NURTURING economic growth, preparing human capital and providing a platform to ensure the east coast states of Terengganu, Pahang, Kelantan and North Johor do not lag behind other developed states are the main focus of the East Coast Economic Region (ECER).
As ECER enters the second phase of its 2018-2025 seven-year master plan, its success hinges on consultative and collaborative decisions based on mushawarah between the federal and state governments and the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC).
Some might think that getting all five parties — four states and ECERDC — to sit at one table to discuss the directions of Terengganu, Kelantan, Pahang and Johor would be near impossible since three of the four states are under the opposition.
But ECERDC chief executive officer Baidzawi Che Mat begs to differ.
“This is the uniqueness of ECERDC. We are apolitical. The highest board in the council is chaired by the prime minister. Then we have the menteris besar representing the four states and then there’s the council.
“We cannot do things alone because the land belong to the states and we need to comply with each’s state’s structural plan. At the state level, the menteri besar will take turns to chair the meeting quarterly.
“There is constant consultation and collaboration. We will not duplicate projects already undertaken by ministries, departments and state governments.
“But we will be called for critical intervention that could delay or derail a project designed to benefit the states and its people,” he said in an interview with the New Straits Times.
He said transforming ECER into a dynamic region that appealed to investors required careful planning as the ultimate objective of the ECER master plan was to remove the perception that it was a lagging region.
“The first 10-year master plan introduced in 2008 laid a strong foundation in developing the social economic landscape of ECER.
“As designed, it attracted private investments, created new jobs, implemented high-impact projects and introduced human capital development programmes.
“After 10 years, our commitment attracted RM111.6 billion in investments, created 149,400 jobs and 31,700 entrepreneurs or business opportunities in the region.
“However, we cannot wait to launch the second master plan in 2020. As such, the ECER Master Plan 2.0 took effect last year. It is the next leap where we hope to attract RM70 billion new private investments, create 120,000 jobs and establish 60,000 new entrepreneurs in the region.”
Narrowing it down to Terengganu, Baidzawi said the master plan aimed to attract RM25 billion in new private investments, 39,600 jobs and 15,550 new entrepreneurs in the state.
“We have a special economic zone from Paka to Pekan in Pahang that will involve heavy industries related to the oil and gas sector that uses existing ports, roads and the Kemaman Supply Base. We will optimise what we have in this zone.”
Baidzawi said that in 2010, 17,000 people from Terengganu migrated to more developed states to look for jobs instead of remaining in the state.
“In 2015, the number dropped to 2,300 people. Terengganu’s migration pattern is not getting worse, but significantly improving.
“In Pahang, our information showed that in the same year, 2,100 people migrated from the state, but in 2015, 5,200 people came to look for jobs in the state.
“In Kelantan, 37,700 people migrated in 2010 but in 2015, only 500 left the state to look for jobs."
“This is reflective of the structured ECER planning. These are critical information for us because it shows that we have succeeded in creating jobs and economic opportunities for the people from our first 10-year plan.”
Baidzawi said despite successfully slowing down migration, ECERDC was not satisfied with the median household income.
He said although there was an increase by 124 per cent in median household income from RM2,096 to RM4,694, it was still lagging behind Kuala Lumpur, where it was RM4,407 in 2009 and increased to RM9,073 in 2016.
“We can see that despite the progress in household income, Terengganu is still lagging behind.
“We need to bring the shared prosperity to more equitable levels under the ECER Master Plan 2.0. East coast states need to grow twice as fast to catch up with developed states.
“Creating jobs, increasing household income, nurturing more entrepreneurs, developing human capital and increasing private sector investments must all happen in tandem for the wellbeing of the people.”
Baidzawi said the Kuala Terengganu City Centre (KTCC) and the drawbridge across Sungai Terengganu were good examples of how one development project could not work in isolation.
“We know there were naysayers. We read about them on social media. But for those not in the loop, the KTCC and drawbridge projects are catalysts for economic growth in the state capital.
“It (drawbridge) is not just a traffic dispersal project, the drawbridge will link Muara South and Muara North.
“In Muara South, we can already feel the excitement of a new shopping mall, with the drawbridge as the main crowd-puller. The economic spin-offs will be tremendous. We can create more jobs, stop migration and boost the spending power of locals as well as attract new sources of income.
“At the north of the drawbridge, there are plans for a convention and training centre, as well as a site for small- and medium-sized enterprises.
“The site is expected to attract private investments, bolstered by ease of travel from the Sultan Mahmud Airport to the city centre.
“We cannot always depend on foreign investors. We need to encourage the people to participate in development by creating a socio-economic system that is complete by focusing on strategic projects that will increase household income.”
He said the East Coast Rail Link project was another key infrastructure element that was part of the first 10-year master plan and would be among the main focuses in the ECER Master Plan 2.0.
“The main focus of ECRL is freight forwarding. It cuts down cargo delivery time to below eight hours and passenger services to about four hours.
“No doubt, all these projects are a heavy burden for the government, but the impact on the people will be tremendous.”
Baidzawi said ECERDC also focused on empowerment in education by introducing programmes for students who did not do well academically to ensure they did not become addicts or social outcasts.
“We want to prevent the emergence of the future poor. With the help of universities, we have introduced programmes for low achievers and guided them towards excellence, with the help of their parents. And many did excel, including Orang Asli children.
“We need to change their mindset. Given the opportunity and with the right nurturing, these children can achieve their potential.”