KUCHING, Nov 29: Sarawak is keenly exploring the viability of selling its sand to Singapore, according to Minister of Infrastructure Development and Transportation (MIDT) Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing.
Masing voiced his agreement with Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar’s recent statement that the government should be allowed to extract sand not at its own cost, but at the expense of private sector companies who are interested in the sand.
“As the Minister in charge of transportation, I am duty bound to ensure that the port is accessible to ships or vessels and that riverine transportation remains viable and safe.”
However, Masing pointed out dredging comes under the purview of the federal government.
“Dredging is under the purview of the federal government, and funding is hard to come by while in some areas we cannot wait any longer. Because of this, my ministry and I are in discussion with private entities whether we could pass the responsibility to them at no cost to the Sarawak government.”
To shed light on the matter, he revealed that a few months after he took over the portfolio as Minister of Infrastructure Development and Transportation, he had a discussion with the late Chief Minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem, about the possibility of allowing Sarawak to export sand to cover dredging expenses.
“The late Tok Nan (Adenan) was very supportive of the idea as we will make dredging financially viable. Tok Nan described it as turning ‘waste into wealth’. After all, Malaysian companies are exporting sand to other ASEAN countries.
“Because of that, in June 2016, I went to see the Singaporean Second Minister of National Development Desmond Lee accompanied by two of my Assistant Ministers, my ministry’s permanent secretary and senior officers. However, we were informed that the Singaporean government is cautious about purchasing sand on a Government-to-Government basis. It was also revealed during the meeting that the Singaporean government does not mind buying from a third party.”
“MIDT being part of the government does not have the leads and at that time I was new to MIDT and did not have a private network within the industry. As a result, MIDT decided to invite private entities to assist us.”
Masing added that he is seriously considering the matter.
“If it works, it will cost Sarawak nothing but will generate income instead. So why not? My ministry is seriously looking at this and I hope to discuss the matter with the our Chief Minister soon.”
At the same time, he also stressed that private entities will need to adhere to all the environmental rules and regulations to ensure the sand harvesting will cause as little impact as possible to the environment.
A national daily had recently reported Wan Junaidi as revealing that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has agreed to allow more companies to mine and export sand. This is as most rivers in Malaysia are becoming shallower, and the move would not only save the government billions of ringgit, but also allow the state governments to collect revenue. — DayakDaily