Communications and Multimedia Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa has defended Transport Minister Datuk Wee Ka Siong over allegations of giving conflicting statements on the cabotage issue in Parliament. Annuar Musa tweeted that his answer was clear and he rejects the evil accusations made by DAP MPs that both ministers have confused the House.
Bagan MP, Lim Guan Eng had referred the Transport Minister to the Rights and Privileges Committee for allegedly issuing misleading statements in Parliament two weeks ago. Last Friday, Dewan Rakyat speaker Datuk Azhar Harun had issued a letter to both Lim Guan Eng and Steven Sim to inform them that he has found no contradiction or confusion between the two statements related to the cabotage issue.
The first statement was referring to Wee Ka Siong’s clarification that the previous cabotage exemption was only applicable for undersea cable repair and it didn’t affect cable laying. Hence, the exemption is not applicable to the Apricot project which involves the installation of a new cable. The Transport Minister stands firm that the cabotage exemption should not be blamed as the sole reason Malaysia was bypassed by the subsea cable project by Facebook and Google.
On the second statement which Annuar Musa replied to Steven Sim that “Malaysia was not listed (bypassed) as one of the countries involved for a cable landing station in view that the cabotage exemption policy has yet to be resolved”, the speaker said the policy was indeed only decided on 8th October 2021.
What was decided on 8th October 2021?
The biggest question at the moment is what was decided by the Cabinet about the cabotage issue on 8th October? This was also asked by Lim Guan Eng recently as Wee Ka Siong posted on 5th October that the Cabinet will finalise the cabotage policy by early October after receiving feedback from all relevant ministries and agencies.
The cabotage exemption for submarine cable repairs introduced during the previous administration was revoked by Wee Ka Siong effective 15th November 2020. As a result, foreign DP2 ships such as ASEAN Explorer and ASEAN Restorer are required to apply for a Domestic Shipping License (DSL) in order to carry out undersea cable repairs in Malaysia since late last year. It isn’t clear if the Cabinet has decided to reinstate the exemption or to maintain the status quo.
Cabotage exemption for cable laying or cable repair?
The Transport Minister told Parliament on 30th September that the Apricot project involves the installation of new undersea cables and it still falls under the existing cabotage policy that was introduced in the 1980s. He said the government has not stopped any parties from laying cables in Malaysian waters.
Going back to the previous argument made in Parliament last year, former Transport Minister Anthony Loke explained that the cabotage exemption for undersea cable repair was granted after requests were made by Telekom Malaysia and TimeDotcom with support by the Communications and Multimedia Ministry. The Seremban MP said it previously took about 27 days to repair an undersea cable which is slower than other neighbouring countries due to the DSL process. He emphasised that the exemption was granted to speed up undersea cable repairs since Malaysia does not have the required DP2 vessels to do the job.
Tech giants including Amazon Web Services, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have written to both former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin as well as current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, calling for the reinstatement of the cabotage exemption for undersea cable repair, not for cable laying. The tech giants said the previous exemption for submarine cable repair vessels has helped to ensure that submarine cable repair works can be done efficiently within a shorter timeframe. As a result, repairs can be carried out quickly to minimise the impact of cable disruption. The letter also added that reinstating the cabotage exemption will greatly help in realising MyDigital’s goals of having the most submarine cable landings in Southeast Asia by 2025.