It is timely and just the right tonic, when Premier Najib Razak announced that the federal government has decided to exempt Sabah, Sarawak and the Federal Territory of Labuan from its cabotage policy with effect from June 1.
This is brilliant news as it was one of the premier issues that we have been addressing with our counterparts in Sabah and Sarawak to address the escalation of cost of living and services!
This Najib initiative would help reduce logistics and transportation costs, and lower the cost of doing business in Sabah and Sarawak, which would in turn bring down the cost of living.
Could you just imagine how speedily and with reduced costs it would be for vessels from say Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and other emerging markets to go direct to Sarawak, Labuan and Sabah!
The Consumerist in me says that to be effective the announcement must mean that all foreign ships must be able to bring cargo directly to ports in the Borneo regions, thereby allowing people there to access goods from international markets without having them brought via peninsular Malaysia as is the practice now.
To me this is like it was during the occupation or as a colony of our political masters pre-independence!
If addressed and driven in a comprehensive and professional manner I am certain it will help reduce the costs of products imported into the region.
The impact of the negatively infamous cabotage policy is that only vessels registered in Malaysia are allowed to load and unload cargo in the ports of Malaysia.
I am certain it was politically engineered so that Port Klang could be the container hub port in Malaysia.
This is despite facts staring at our faces that this policy results in the pushing up the cost of freight charges because of the creation of a conduit!
Inexplicably, it is the same with present various procurement which pushes up the price between 30 to 50 per cent in monitored conditions and in others, it is criminally unacceptable which also acts a breeding ground for corruption!
A direct negotiation between the state and international parties should be the way to go forward!
Of course, that will be killing off the corrupt, the cronies, the ass-kisses, the gravy train which feeds political greed and obesity in many tiers and forms!
However, again the Consumerist and public policy analyst in me asks for the policy to take effect effective June 1st as announced by our premier several issues need to be addressed!
Now what are the mechanisms that need to be implemented for this wave to take root and bring holistic change to Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan?
First is there a high powered task force already in place to fast track this initiative?
I am certain that there are indeed major and minor legislation that either has to be scrapped, bypassed or introduced to again fast track this Najib initiative!
Off the hook, there will be others, but I can think that we may need to address the provisions of Section 65 of the Marine Ordinance Act which seriously fans out that any foreign vessels wishing to engage with local shipping or handle cargo must have a domestic license approved and issued by the transport ministry.
So has there been an announcement to the effect that Section 65 is now redundant or superseded by another that opens the floodgates to allow foreign vessels to come in to Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan?
This is not all!
For the vessels to come in we need to address that massive upgrading and deepening of the ports at Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan be fast tracked and allocations be sent to address this, like we have to upgrade ports in Peninsula Malaysia!
One final word!
We must also take cognizance that the removal of cabotage policy will not do much to reduce costs of goods in Sabah and Sarawak, if, this important and timely announcement is not accompanied by a series of proactive moves among them, to pump in monies to start a major industrialization programs and activities in these states!
We must make certain that there is two way traffic of goods coming in and coming out from these states!
It would be absolutely foolish, actually stupid, if vessels going in come out empty!
We need to seriously look at present transport and delivery infrastructure and logistic needs and not fear to pump the financial resources to upgrade them.
This is pertinent for the movement and delivery of consumer goods and services and to open up the states for more comprehensive economic activity!
Yes, certainly what is called for is just not the announcement but a comprehensive policy and development initiative tailored according to each states strengths, weaknesses, interest, and needs!
Failing which, I fear third parties may spin and defame a noble effort saying this is another political propaganda, in view, the coming General Elections to hoodwink the voters of this region, who are indeed in present political climate and challengers, the vote bank for the incumbent government administering Putrajaya!