The Sabah Builders Association (SBA) welcomed the Chief Minister Datuk Shafie Apdal's assurance that more in-depth review will be done by the cabinet before making a decision on the halt to sand dredging.
It urged the Government to look into a long-term solution with appropriate guidelines on sand dredging, particularly within a guided time frame so as to avoid the uncertainty of sand supply in the construction market.
Sand, being naturally available, used to be one of the cheapest materials essential for the construction of roads, bridges, reservoirs, public and private buildings, etc.
Sand is an essential component for manufacturing concrete, one of the most used raw building materials in the construction industry.
"The absence of an uncertain supply of sand will effectively slow down the progress and also increase the cost of the construction projects,"
SBA said it was extremely time-consuming and tedious process to obtain a sand dredging licence, which had to go through and be approved by Jabatan Pengairan dan Saliran (JPS), Environment Protection Department (EPD), Jabatan Perinkana Sabah, Jabatan Tanah dan Ukur Sabah, Jabatan Mineral dan Geosains Malaysia and Jabatan Hasil Bumi.
As a result, demand far exceeded supply from the licensed sand operators causing rampant illegal sand mining businesses and an increase of sand price from an average RM45/cu yard previously to RM55/cu yard (based on a supply source from Kota Belud or Papar to a site in Kota Kinabalu).
SBA foresees the price would be raised even higher if the sand dredging was halted.
This would also lead to a possible delay to progress resulting in losses and additional expenses on both the government and private projects if the sand dredging issues are prolonged.
SBA said Agriculture and Food Industry Minister Junz Wong's proposal to increase the current single sand operator at Kota Belud to 10 operators is timely to cut out monopoly and increase sand supply at a more competitive price to meet the increasing sand demand.
SBA looks forward to the State Government to formulate simpler and faster application procedures so that the new applicants could quickly obtain the sand dredging licence to improve sand supply for the Sabah construction industry.
However, the government should also take steps to ensure there is no price hike during this period of sand dredging review or stoppage.
It said, as a proactive move, the Government should work closely with the concerned parties or department to pre-identify the suitable locations where sand dredging activity could be carried out.
SBA is also interested to know whether any temporary measures are being looked into to assist the construction industry to minimise disruption to the progress during this period of the sand dredging approval review process, particularly in dealing with the shortage and price increase of sand at this juncture.
Once a sand dredging operation is approved, one should also ensure the necessary enforcement is in place to keep the riparian reserve protected from squatters and over dredging.