KUALA LUMPUR — Sarawak yesterday removed its representative from the Malaysian Tourism Board with immediate effect, as the tiff between the Borneo state and Putrajaya over the introduction of a new tourism tax escalated.
“The Sarawak state government has decided to withdraw the participation of its representative in the Malaysia Tourism Board with immediate effect,” Sarawak Chief Minister’s Office said in a brief two-paragraph statement. “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.”
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The move followed a sharp exchange of words between Sarawak tourism minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah and his federal counterpart Nazri Aziz.
Welcoming Sarawak’s decision, Mr Nazri yesterday said the state’s representatives should have voiced their objections over the tax in Parliament and in the Cabinet.
“I don’t see why they are so upset about the tax. We made this decision several months ago in Parliament and the Cabinet. There were seven to eight Sarawakian ministers who didn’t say anything,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Mr Abdul Karim had on Saturday urged the federal government to defer the July 1 implementation of the tourism tax for Sarawak and Sabah, another east Malaysian state on the island of Borneo.
Among others, Mr Abdul Karim said Putrajaya must respect the Malaysia Agreement 1963 as tourism for the state only came under the federal government recently.
The Malaysia Agreement combined Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore to form a new union with the Federated Malay state of Malaya on Sept 16, 1963, forming the Federation of Malaysia. Under the agreement, a list of 18 points were drawn up to safeguard the interests, rights and autonomy of Sarawak. Sabah, too, has a similar proposal known as the 20-point agreement, with certain differences in content.
Mr Abdul Karim’s comments led to a rebuke from Mr Nazri a day later. He labelled his Sarawak counterpart as inexperienced, and advised him not to behave “like a gangster”.
Mr Abdul Karim was appointed to his post a month ago, while Mr Nazri is a senior federal minister who has served under three prime ministers.
“I’ve been a minister for a long time; if there’s anything that you don’t understand, meet me and ask me first,” Mr Nazri said, adding that the tax would benefit, rather than negatively affect, tourism in Sarawak. His remarks triggered an uproar among Sarawakians as well as Sarawak Barisan Nasional leaders, who described the federal minister’s statement as “harsh” and “immature”.
Malaysia will impose a tourism tax of between RM2.50 (S$0.80) and RM20 per room, per day for hotel stays from next month.
The move, first announced by the government in April, has been criticised by the tourism industry and Malaysians, who are not exempted from paying the tax. The tax rate is fixed at RM20 per room each night in a five-star hotel, RM10 per room each night for a four-star hotel, and RM5 per room each night for one-, two- and three-star hotels.
For one-, two- and three-orchid as well as non-rated accommodation, the tax is RM2.50 per room per night. Orchid is a more environmentally focused rating system. AGENCIES