Kota Kinabalu: Labuan can be developed into a strong and sustainable economic and financial centre, provided the Federal Government changes its attitude towards the local leaders and civil servants.
Former Chief Minister Datuk Harris Salleh said the Federal Government must also listen to local views and requests.
“Hope will always remain a hope, therefore, it is a hope that the Federal Government will take steps to develop Labuan and make Labuan a Little Singapore as promised and envisaged,” he said.
In a statement in conjunction with Labuan’s Silver Jubilee, Harris said the State Government handed over Labuan to the Federal Government in 1984 in the hope of ensuring that Labuan would be economically viable and become a “Little Singapore”.
The idea sprang up 25 years ago because the Federal Government has the power and funds to turn Labuan into an economically developed urban island, he said.
But, Harris said it was evidently clear that over these years, the Federal Government had failed to develop in all respects, to convert Labuan into “Little Singapore” as well as to create economic activities to sustain and assure the present and future.
“It is Malaysia’s one and only Offshore Financial Centre or International Business and Financial Centre but not a success. There has also not been a single industry or factory established at Labuan since the handover.
“Industries, which are suitable to establish in Labuan, were established in West Malaysia,” he said, adding that with all its power and funds, the Federal Government failed to fulfil its objective after taking over Labuan.
Harris said there were many reasons for the failure, firstly the wrong policies and programmes adopted for Labuan, which were done half-heartedly.
“Though there are many concrete buildings built over the 25 years, these buildings do not contribute to economic activities on the island,” he said.
He said a few of the so-called tourist attractions like the Bird Park and Pulau Papan Picnic Resort were also a failure.
“It has not helped Labuan economically and Labuan still remains as a village town. More importantly, these developments do not contribute to any economic growth that will benefit the local Labuan people,” he said.
In fact, Harris said Labuan is an ideal place for the headquarters of the Malaysian Armed Forces for East Malaysia but instead even the smallest military contingents before the handover were moved away.
The main reason is that the top military brass wanted to be located close to the State Government, he said.
Labuan could also be made as a pilot project for settlement of retired foreigners and despite all the talk by the Prime Minister and other Ministers to improve the policy on retired overseas people’s settlement, there is not a single organised and self-housing complex, which is designed and built for these retired people.
Besides this, he said, the biggest issue is that the policy of the Federal Government is not clear and keeps changing all the time.
Malaysia can be a second home for retirees if the Government is serious and changes the policy as most of the retirees are selling off their homes in their country to migrate and cannot afford to go back to their country again, he added.