KOTA KINABALU: The BIMP-EAGA Business Council Sabah has urged the Federal Agriculture Ministry (MOA) to reconsider its decision to stop all transshipment activities of rice at all ports in the country, including those in Sabah and the Federal Territory of Labuan.
Its chairman, Datuk Roselan Johar Mohamed, warned that the decision, which he claimed to be made without consulting the locals, including business owners and community leaders, could have grave consequences citing job losses due to the stoppage of operations of some businesses as among the implications.
“This action of banning instead of tightening enforcement seems to be the easy way out to resolve a problem. It was the same case as in the Royal Customs and Excise Department’s decision to increase bank guarantee amount for vehicles going out to Sabah and the decision to create a much smaller cluster of duty-free shops in Labuan about a year ago – all in the name of curbing smuggling. Only after much complaints from the people of Labuan and efforts by the local MP that a ‘compromise’ was achieved,” he reminded.
He said that Ministry of Agriculture must realise that the people’s wants and desires hold priority over all others.
“We have suffered long enough and local situation seems most unbearable to just to keep silence and make don’t know. The Agriculture Minister must be exposed to the Key Performance Index (KPI) that his tenure of ministership is largely dependent on the increase of padi fields and its yield annually; instead of destroying jobs and employment opportunities and increasing subsidy payouts,” he said.
Roselan added that unemployment is ever increasing and graduates are jobless.
“You take away our transshipment business and more people become jobless and related businesses will soon fail,” he warned.
Roselan also said that barter trading and transshipment business of Labuan, Sandakan and Tawau has been the people’s business and life-line since the dawn of civilization.
“You take our rice-bowl and we become hungry; all for the sake of the selected and privileged few who can become richer and fatter. This is not the way to run a peaceful country. We must live and let live and let others too to share the fruits of our peaceful economy,” he said.
He also reminded that Labuan used to have a population of 130,000 and now reduced to 90,000.
“You take away their transshipment business, and more ships will shy away from Labuan. The port will become a ghost town. When ships do not come to Labuan, their food supplies will have to come from Kota Kinabalu. The additional trucking to Labuan will increase all the food costs, and all the costs will equally go up,” he said.
He added that the government must learn about the implication of the social costs before it makes a decision.
“If your decision cause hardship to the majority, why let the few enjoy their walk to the bank!” he claimed.
He warned that stevedoring companies and their workers would be the biggest losers.
“No less than 3,500 mouths will go hungry because the MOA of the Federal Government has erred. I am hoping that MOA will reconsider this public plea. The decision by MOA is a negative link towards all efforts of BIMP-EAGA and its initiatives to promote trade and investment,” he said.
Also affected is the port operator, which has been affected by the downturn of the oil and gas sector in Labuan since 90 percent of their cargo was from this sector.
“The transshipment business has given them a welcome respite which allows them to continue employing their workers. Without such business, workers will be terminated and the survival of the port operator will be in jeopardy.
“It seems that the practice of bulldozing new procedures affecting Labuan is still being continued. Locals – business owners and community leaders especially – were never consulted before a major decision is made which implies that the government is not sensitive to the needs of the people on the ground. This has to be stopped, not continued,” he said in reference to the ministry’s letter to the Transport Ministry and Royal Customs and Excise Department on July 27, 2018 which aims to stop all transshipment activities of rice at all ports, including Sabah and the Federal Territory of Labuan.
Roselan claimed that many people are questioning the intention of the ministry in issuing the letter.
“Since MOA is a lead player and speaker within the BIMP-EAGA cluster meetings, they should have known the serious implications this letter will bring,” he said.
He reminded that when the government makes a decision, it becomes a policy.
“This policy is always capable of multiple interpretation. On the base, it seems this letter is good for national interest and the rakyat will benefit. On the other hand, it may be for national security, and the rakyat will rarely benefit. Above all, it can even be better for a hidden agenda designed and fit for a certain entity.
The rakyat is here to suffer,” he said.
He added that the latest request by the MOA, signed by a junior officer and on behalf of the Director General and addressed to the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and the Royal Customs and Excise Department is truly a senseless and heartless decision cum directive without any regards to the sensitivity of the situation.
“On one hand, our state government is trying very hard to lower the cost of doing business in Sabah; whilst our Federal counterpart on the other hand is recklessly trying to increase it just because certain officers in MOA had certain notion to listen and protect a certain entity to regain its monopoly and supremacy in the rice trade. That is what the letter is about,” he claimed.
He also said that the government must have suspected of rice smuggling into Sabah.
“But there seems to be no arrest of any suspects,” he alleged.
He also mentioned that the transshipment rice meant for Mindanao is rarely ideal for Sabah’s consumption.
“Hence, it is unlikely that such item be heavily smuggled. If it does, enforcement is actually the answer to curb it,” he stressed.
He went on that if indeed smuggling and leakages are the issues, the appropriate counter-actions should be to improve the enforcement.
“Why not request the National Security Council, Customs and Excise Department and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, to name a few, to work harder, employ more staff, if need be, to improve enforcement at ports and at sea? In fact, I was made to understand that the Labuan National Security Council is prepared to improve its enforcement at Labuan Liberty Port if that would help in curbing smuggling and leakages so long as the rice transshipment business is not stopped,” he said.
Roselan also noted that the retail price of imported rice in Sabah is also steeply priced.
“When retail price of imported rice is priced so high in Sabah, who can blame smugglers if any for trying, he said.
Nevertheless, he opined that under the circumstances, absolute monopoly is not the answer to a given trade.
“In fact, we must do away with monopolistic businesses with the hope that competition will lower the market price,” he said.
Roselan then urged the Sabah Government to rethink about gaining a certain autonomous towards independence on certain commodity imports that will give Sabahans the chance and experience in international trade.
“From what we gather, the average FOB (Free on Board) cost of Vietnam rice for supplies to Mindanao is about RM1,500 per tonne and the C&F (cost and freight) is only RM1,521 per tonne. This will work out to about RM1.53 per kilogram. The retail price in Sabah is between RM2.85 to RM3.10 per kilogramme. If the imported rice is lower in price, why do we need subsidy to sell higher price for rice? If the subsidy is paid, who collects them? We hold a considered opinion that this subsidy is best allocated to opening up of more arable land for commercial planting of hybrid rice that can yield 12 to 15 tonnes of paddy. As it now stands, our local rice is produced at four tonnes per hectare. In West Malaysia, it may reach to seven or eight tonnes but selfishness does not extent this variety to Sabah,” he alleged.