JOHOR BAHRU: As it pivots from the harsh economic impact caused by COVID-19, Johor is keen to develop its agricultural sector and position itself as a key food exporter to Singapore, said Chief Minister of State Hasni Mohammad.
Speaking to TBEN in an exclusive interview Thursday, November 19, Mr. Hasni was asked about the state government’s plans to help businesses and residents affected by the pandemic.
He said the government is looking to focus on farming activities and create stable digital platforms so locals can be involved in the odd-job economy.
“I believe Johor has always been strong in our farming business and I would like to develop it further. In fact, over $ 20 billion worth of food is exported to Singapore, and if Johor can position itself firmly, I believe our food industry will be a key contributor to our future economy, ”said Hasni.
Johor’s main agricultural products include palm oil, livestock, and fruits and vegetables.
Singapore is said to have imported around 37 percent of its chicken supply and 15 percent of its fish from Malaysia, among other products like eggs, vegetables and milk.
Mr. Hasni added that expanding Johor’s agricultural sector would also strengthen the state’s food security. It will also mean that the southern state can act as a “food bank” for other countries, including Singapore.
Mr Hasni said serving as a food bank for Singapore would be an area of collaboration between the two neighbors.
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LACK OF DATA TO DETERMINE WHICH JOHOREANS NEED HELP
Commenting on broader efforts to help Johor recover from COVID-19, Mr Hasni noted that many Johorians have been made redundant or are unemployed.
He said the state government was determined to help them with employment opportunities or to offer them training and development.
However, he acknowledged that the state government may not have enough data to accurately collate information on residents who need help.
“The only problem the state faces is the (lack of) data. We know for a fact that everyone is affected (by COVID-19), but we need to know if our data covers those who need our help, ”Mr. Hasni said.
“(Now the data we have) is certainly not 100% of what exists. If it’s less than 50% or 60%? 100, so that’s certainly not enough. I have to do something because I want to be able to capture anyone who needs help in any form. If we have complete and accurate data, we will be able to plan things better, ”added the Chief Minister.
JOHOR-SINGAPORE BILATERAL PROJECTS
Commenting on the Singapore-Malaysia bilateral projects, Mr. Hasni was optimistic that the two rail projects, the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Linkage and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Train (TGV) project, would benefit the Johorians when completed.
The RTS Link aims to connect Bukit Chagar to Johor Bahru to Woodlands in Singapore, serving around 10,000 passengers per hour each way to help reduce traffic congestion on the roadway.
Construction of the Bukit Chagar station is scheduled to begin Sunday afternoon with a virtual groundbreaking ceremony.
“(The RTS link) is a game-changer for us because for the first time in history we have such an advanced and updated mode of travel between Malaysia and Singapore. So I look forward to this launch and it will create jobs and stimulate the economy, ”said Hasni.
Previously, it was announced that construction would take place in two phases. The development and civil phase will run from 2021 to the end of 2024, while the commissioning and test phase will run from 2025 to the end of 2026.
Passenger service is expected to start from the end of 2026.
Meanwhile, for the TGV, Hasni said he was optimistic that a decision will be made before the end of the year on whether the two sides will proceed with the construction phase.
He added that the project is something that “gives hope and expectation” to residents as it stimulates employment opportunities and economic activities in the region.
In September 2018, Singapore and Malaysia agreed to postpone construction of the TGV until the end of May this year. Malaysia had to pay Singapore $ 15 million for the costs of suspending the project.
Malaysia subsequently requested an additional seven-month extension to allow the two sides to discuss and assess Malaysia’s proposed changes to the project.
Mr. Khaw Boon Wan, who was then Singapore’s transport minister, agreed to the “permanent extension of the suspension period” until December 31.
The two countries had also announced that TGV service is expected to start on January 1, 2031, instead of the original start date of December 31, 2026, due to this suspension.
The proposed TGV line aims to cut travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to around 90 minutes by train, compared to 11 hours currently on existing rail services.
When operational, the line will offer express service between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, domestic service from Kuala Lumpur to Iskandar Puteri, and Iskandar Puteri shuttle service to Jurong East.
During the interview, the chief minister also referred to the Johor Economic Tourism and Culture Office (JETCO) in Singapore, which is expected to open in the first quarter of 2021.
Mr Hasni said the office would make it easier for Singapore companies to start operations in Johor and attract investment for the state.
READ: Johor State Government to Set Up Company in Singapore to Strengthen Trade Ties
He added that JETCO is also a way for Johor State Government agents to be seconded to various agencies in Singapore, so “they can learn and be exposed to new ways of doing things.” .
“We need to learn from Singapore’s successes,” Mr. Hasni said.
“In the management of water, the environment, the way in which certain infrastructures are built and even housing policies”, he added.
Tune in to TBEN on Monday morning from 7 a.m. to find out more about what the Chief Minister has to say about Johor’s economy and cooperation with Singapore.
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