Labuan's only economic future lies in tourism as all the sectors that once drove the island's economy have come to an end while other Federal Government projects to resuscitate them never took off.
Former Sabah Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh (pic) said, in fact, Labuan can be developed into a world class tourist destination provided the authorities are bold and progressive enough to approve proposals for any tourism development.
Quoting late Primary Industries Minister Tan Sri Lim Keng Yaik who told Sabahans to decide whether they wanted "monkey or gold", Harris said the choice is for the Labuan authorities to make.
"Sabahans chose gold."
"This is a very important remark for those in authority to consider either to develop Labuan into an economically viable island or leave it as it is (and take its) future and prospects to nowhere," he said, in a statement.
He proposed that in order to establish sustainable economy for Labuan as a tourist island, the authorities, including Labuan Corporation and islanders in general must consider, among others, the Labuan-Sabah Bridge.
"The Labuan-Sabah Bridge had been committed by Prime Minister after Prime Minister over the last 30 years.
Nothing has happened as it is uneconomic to spend RM3 billion for the bridge. The proposed study to be carried out sounds good and serious but in reality the study cannot support priority spending of RM3 billion by the Federal Government," he argued. According to him, the proposed bridge could only be built by way of land swaps.
"(Let's) say 5,000 acres on each side, totaling 10,000 acres," he said, adding that land reclamation should not a be problem as it had been approved some 10 years ago for 20,000 acres in the area.
The 10,000 acre land would also support the economy of the bridge and Labuan, and be developed into commercial and housing for Retired Overseas People Housing Complex.
He estimated that some 20,000-30,000 homes can be built in the area.
He said if the Federal Government could extend the policy of granting Permanent Residence for Retired Overseas People as for Johor and Langkawi, it has no reason for not extending it to Labuan which according to him can attract 30,000-50,000 Retired Overseas People.
Besides, he said Labuan has many advantages over Johor or Langkawi and the move will also provide employment to locals.