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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Harris: Stop punishing Labuan

KOTA KINABALU - Former Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Mohd Salleh (pic) said the Federal Government will be breaking the rice bowls of Labuan if it tampers with the island's pre-independence tax-free status, which is "absolutely the last hope the people of Labuan have in making a living".

"In doing so, the Barisan Nasional Government is shutting its eyes to the long history of faithful support from the people of Labuan," he warned, in a statement, Saturday.

He was referring to the recent move to restrict the sale of duty-free items on the island by Customs Department, a move described as one of a long series of negative actions by Federal ever since the island was handed over by Sabah to become a Federal Territory in 1984.

On the reason for the curtailment being Customs leakages having reached more than RM1 billion, Harris said it is certain that such a huge amount did not originate from Labuan.

"The huge amount cannot be correct. Smuggling on a large scale is also prominent in Sabah and Sarawak.

Why take it out on the people of Labuan? Why take away their rights which they have been enjoying since colonial time from 1800s?

"And with effect from November 2016, all vehicles from Labuan must deposit the value of the vehicle with Customs before being allowed to cross to Sabah. This is another blow to Labuan, the question is how vehicles did not return to Labuan.

Strangely, vehicles from Brunei and Sarawak freely enter Sabah without any limitation," he pointed out.

Hence, he said it is not logical to blame and punish Labuan alone for the tax leakage of more than RM1 billion a year.

According to him, tax-free items (alcohol and cigarettes) from Labuan amounting to more than RM3 million are being sold per day to places in Sabah and Sarawak. "Common sense can dictate that the stocks of all shops selling alcohol and cigarettes at any one day is not more than say RM2 million."

As such, Harris argued that the figure of RM1 billion must include Sabah and Sarawak and for the whole nation must be around RM30 billion.

He said restricting Labuan's free port status would mean the end of the road for Labuan.

"The Customs Department will hit the last nail in Labuan's economic coffin. If implemented, it will reduce competition, give the 18 special permit holders exclusivity for printing money.

"It will open a whole new Pandora's box of problems, first of which is corruption in the issuance of these special 18 licences.

Someone will get a lot of money from these 18 licences.

"Secondly, Labuan can kiss tourism and promotion of retiree-stay goodbye. The proposed limiting to 18 establishments as 'Duty Free' is only creating another monopoly. Malaysia has already too many monopolies, including rice, and these are only benefiting billionaires," he countered.

Harris reiterated that the Berjaya Government initiated all the major projects in Labuan while lamenting that after more than 40 years, Putrajaya had done nothing much except to deliver a litany of disappointments.

"So much thunder and lightning but no rain! The people of Labuan have been fed with so many false hopes."

While conceding that Labuan has enjoyed a mini boom from oil and gas, he said Putrajaya did not cause this to happen as the boom is co-incidental in that it was the Berjaya Government which set up Asean Supply Base – not Putrajaya.

"Now that oil and gas is gone and will be out for a very long time, what can Labuan people do?" he asked.

Against this scenario, the former CM lamented that Labuan would definitely become "padang tekukur" – the adopted and now unwanted child.

Noting that the Prime Minister has shifted the focus of oil and gas from Labuan to Sabah and Sarawak as he has approved several projects to these two States, he said : "Saddest of all is that from day one, Putrajaya did not and does not like it has now a comprehensive plan for the social and economic development for Labuan. Labuan people have been abandoned by Putrajaya to fend for themselves."

What is unfair, Harris said, is that compared to Langkawi and other designated places in West Malaysia, Putrajaya has been ever ready to pour billions of RM to ensure their success.

He stressed that the least Putrajaya can do is produce a set of policies to encourage investments by the private sector through such incentives like tax concession, PR for foreigners wanting to buy a house and stay in Labuan and maintain the tax-free status.

The former CM himself had earlier provided a Master Plan in the form of a booklet to develop Labuan into a little Singapore, incorporating the following projects:

a] An overall development of the Town area; b] Re-development of Kampongs; c] A Fishing Complex at Kiansam; d] Development of Tourist Infrastructures; e] Establishment of Self-Contained Housing Complex for Retired Overseas People; f] The present so-called Military airport be turned into a full-fledged Commercial Airport and establish a Military Airport at Tawau; g] Labuan area is the most suitable place to support Oil and Gas Development at Spratly; h] Development of 700 acres industrial land and a domestic harbour that can handle 30,000 tonnes at Rancha Rancha.

Harris suggested that all these proposed eight projects be undertaken by the private sector by privatisation without the need for Federal Government Funds.

Harris said from his observation, the PM seems only too keen to please Sarawak and Sabah for obvious political reasons – political survival. "Sometimes, these two states don't even have to ask, he will also give! Labuan has been asking and asking, but no response from PM."

According to Harris, Labuan is being bypassed as the oil and gas centre for E Malaysia, while China will develop oil and gas infrastructures on some of the Spratly Islands, and Brunei is clever. "Other countries don't talk but they act.

The new Philippines President Duterte wasted no time in sending former President Ramos to seek solutions on the Spratly dispute with China. This is what I call decisive action."

At this juncture, he repeated his call to the Federal Government to give Labuan back to Sabah if it (Federal) is not capable of looking after Labuan or refuse to give the people of Labuan what they deserve.

"Sabah which has had the benefits of Datuk Musa's management, can assist Labuan in producing a good economic blueprint for its future," he said.

Without industries and what more without a Free Port, he feared that Labuan with its present population of about 80,000 will go down to where it was in 1950.

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