Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ECER: Malaysia to unveil $32 bln development plan

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Malaysia will launch a programme next month to transform its ethnic Malay heartland into an economic powerhouse by pouring in funds of 112 billion ringgit ($32 billion) by 2020, local media said on Tuesday.

As expectations grow that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi could call early national elections by early 2008, the region will become the third development corridor his government has launched in efforts to position Malaysia for future growth.

Agriculture and tourism are key focus areas in the plan, which earmarks 40 percent of the funds to strengthen transport links and infrastructure in some of Malaysia’s poorest states, state news agency Bernama quoted the chief of national oil firm Petronas as saying.

“The thrust of the East Coast Economic Region will be agriculture and tourism,” said Hassan Marican, chief executive of Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas), charged with chalking out the plan to rejuvenate a region that is home to 4 million people.

Malaysia will woo foreign investors to participate in the plan, which expects to raise a fifth of the needed $32 billion from the private sector, another 27 percent from public-private initiatives, and the rest from government, he added.

Petronas also intends to invest in the region, Hassan said. "We will be investing in the oil and gas like we have been doing all this while,” he said, but gave no further details.

Abdullah will kick off the East Coast Economic Region (ECER), which sprawls across 51 percent of the Malaysian peninsula, through the northeastern states of Kelantan, Terengannu and Pahang to Mersing in southern Johor, on October 30 and 31.

Energy, petrochemicals, manufacturing and education are other sectors targeted in the plan, while the property sector will get a boost from moves to ease development of land that cannot currently be sold to non-Malays.

About 40 percent of the land not owned by the government in the eastern development region is in this category, Bernama said.

“Among the ideas for optimising Malay Reserve Land is to set up a trust that will develop the land,” it quoted Hassan as telling newspaper editors at a briefing. “Owners of the land can be members of the trust fund.”

Bernama later said Hassan had asked for reports of his comments to be held back until Wednesday afternoon, but the remarks had already been widely circulated on several news Web sites.

In July Malaysia launched a $51 billion development plan to turn its mainly agricultural north into a logistics, food-processing and tourism zone by 2025.

Last November, it unveiled an ambitious two-decade blueprint to turn 2,200 square km (850 square miles) of Johor into an industrial and tourist zone. ($13.485 ringgit)


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