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Ugly spat within BN family
Published on: Sunday, June 18, 2017

By Datuk Dr Johan Arriffin
The verbal spat between the State and Federal Government Ministers over the Tourism Tax came to a showdown after Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Nazri Aziz insulted Sarawak Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister, Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.

In true hypocritical fashion Nazri lambasted Karim, “Learn to be a Minister before you open your mouth and remember that in politics you shouldn’t talk so big. ” Datuk Rahman Dahlan, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and MP for Kota Belud who defended Karim was also caught in the crossfire. Nazri said Rahman was also a “new and inexperienced” minister and should not interfere in his spat with Karim.

Nazri’s outburst reflects badly on Umno leadership if he is not reined in or cautioned by the party leaders.

This is not the first time Nazri has gone ballistic. In June 2015, it was reported that Nazri warned the Johore Crown Prince that he will be whacked if he does not stay out of politics.

In another incident, Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali chastised Nazri for behaving like a gangster following Nazri’s challenge to face off Mahathir in a fist fight. Nazri met his challenge on March 26 in Kuala Kangsar at a chance meeting with Tun Mahathir. Tun gave Nazri the silent treatment when they sat next to each other in a public venue.

To save himself the embarrassment, Nazri explained the standard etiquette during Mahathir’s tenure as prime minister was that “you don’t speak to him unless he speaks to you first”. Mahathir, being a wily old man did not have to throw a single punch to silence Nazri.

Enough of Nazri’s rude behavior and let’s discuss the real issues that caused all these angst across the South China Sea. So, what is the brouhaha about Tourism Tax? Karim argued that tourism was not included in the legislative list of Malaysia Agreement 1963 but somehow over the years it has come under the purview of the Federal Government.

Furthermore, the Sarawak State government was not consulted on the change. Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, Bingkor State Assemblyman presented similar arguments stating that since tourism was not provided for in 1963, it should have been a residual power vested with the State Government. He said that its inclusion may be “unlawful” although it was passed by Parliament in 1994 with the participation of MPs from both Sabah and Sarawak.

On June 8, it was reported that the Sabah State government will be studying the proposed new tourism tax before deciding whether it would implement or oppose it. State Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Masidi Manjun, who has previously been against the new tax, said the matter will be discussed at the next State Cabinet meeting before making a final decision.

It seems that Sabah State Government is taking a cautious stand considering the tense situation between Sarawak and the Federal Ministry.

Setting aside the legal arguments on MA63 for the moment, who is to blame for the Tourism Tax fiasco?

In a scathing editorial report by Malaysia Insight on June 12, it mentioned Karim’s argument that the tourism tax was being forced on them, that tourism was not in the Malaysia Agreement in 1963, and that tourism is not in the Federal List. The editorial questioned where were Sarawak’s 25 MPs that night when the Bill was passed in the Dewan Rakyat? It concluded that Sarawak’s problem is not the federal government; Sarawak’s problem lies in its representatives who represent Putrajaya, and not Sarawak.

On the night of April 5, 2017, MPs from Sarawak and Sabah passed the Tourism Tax Bill.

There was some objection raised by opposition members from Sabah but that was about all.

In 1994, our MPs did the same “unwittingly” and added tourism to the Federal List in the 9th Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

Although we may argue that the inclusion may be “unlawful”, the Bill was passed by Parliament in 1994 with the participation of MPs from both Sabah and Sarawak. If anybody is to be blamed it should be the MPs who did not raise objections during the tabling of the Bill.

Why did they not object in Parliament in1994 and in 2017? What about the BN Cabinet members from East Malaysia; why didn’t they voice out their grievances to the PM then. Why let the matter fester until it reached boiling point?

On June 13, Rahman Dahlan said he may have disagreed with Nazri’s handling of queries about the new tourism tax, but he is on the same page as far as the tax itself is concerned. The MP for Kota Belud in Sabah fully backs the tourism tax, saying it is necessary to expand the government’s revenue base. Rahman Dahlan statements shows a lack of communication and coordination between Sabah’s Federal representative and the Sabah State Ministers.

Once again, we have a Sabah Minister representing Putrajaya knowing well the Sabah State Government has yet to decide whether to implement the Tourism Tax. It would be wiser for Sabah Ministers at Federal level and our State Ministers sit down and come to a common consensus before issuing statements on contentious issues.

Such statements will only confuse people and lead to more misunderstandings.

Can we now claim that we were not consulted, that we were walked over, that the Bill was forced through by the Federal Government? The record and facts proves otherwise. Repeating Malaysia Insights Editorial comment, if there is anybody to blame, it’s our own Federal Cabinet Ministers and MPs from East Malaysia who represent Putrajaya and not East Malaysia.

So, it’s a done deal, water under the bridge, no fight, don’t cry over spilt milk.

For those pursuing East Malaysian rights under MA63, this incident is disheartening but it’s a lesson for all of us.

There must be greater coordination between our State and Federal Ministers, and MPs who represent us in Parliament. Parliament is a place for making laws of the land. We need to know our facts, argue in a legal and scholarly manner and most of all we must be on the same page. Arguing as an afterthought when the opportunity has gone with the wind is futile.

What is worrying most people is whether the additional revenue raised through Tourism taxes is to make up the shortfall to cover the budget cuts under the Tourism Ministry. Early this year, Nazri announced the closure of Tourism Offices around the world and throughout Malaysia.

According to Nazri revenue from tourism tax would be in the region of RM654 million.

If the new tax collection is to make up the shortfall of funds in one ministry, it’s very worrying for taxpayers and consumers alike. After GST and Tourism taxes, will new taxes be in the offing to cover deficits in the government budgets? How is the money going to be utilized and how much of it is going back to the state?

This mechanism has not been clearly explained by the government as usual. It’s better for the Federal Government to fix the leakages due to rampant corruption before imposing new taxes. We have already seen worst examples in Felda FGV, the Sports Ministry, the Sabah Water Works Department and from the past history in the Tourism Ministry. Taxpayers and shareholders money has disappeared into someone else’s pockets.

The spat across the South China sea is not all about taxes, it’s about East Malaysian rights under the MA63 agreement and the ongoing negotiations for the devolution of powers. Like many countries under Federal systems, States or entities like Sabah and Sarawak wants better control of their destiny and resources.

It’s only natural. The sentiments on the ground are very strong and gathering momentum and our leaders should take heed of the voices coming from the east.

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