak government to implement development projects in the regions overseen by its three development agencies with funds totalling RM4.5 billion.