PETALING JAYA: A Sarawak opposition leader has called for the state’s chief minister to take a stand supporting his cabinet member and clarify the ambiguities and legality of the tourism tax in Sarawak.
PKR’s Batu Lintang state assemblyman See Chee How says it is imperative that Abang Johari Openg immediately discuss the issue with the federal government.
“The chief minister should also make it clear with Putrajaya that it cannot impose the tax on hotel operators in Sarawak, regardless of whether they have registered with the federal tourism ministry or not, before consulting the state government.”
The state cabinet member whom See was referring to was State Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, who had been reported as saying that the new tourism tax was a glaring example of how the federal government imposes tax laws in Sarawak without consultation.
Last week, it was revealed that the new tourism tax, the law for which was passed by the Dewan Rakyat on April 6, would take effect from Aug 1. However, Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Aziz later clarified it was effective July 1, despite the law not having been gazetted as required.
Following the Sarawak state minister’s questioning of the move by the federal government, Nazri had yesterday given a sharp rebuke, saying Karim was inexperienced and should talk to him first before issuing such comments.
“We’re both Barisan Nasional ministers. You’re a new minister and still wet behind the ears whereas I’ve been a minister for years and years. Come and see me, don’t talk so much.”
“Learn to be a minister before you open your mouth and remember that in politics you shouldn’t talk so big,” Nazri said of Karim.
See, who is also Sarawak PKR vice-chairman, disagreed with Nazri, saying the Umno Supreme Council member was the one who is ignorant of the Federal Constitution when it comes to Sarawak.
“Karim was right based on the Federal Constitution and the Malaysia Agreement (1963). Nazri is the one who is ignorant, and he is downright arrogant as well.
“Sarawak had rightfully taken it upon itself to establish the Ministry of Tourism (then called ‘Ministry of Tourism and Environment’) in 1985 and assumed legislative and executive powers over the matters relating to tourism since,” he said.
See added it is an indisputable fact that the subject matter ‘Tourism” was not included in any of the legislative lists found in the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution at the formation of Malaysia.
“It was not until 1994 that the federal government introduced an ambiguous and dubious Constitution (Amendment) Bill 1994 to add tourism as an item in the ‘federal list’.”
See also supported Karim’s assertion that there was no consultation with nor consent of the Sarawak government in taking tourism, which is a residual matter prior to 1994, to be a federal matter.
According to See, despite the passing of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 1994, Sarawak still maintains its own ministry of tourism and exercises its executive powers with regards to tourism.
“The Sarawak government has continued to exercise its jurisdiction over tourism in Sarawak and had incurred enormous expenditure all these years in promoting the tourism industry in Sarawak.
“The state ministry of tourism was never subsumed into the federal authority. Hence, it was treated in actual fact, and rightly, an item in the concurrent list or state list,” See added.
He said that with Sarawak (and Sabah) having legislative and executive powers over tourism, the enforcement of the Tourism Tax could only take effect with the concurrence of the government and Sarawak and Sabah, after agreement has been reached on the details of the tax regime, including the rates, collection and apportionment of the tax revenues.