IN this holy month of Ramadan, it is only right for me as a Muslim to reflect on things that I can do for the needy.
The poor, the sick and the underprivileged are close to my heart.
As chief minister, I try my best to help as many people as I can, improve their lives to step out of the poverty cycle through various government-related programmes.
When I took over as chief minister in 2003, eradicating poverty was one of my priorities, and the economic master plan I introduced called the Halatuju would be the mechanism I eventually used to get things going.
At the time, the poverty rate was hovering around 25 per cent. The state had some inherent economic issues and was troubled by them.
That prompted me to introduce Halatuju, which focuses on tourism, agriculture and manufacturing, as well as human capital development.
I also pushed for the socio-economic development agenda and the promotion of a better state-federal relationship, two very critical ingredients to economic progress.
To set things in motion, I formed and chaired the State Poverty Eradication Steering Committee. I personally monitor the projects and programmes being implemented apart from chairing the committee meeting at least four times a year.
As of 2014, the poverty rate is below four per cent and, hopefully, it will be as low as one per cent three years from now, which is the target set under the 11th Malaysia Plan, which ends in 2020.
To me, the key to helping the poor is having good noble programmes and perseverance.
I have always said to those delegated with implementing poverty eradication programmes that there is no point in announcing all kinds of projects and programmes if they are not implemented properly to achieve their objectives.
That would just be lip service and, in the end, the people will just get frustrated and say this is all empty talk.
Poverty was once an issue of great contention in Sabah, and the double-digit rate has haunted the state for many years, providing ammunition to the opposition to attack the Barisan Nasional government.
It is a tried-and-tested ingredient for political propaganda, an issue, if allowed to fester, becomes a recipe for disaster for any government.
Politics aside, I do not want to see my people struggle in poverty.
The state government introduced the Mini Estet Sejahtera, or MESEJ, one of several programmes implemented with the aim of sustainably raising the income of the hardcore poor and improving the people’s welfare.
Through MESEJ, the government identifies hardcore poor households and introduces various economic activities that can help them improve their earnings.
There are now 52 units of agriculture, aquaculture and micro MESEJ programmes that have been completed or are still on-going in the state.
When completed, the programmes are expected to benefit thousands of hardcore poor households.
Apart from MESEJ, there are also other programmes, such as 1AZAM, Agropolitan, Ladang PPRT, Peningkatan Ekonomi Setempat (local economic enhancement) and People’s Housing Programme.
Statistics on poverty that we have are on the downtrend, and this shows how programmes introduced by the state and federal governments have helped the hardcore poor.
The rate was 25.5 per cent in 2014, 19.7 per cent in 2009, 8.1 per cent in 2012 and four per cent in 2014.
Going back to Halatuju, this is where we move on along with the focus on human capital development and ensure sustainability in the effort to eradicate poverty.
The agriculture, tourism and manufacturing sectors the government pushed for under the agenda will be the base where the future generation of people from Sabah will develop themselves.
By the same token, human capital development is also crucial to the success of Halatuju.
Investment in education, training, skills, entrepreneurship and continuous life-long learning are necessary to enable us to produce skilled as well as a creative and innovative workforce. Human capital of this kind is what we need to equip our state to compete and move forward.
This was why the government opens its doors to the establishment of public and private institutes of higher learning.
We have also set up an education hub in Sandakan to provide access to learning to all levels of society as education must be made accessible and affordable, especially to those in the rural areas.
These are other ingredients that come with the effort to make Sabah greater.
Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Maaf zahir batin.
DATUK SERI MUSA AMAN is Sabah chief minister