MDEC Chairman Dr Rais Hussin tweeted on Friday that a Minister with an IQ of cabbage should not be talking about the cabotage policy. He made the remark after Transport Minister Dr Wee Ka Siong challenged former Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng to a debate. In response, the shipping industry which includes Malaysia Shipowners’ Association (MASA) along with five other shipowners’ and maritime groups have issued a joint press statement to object Rais Hussin’s remarks towards the minister.
MASA Chairman Dato’ Ir. Abdul Hak Md. Amin said “MASA representing shipowners in Malaysia strongly and unequivocally condemn the remark made by the Chairman of MDEC regarding the IQ of our Honourable YB Minister of Transport. If it is true what he said as reported, Dr. Rais who holds the highest position in a prominent GLC, is a disgrace not only to his industry but his peers for uttering such words and should be removed, period! As professionals, we may differ in opinions, but we don’t go on personal attack.”
Abdul Hak added “Our YB Minister is the custodian of the Cabotage Policy is well versed with the objectives and the needs of the policy in the country. Malaysia is one of about 100 countries worldwide practising this policy and MASA stands solidly behind YB Minister in his firm action to ensure Malaysia’s sovereignty and security are safeguard by enforcing strictly the country’s cabotage policy.”
Ikhtisas Kelautan Malaysia (IKMAL) President Capt Zuradi bin Zainol Abidin said “logical debates supported with factual anecdotes are to be encouraged and claims stated to be explored for truth as well as practicality.” He also said “What need be avoided is for a party to denigrate and humiliate another individual simply on the basis of the latter holding a stance contrary to the former. IKMAL is of the opinion that the esteemed Dr. Rais Hussin, resorting to a level of hurling personal attacks against Minister of Transport, Datuk Seri Ir Dr Wee Ka Siong, has inadvertently permitted himself to join the sorry cabal of emotional individuals who opt for namecalling as opposed to cerebral disagreement.”
Malaysia OSV Owners’ Association (MOSVA) said “It is totally condescending and unsolicited for a Chairman of a GLC to make such disparaging remarks. It demonstrates blatant arrogance and contemptuous attitude by a person holding a top office. MOSVA does not condone such public statements but encourages mutual respect, in the spirit of Keluarga Malaysia.”
Commenting on the recent remarks, Association of Marine Industries of Malaysia (AMIM) President Soo Jee Main said “Name-calling others with all sorts of ugly, unpleasant things; depicting one another as somebody with an IQ of cabbage, etc., appears to be an accepted part of our Malaysian culture dispensation. Maybe the public has enjoyed such circuses immensely, cheering and applauding. It has become a culture and we, as a society, have promoted it and in a way, we have also accepted it.” He added, “Everyone, leaders, and others alike, should be able to fully optimise their right to freely express themselves on any issues that affect them, including making analyses and assessments with the right facts and figures without undue recourse to provocative and demeaning language.”
Sarawak and Sabah Shipowners’ Association (SSSA) and the Sarawak Association of Marine Industries (SAMIN) have also shared the same view as other maritime associations and expressed support for Dr Wee Ka Siong for upholding the cabotage policy to be strictly enforced to ensure that the local maritime industry prospers.
Cabotage for submarine cable repairs
To recap, the cabotage exemption for undersea cable repair was first introduced during the Pakatan Harapan administration by former Transport Minister Anthony Loke in April 2019 after it was requested by Telekom Malaysia and Time dotcom with the support from the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia. The exemption was granted specifically to speed up undersea cable repairs as it took an average of 27 days. At the time, Malaysia didn’t have the required DP2 vessels for the job and had to rely on foreign-flagged ships.
The current Transport Minister Dr Wee Ka Siong revoked the exemption in November 2020 which caused jitters in the tech industry. MASA supported the revocation as it will help the development of the local shipping industry. It also claimed that a Singaporean firm had monopolised the undersea cable jobs in our waters and is counterproductive in stimulating competition.
The Singaporean firm in question is likely referring to ASEAN Cableship Pte Ltd (ACPL), a consortium that consists of CAT Telecom Public Company Limited, Eastern Telecommunications, PT Indosat Tbk, Telekom Brunei Berhad, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd and Telekom Malaysia Berhad. The Singapore-based company operates three DP2 vessels – ASEAN Restorer, ASEAN Explorer and ASEAN Protector.
During an interview with Astro Awani (12:37 mark), the MASA Chairman claims that the cabotage policy can protect our data security. He said even if we don’t repair cables, our computers can get hacked. He added that if our undersea cables are broken and other foreign vessels come in, we won’t know if they would steal our data. He said if we have our own ships, our security can be maintained during a repair.
Despite the reinstatement of the cabotage policy, MASA stresses that foreign ships are still allowed to enter. The Domestic Shipping Licence (DSL) process which previously took 25 to 30 days has been shortened with eDSL. As shared by Dr Wee early this year, the DSL application for ACPL’s ships was approved at an average of 3 days between November 2020 to March 2021.
However, the tech giants have repeated their calls for the cabotage exemption to be reinstated as soon as possible. Amazon Web Services, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have recently written to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to raise concerns about the cabotage policy. It emphasised that the previous exemption has helped to ensure that submarine cable repair works can be done efficiently within a shorter timeframe which will minimise the impact of cable disruption.
MDEC Chairman’s stand on the cabotage issue
MDEC Chairman Dr Rais Hussin has been critical about the cabotage issue. In a blog post published in April, he said cabotage and landing rights are the two significant show stoppers for tech (Foreign Direct Investments) FDIs in building capacity and investing in capabilities in any country. He added when Malaysia started to attract data centre investments, one of the key issues highlighted by investors was the long delays in obtaining permits for submarine cable repairs.
He said when Anthony Loke issued an exemption order, it was received positively by investors and local telcos, and there are plans to land cables in Malaysia. However, after the policy was reversed abruptly, it caught investors by surprise. Rais said some were in the final stage of committing investments as the exemption will reduce repair times and increase reliability.
Rais said the impact in the reversal of the cabotage exemption is immediate as new cables announced by Facebook and Google are landing in Singapore and Indonesia, but not Malaysia. He also suggested for legislation to be amended to remove submarine cable activities from the definition of cabotage for the sake of attracting high-value digital investments.