Robert Lau greeted by Deputy Prime Minister upon exiting the nomination center Saturday, May 8,

Barisan Nasional’s Robert Lau Hui Yew said he has dream and vision for Sibu as the preferred place for career and family.

“Career implies the aspiring young adults and the educated,” he said.

“Family implies safe, healthy, clean environment and also implies good education system for the young, rewarding employment for the breadwinner of the family and a caring environment for the elderly.

The junior Robert Lau – born into one of Sibu most successful, wealthiest families said Sibu a hundred years ago was a swamp land with and an outpost of the Brooke Government.

“It has transformed to what it is today through sheer hard work, innovation, determination and blessing from God. It was mainly based on self help.

“Sibu was planned to be the farm that feeds Sarawak. Migrants were farmers. However, the migrants were not successful in farming.

Instead, they ventured into rubber and wealth flowed. The teeming jungle was tamed and converted to rubber estates, entirely on the small holders set up.

The economy moved into timber and unimaginable wealth ensued. Sibu is now known as the world capital for tropical timber.

Sibu is in fact the tropical timber hub for the world. Unfortunately, industry players do not realize and / or unable to capitalize on this leading and advantageous position.

Timber ‘Dutch Disease’

The timber industry created the Dutch Disease – the unimaginable wealth flowed and anything else seemed unattractive.

However, there is hope as citizen of Sibu still has the traits for success – the hardworking attitude, high savings and strong emphasis on education.

Sibu in a way is suffering from its own success, in particular viewing from the angle of education. The parents put so much emphasis on their children education that there are a high percentage of graduates.

There are plenty of talents coming from Sibu; however, Sibu was and still is not able to absorb mist of these graduates as the industry here is very limited and basic.

In addition, these talents have become global citizens and they will go to places that offer the best opportunities.

The vast majority of graduates that return fall broadly into 3 categories:

1st, the professionals like doctors, lawyers and accountants;
2nd those whose family have very established business where the graduated children return to be groomed to take over the business; and
3rd those who return for family and sentimental reason.

The 1st group will return as there is always a demand for them and the opportunities are there. It is a controlled market. However, when there are too many, then some will leave for the bigger cities.

No shortcut to develop Sibu

Sibu very rarely attracts outside talents. The only group is the spouses of those who are from Sibu and their other half has to return to Sibu to work.

There is no magical way or shortcut to achieving the aim of making Sibu the preferred choice for our children. Sibu has to compete with the world as our children will be global citizen.

That is a high standard no doubt and the burden very heavy. Sibu has to leverage on whatever advantage it has. We have to start with the industry where we have an advantage and employ the talents to work in that industry with the vision of expanding and improving on the existing technology.

We have to set a higher benchmark and let others play catch-up with our standard. What are the industries where we are at an advantage? Three come into mind. First is the timber industry.

Sibu businessmen control the world tropical timber market. This group can collaborate and protect the market, instead of competing with each other on a zero sum game. Why let the customer dictates the price and terms?

Second, is the ship building industry. Sibu is renowned for building small and medium size vessels. Are we taking advantage on this by improving on technology, R & D? We are doing the subcontracting work.

We should be moving up the food chain. Why not be the centre for design and build; financing, repair and services related to shipping industry?

Third is the oil palm industry. Sarawak is a new player in Malaysia compare to West Malaysia and Sabah. There is one area where we are at the frontier and that is peat development.

We have plenty of peat land and how to use them sustainably and environmentally is a big challenge. Some see this as a problem.

Why not see this as a challenge that holds great promises? Our talented children can work on this area by doing research. The world is trying to learn from us. Let’s lead the world. The 2 seminars organized by the locals on peat soil development have attracted international participation. Have we capitalizing on this?

There is another area which we can possible exploit. Sibu probably produce the most number of doctors relative to its population in Malaysia and that is without a local tertiary educational institution that provide for medical course.

Can we tape into this pool by staring a tertiary educational institution on this field and linked it to the industry – a world class private hospital, health care for the old and other related industry.

All the above industries require plenty of capital, time, energy and the willingness to take risk. Can Sibu take up the challenge?