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Cabotage Policy Must Go in Borneo States – Dr. Jeffrey

Kota Kinabalu:     “The National Export Council (NEC) which is scheduled to meet next month and discuss amongst other things, the cabotage policy, should state in no uncertain terms that the crippling and costs increasing cabotage policy for Sabah and Sarawak should be abolished” said Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan, STAR Sabah Chief and Bingkor Assemblyman in response to the disclosure by the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek that implementation of the cabotage policy was no longer practical, particularly involving export companies in Sabah, and will be discussed at next month’s meeting of the NEC.

“If the federal government still feels that the cabotage policy should be continued, then it should adopt the 1-Country 2-System (1-C 2-S) and maintain the cabotage policy for the ports in Malaya and exclude the ports in Sabah and Sarawak.

As rightly stated by the Agriculture Minister, he understood the challenges faced by the Sabah exporters in delivering their goods, in particular agro-food products to other countries, as they were forced to go through Port Klang first under the cabotage policy.

It matters not and extremely disappointing for a Sabah State Minister to request federal ministers to communicate with each other on the cabotage policy as if trying to make excuse for their various contradictory statements.

It is made worse for him to say that he is not taking sides on whether to abolish the cabotage policy given that he is a Sabah minister.   As part of the government responsible for Sabah, he should support the abolishment, although a federal policy, as it was clearly detrimental to Sabah’s interests and against the welfare of Sabahans.

Endless reports and appeals have been made to discard the cabotage policy for Sabah and Sarawak over the years but they have all fallen on deaf ears.    Perhaps, the Umno-led BN federal government will only listen when Sabah and Sarawak throw them out of Putrajaya in the next general elections but by then they will realize it too late.

By all means continue the cabotage policy in Malaya and close all the Malayan ports and bar foreign shipping from plying between Malayan ports.  With the 1-C 2-S in cabotage and exclusion of the Sabah and Sarawak ports, foreign vessels will be able to ply between ports in Sabah and Sarawak and ports in Malaya.

As concluded in a previous study by the Federation of Sabah Industries (FSI), the cabotage policy in 2012 cost each of the 3.2 million population in Sabah an estimated RM175.00 per month in shipping costs.   It is probably more than RM200 per person per month now in 2015.

With the abolishment of the cabotage policy, the federal government could help establish Sabah as the “Hub of the Far East” or dubbed “Dubai of the Far East” as proposed by the FSI and its immediate past president, Datuk Seri Wong.  

With Kota Kinabalu as a regional shipping hub, it will lead to economic growth in the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-East Asean Growth Area (BIMEAGA) especially Sabah and Sarawak.   As a result, Malaysia flagged ships could increase their shipping volume from this economic growth and achieve the original intent of the cabotage policy but which it had failed to meet miserably since its implementation in the 1980s.

Lack of communication between federal ministers causing confusing and lack of clarity or failed objectives of the policy should not be excuses to make Sabahans suffer the continuation of the cabotage policy.  Steps should be taken urgently to abolish the policy and this should be supported whole-heartedly by the Sabah government for the good of Sabah and Sabahans.

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