Challenge accepted: Guan Eng to debate Ka Siong on cabotage exemption policy

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The ongoing dispute between DAP’s Lim Guan Eng and MCA’s Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong over the government’s cabotage exemption policies ended with the Bagan MP accepting the transport minister’s debate challenge.

It began with Bagan MP Lim asking Wee during Question Time in Parliament today to detail Malaysia’s exact losses from foreign direct investments (FDI) as a result of being bypassed as a destination for the installation of these high-speed undersea cables.

The Opposition lawmaker noted that various news outlets had reported giant tech companies like Facebook and Google chose to bypass Malaysia as a destination due to the revocation of the cabotage exemption policies, and subsequently reducing the attractiveness of the country as an investment destination.

Wee disagreed that the government’s cabotage policy directly affected the flow of FDI from these foreign tech companies.

He said the proper application processes were already there to facilitate opportunities concerning the installation of undersea cables.

“What YB is talking about is the installation of undersea cables, while our cabotage policy is for undersea cable repair works, these are two different matters.

Bernama

“Installation of undersea cables is still subject to the cabotage policy that has been in place since Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was still the prime minister, it is still there,” the minister said.

Lim defended his assertions, saying he was merely repeating the words of Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) chairman Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff.

But Wee said Rais Hussin was wrong.

“What the MDEC chairman said is not correct because the cabotage policy is only used in the context of repairing cables and not for installation; we have never stopped foreign ships’ entry.

“The question of Malaysia being bypassed as a destination does not make sense.

“I am ready to debate with YB. Last time he said I was not fit to be the MCA president, and now I challenge for one hour we can discuss and debate, whatever the program, we can discuss it,” Wee said.

That was when Lim stepped up to the plate.

“I accept the challenge from YB mentri, anytime, you set the time, I will be there,” he said.

Lim then asked Wee if Rais Hussin would be sacked from the government-linked company for voicing an opinion contrary to the ministry’s view.

But the minister said he did not have the power to do so.

The cabotage row began when Wee, in November 2020, revoked the exemption charges made by former transport minister Anthony Loke when Pakatan Harapan was government.

Lim argued that the exemption benefitted Malaysia as it allowed foreign vessels to perform undersea repair jobs at lower costs, which would boost the country’s FDI.

Shortly after the revocation, Rais Hussin issued a public statement criticising the exemption reversal.

In April, Facebook and Google revealed it would lay two huge subsea cables that will link the US West Coast to Singapore and Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy and home to a growing number of smartphone users, bypassing Malaysia.

At that time, Rais Hussin blamed Wee’s revocation of the cabotage exemption for causing Malaysia to be sidelined. – MMO