Malaysia Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has launched a development project worth nearly US$100 billion to fuel growth in resource-rich Sarawak.

Abdullah said the government would spend an initial RM5 billion (US$1.54 billion) to kickstart the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, with private investment targeted at RM300 billion (US$93 billion).

The Sarawak plan — the last of five regional economic blueprints being rolled out — focuses on developing the state’s energy resources of hydropower, coal, natural gas and petroleum.

“The development, distribution and consumption of energy is a core element leading to the success of the Sarawak Corridor,” Abdullah said at the launch.

The premier said the project aims to bring economic growth and eradicate poverty in the predominantly rural state by 2030, by creating some 800,000 jobs and luring billons in private investment.

“It’s not going to be less than RM300 billion (ringgit). It’s a huge amount but it involves large developments in various fields … in Sarawak, which is a very large (state),” he said.

The area earmarked for development is a 320-kilometre stretch along the Borneo coast facing the South China Sea, and covers an area of 70,708 square kilometres — 57 per cent of the state.

Officials say the main engine of growth for the project is the use of hydroelectricity supplied by the Bakun Dam to power various large-scale heavy industries.

Abdullah yesterday witnessed the signing of a RM5.25 billion power-supply deal between Rio Tinto Alcan and Malaysian utility Sarawak Energy Bhd for a planned aluminium smelter on Borneo island.

Rio Tinto and local partner Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS) have proposed building a US$2 billion smelter, which would be among the world’s largest.

Sarawak Energy also signed an agreement with Press Metal Bhd. to supply 510 megawatts of electricity to a RM2.5 billion aluminum smelter project that will commence operations in July 2010.

Malaysian conglomerate Sime Darby Berhad and Sarawak Energy Berhad also inked a deal worth RM22 billion to manage the 2400-megawatt Bakun dam and construct its transmission cables.

The two companies will also undertake a project to lay undersea power cables to transmit electricity from the dam to peninsular Malaysia. – AFP