KUCHING: Labelling himself pro-Sarawak, Federal Minister of Tourism and Culture Nazri Abdul Aziz said he had used harsh words against Sarawak Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah because he was upset.
The federal minister had called Karim a “gangster” and a greenhorn in ministerial duties after Karim criticised Nazri and his ministry over the tourism tax issue.
Nazri told the Borneo Post: “When he accused me of eroding Sarawak rights, it was very hurtful. He shot me from the hip.
“So when I do all these to help in promoting Sarawak, it upsets me when I get accused of eroding Sarawak’s powers. This is not true. That’s not my intention. He got it all wrong.”
Nazri has come under attack from BN politicians for calling Karim “gangster” and “ignorant”. PBB Youth chief Fadillah Yusof said Nazri had acted “inappropriately” while Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Nazri could have been more diplomatic.
Nazri said he had no personal problem with Karim and that his public outbursts were ‘normal things’ in the course of reacting to issues.
“I wish Karim had come and seen me to seek clarification first. First of all he talked about the Malaysia Agreement when the issue is nothing about eroding rights of Sarawak. I am a Malaysian and pro-Sarawak.”
To accusations that his ministry had not consulted the Sarawak government before moving the Tourism Tax Bill, Nazri said this was not so as it was discussed in the Federal Cabinet and debated in Parliament – both of which were attended by Sarawak MPs and federal ministers representing Sarawak.
Nazri noted that the Sarawak opposition MPs had participated in the debate and opposed the government bill while the Sarawak MPs had approved it.
“So what I want to say is that the state not being consulted is not true,” he told the Borneo Post.
Nazri reiterated that Sarawak stood to gain more from the tourism tax than states in the peninsula.
He told the Borneo Post that this was because the tourism tax would be divided equally by the three regions of Sarawak, Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia, instead of by 14 states.
He said the people who would be most affected would be those from Peninsular Malaysia because 75% of the 300,000 rooms per night subjected to the tax were in the peninsula.
“Sarawak would benefit one-third of the total collection. So Sarawak is not going to lose but in fact, gain,” he was quoted as saying by the Borneo Post.
He said it was true that he had directed the Malaysian Tourism Board (MTB) office in Kuching to close, but this was because its role and functions duplicated those of the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB).
It was, he said, a “business decision”, to cut 35% of MTB’s running costs.
Nazri said he was not surprised with the state government’s decision to withdraw its representation in MTB for a similar reason – duplication of the role and functions as well as cost cutting for STB.
“I welcome the state’s decision and it is in fact in line with my thinking,” he told the Borneo Post.
The new tourism tax, which will come into effect on July 1, will see guests paying up to RM20 extra per night during their stay in hotels anywhere in Malaysia, and is equally imposed on both Malaysians and foreigners.
Karim had urged the federal government to defer the implementation of the tax for Sabah and Sarawak, saying among others, that it must respect the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) and consult these two states before implementing it.