Sarawak Quits Malaysia Tourism Board as Nasty Row over Tax Escalates

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Sarawak leaders resoundingly condemn Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz for lambasting a Sarawak minister.

  • Sarawak minister Abdul Karim called a “political greenhorn” and “gangster”
  • Nazri’s statements condemned as “arrogant” and “insulting”

The Sarawak government yesterday announced that it was withdrawing from the Malaysia Tourism Board (MTB), as tensions mount over Putrajaya’s move to push ahead with a new tourism tax despite reservations from Sarawak minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.

“The state government deems that the participation of its representatives in Tourism Malaysia is not necessary as this is duplicating the role and functions of the Sarawak Tourism Promotion Board,” said a statement issued by the Chief Minister’s Office on Monday.

It comes a day after Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz chided Sarawak minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah for urging Putrajaya to defer the tourism tax.

Nazri had called Karim a “setahun jagung” (political greenhorn) and said he should not act like a “samseng” (gangster).

“Karim is just a new minister, he shouldn’t show off. If he doesn’t understand anything, he should meet me,” Nazri told reporters.

His remarks triggered the wrath of Sarawak leaders who described his statements as “rude”, “harsh” and “uncalled for”.

“Calling a Sarawakian minister a greenhorn is childish and an insult to Karim, who has been entrusted by the state’s leadership to head its tourism ministry,” said Sarawak Barisan Nasional Youth chief Fadillah Yusof in a statement yesterday.

“The labelling of others as ‘samseng’ is unacceptable as it is not only an insult to the individual but will also tarnish the party’s image,” said Fadillah.

Sarawak PKR vice-chairman See Chee How also criticised Nazri’s comments.

“Karim was right, based on the Federal Constitution and the Malaysia Agreement,” the Batu Lintang assemblyman was quoted as saying in The Borneo Post today.

“Nazri is the one who is ignorant and he is downright arrogant as well,” See said.

Peter John Jaban, a spokesman for pro-autonomy advocacy group Sarawak For Sarawakians (S4S) said Karim was “simply expressing” his opinions in defending the “enshrined rights” of Sarawak.

He said the derogatory remarks against Karim will lead to further animosity between the people of Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia.

“Instead, he should have set a better example as a senior minister to his juniors,” he said.

Jaban said bulldozing the tourism tax without consulting the state government was seen as a form of victimising Sarawakians further.

Nazri has downplayed the Sarawak government’s decision to withdraw from MTB, saying “life will go on as usual” and that it would not affect the state’s tourism.

“I can always replace them with someone else,” Nazri told FMT.

“I will continue to promote Sarawak with or without their representatives. That’s what I’ve been doing all these while,” he said.

Nazri said Karim’s claim that the federal government was trying to seize Sarawak’s powers was also insulting.

“That accusation was not true, so isn’t that insulting too? Does Fadillah think only the Sarawakians are sensitive? The rest of the Malaysians have no right to be sensitive?

“Doesn’t he think that Karim, as a new minister, should have said that he would seek clarification from me, rather than bluffing by saying it’s typical of West Malaysians to seize state’s powers?”

Choo Choy May

Nazri denied the claim that Putrajaya failed to consult Sarawak over the implementation of the tourism tax.

He said the Tourism Tax Bill was first presented to the federal cabinet, which also included Fadillah who is the Works Minister before it was debated in Parliament.

“So what is it with the talk about us wanting to seize Sarawak’s powers? The bill was debated in Parliament with all the Sarawak MPs present.

“When we tabled the tourism tax bill, it never even crossed our mind that it might be perceived, or used to take over the power of Sarawakians.

“I think we should all grow up, and start thinking as Malaysians,” Nazri said.

Nazri said he had used harsh words against Kari because he was upset.

In explaining why he called Karim “gangster”, Nazri said his public outbursts are “normal” and that he has nothing personal against the Sarawak tourism minister.

He reiterated that Sarawak stood to gain more from the tourism tax than Peninsular states.

He told the Borneo Post that this was because the tax would be divided equally by the three regions of Sarawak, Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia, instead of by 14 states.

He confirmed he had instructed the MTB office in Kuching to close because its role and functions duplicated those of the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB). He said it was a “business decision” to trim 35% of MTB’s operational costs.

He added he was not surprised with Sarawak withdrawing its representation in MTB for the same reason – duplication of role and functions as well as cost-cutting for STB.