Sabah to decide on reviewing oil palm mills closure this week

Julia Chan
Workers collect palm oil fruits inside a palm oil factory in Sepang in this picture released September 21, 2014. — Reuters pic

KOTA KINABALU, April 8 — Sabah will make a decision later this week on whether to allow oil palm mills to operate during the movement control order (MCO).

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal said that he would ask for reports from relevant authorities like the Health Department and police from the ground before making a decision.

“I want the facts first. I do not to hear from just the companies involved. Not that I’m not listening, but I need to see the facts, is it true they can avoid contact or movement? Can they prove no one is showing symptoms?

“I want to be sure because there are some places — Felda Sahabat has six positive case and they have 15,000 people there. Also [there are cases of Covid-19 in] Sabah Softwoods, they are our own GLC, we have to be sure,” he said.

He was speaking to reporters after chairing the state Cabinet meeting and later received financial contribution from several government-linked companies. 

Shafie said that to open or close oil palm mills was not a policy decision that could be macro managed, like opening all supermarkets, hairdressers or nightclubs, and required more thought and detail.

“But these plantations and oil palm mills shouldn’t worry. We will decide this week. Just that fact-finding takes time, but the state secretary will meet tonight,” he said.

He contended that if they could fulfil the requirements set by the authorities, and could assure him that no employee was endangering their lives or others, there was a chance that the state would reassess the lockdown on mills, or at least loosen it.

“Some of them have informed me they are free of the virus and can avoid contact. If we release the companies from the guidelines, they will need to comply with all safety and hygiene guidelines for their people — wearing protective gear, keeping their distance, and work in shifts. There also has to be someone in charge of monitoring their temperature. If they can do all this, maybe we can consider loosening the order,” he said.

Shafie asked the companies to be a bit more patient while the state looks for a solution.

“I know this is affecting their profits and the economy, but those can recover while a lost life cannot. What we can do is implement preventive measures as this involves lives. We must get it done properly,” he said.

The state had late last month ordered oil palm mills in six districts — Tawau, Lahad Datu, Kinabatangan, Kunak, Semporna and Kalabakan — in Sabah’s east coast to close due to the discovery of several Covid-19 cases.

The move was objected to by plantations, palm-oil related groups and the federal government who said that the state’s oil palm industry would lose RM860 million and put countless other jobs and livelihoods at stake.

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