The submarine cable cabotage issue has once again come under the spotlight when Transport Minister Dr Wee Ka Siong challenged former Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng to a debate. Following yesterday’s Parliament session, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) Chairman Dr Rais Hussin, tweeted “Minister with an IQ level of cabbage should not be talking about the cabotage policy”.
Dr Rais added that tech giants have written several times to both former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri to reinstate the cabotage exemption for submarine cable repair. He also said that Guan Eng will have this “cabbage” for breakfast if ever the debate happens.
Guan Eng yesterday had questioned the Transport Minister about the losses from foreign direct investments (FDI) as a result of Malaysia being bypassed by tech giants for new submarine cables. In response, Dr Wee said the installation of new submarine cables is different from the undersea cable repair works, insisting that the same cabotage policy was in place during Tun Mahathir’s time as the Prime Minister.
When Guan Eng defended his assertions highlighting points raised by Rais Hussin on the cabotage policy, the Transport Minister insisted that the MDEC Chairman is wrong. Dr Wee said it is not correct because the cabotage policy is only used in the context of repairing cables and not for installation, and Malaysia has not stopped entry for foreign ships.
The cabotage exemption for submarine cable repair was introduced under the Pakatan Harapan administration by former Transport Minister Anthony Loke in April 2019. The exemption was granted as Malaysia didn’t have the required DP2 ships and it took an average of 27 days to repair undersea cables in Malaysian waters. It was requested by Telekom Malaysia and Time dotcom with support from the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia led by former minister Gobind Singh. The exemption was revoked in November 2020 by Dr Wee.
MDEC had released a position paper that highlighted the impact of the cabotage policy on submarine cable operations and management last year. According to the agency, the policy will affect Malaysia’s internet stability, quality and speed, as well as reduced foreign investments including data centres.
In November 2020, former ministers Anthony Loke and Gobind Singh had criticised Dr Wee for not understanding the impact of the cabotage policy on Malaysia’s digital industry. Early this year, the Transport Minister had said in an interview that some of the tech giants’ arguments are illogical and insisted that DP1 ships are sufficient to carry out the job as Malaysian waters are largely shallow.
Dr Wee said the data centre was built in Singapore because Malaysia lacked the appropriate data centre infrastructure. 🤦🏻♂️ Do you know how many data centres are here in Malaysia since mid 90s ? Check the facts first @weekasiongmp ! Please ! https://t.co/7cA1J8Yrmb— Dr. Rais Hussin (@raishussin) April 5, 2021
Rais Hussin has been at loggerheads with Dr Wee on the cabotage issue. In April this year, he criticised the Transport Minister for saying that Malaysia was bypassed because it lacked data centre infrastructure.
Last month, tech giants including Amazon Web Services, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft had written a joint letter to Ismail Sabri to request for the reinstatement of the cabotage exemption as soon as possible. The letter highlighted that the cabotage exemption will help to ensure that submarine cable repair works can be done efficiently within a shorter timeframe and it will minimise the impact of cable disruption.
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