By STEPHEN WONG
COMMENT: The Barisan Nasional government has once again failed to show its sincerity and willingness to help the people; this time it is the exemption of the cabotage policy for Sabah and Sarawak.
Despite the fact that the Najib Razak announced last May 17 in Sandakan that the cabotage policy will be exempted between the ports of Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsula Malaysia, the Merchant Shipping Act 1952 (Amendment) which was recently passed in the Dewan Rakyat, never touched on the exemption of the said policy for Sabah and Sarawak.
I took part in the debate for this Bill amendment in Parliament, and argued that the cabotage policy which had restricted Sabah’s development and caused Sabah to have a higher cost of living compared to Peninsular Malaysia, must be abolished, so that Sabah can be truly benefit from a free and liberated market as well as sea trade.
Under Section 68(s) of the said Bill “No ship other than a registered Malaysian ship may engage in domestic shipping.” This was not amended and still effective. It shows that the whole Bill did not serve the purpose of exempting or abolishing the cabotage policy for Sabahans and Sarawakians.
I am indeed very disappointed there were no amendments on the exemption of the cabotage policy.
Even though the Transport ministry had replied my question earlier that under a different section which empowers the minister to exempt foreign ships to enter Malaysian waters for domestic shipping, however, it’s my opinion that in the long term the liberation policy for Sabah and Sarawak should be safeguarded by law and written into law.
Other than that, I also suggested that Section 68(u) and (v) which gives power to the minister to decide if foreign vessels can offer service in domestic shipping, this power should not only be decided by federal Minister alone, and in view that Sabah has unique position in terms of equal partnership and geography, the state government should have a say on domestic shipping.
I further questioned that such an announcement by the Prime Minister which was not determined in the law, and the amendment of the Bill, is actually a political gimmick to woo Sabahan votes instead of being sincere to help Sabah to solve the problem.
I did also touch on Sabah’s sea territory rights where the 200 nautical miles of Sabah’s sea territory should be returned to the Sabah state government according to IGC report and Malaysia Agreement 1963. I reiterated that when Malaysia’s emergency state status was lifted in 2011, it became illegal for the federal government to control Sabah sea’s territory up to 200 nautical miles; therefore when Parliament wants to decide on merchant shipping for federal waters especially like licensing of ships, it should be upheld that Sabah should have control over its territorial waters.
• Stephen Wong is DAP Member of Parliament for Sandakan and Sabah DAP chairman