Don’t sacrifice tourism for barter trade, says Sabah Umno

Tourism plays a major part in Sabah’s economy and there are fears it may suffer if there are security concerns. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Umno Youth urged the state government to reconsider its plan to resume the barter trade system in the Sabah east coast for the sake of the booming tourism industry.

Speaking to FMT today, Sabah Umno Youth chief Aziz Julkarnain said the tourism industry in Sabah raked in RM7.74 billion in tourism receipts last year and the service industry, which is closely related to the tourism industry, contributes 40% to the state’s total GDP (gross domestic product).

Compared to the tourism industry, Aziz said it had been reported that the barter trade system brought in only between RM200 million and RM350 million a year for Sabah.

“Generally, we don’t have any problem with barter trading. But we have a problem with the fact that these two industries are inter-related.

“It should be noted that barter trading was suspended in 2016 following the kidnapping of six Sarawakians by kidnap-for-ransom groups from the Philippines.

“Former youth and sports minister, the late Tawfiq Abu Bakar Titingan, had stated in the state assembly sitting at the time that the move was necessary in view of the kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) groups’ new tactic of targeting slow-moving vessels in and around international waters bordering Sabah,” he said.

Aziz said Chief Minister Shafie Apdal should know that the tourism industry is an extremely sensitive industry and even one unfavourable incident could cause a downfall of the industry.

The kidnapping of the Sarawakians, he said, had triggered red alerts in many countries in the world, with travel advisories issued to their respective citizens not to visit Sabah.

He said while the state government is concerned about the interests of those involved in the barter trading, they should also think about the hundreds of thousands of locals whose livelihood depends on the tourism industry.

“Of course, I understand the state government wants to diversify its sources of income. But why should we sacrifice the RM7.74 billion tourism industry for the RM0.2 billion barter trading?”

On top of the fear for the tourism industry, Aziz said he was also unhappy that the trading was lopsided, favouring foreign vessels more than Sabahans.

For example, he said Sabah traders will be offering essential items such as flour, rice, biscuits, Maggi mee and sugar.

In return, they will be getting fish, cosmetics such as Eskinol or Tawas lotion, candies, lubrication oil and plastic mats.

He said a report on an official Sabah government website showed that in Sandakan alone, the monthly value of traded goods entering into the southern Philippines averaged around RM2 million while the value of goods entering into Sandakan is only between RM200,000 and RM300,000.

He said Sukau assemblyman Saddi Rahman had stated in the assembly in 2016 that the business trade between Sabah and foreign barter traders was unfair.

According to Saddi, the activity was more profitable for foreign vessels and Sabah was at the losing end, with its subsidised products being smuggled out.

He said various contraband, including turtle eggs, not to mention drugs and firearms, were sneaked in under the cover of the barter trade.

For this reason, Aziz said it was illogical that the state government wanted to resume the trade so soon unless it was sure all the problems regarding security and lopsided trading had been properly addressed.

“It will do us no good if lifting the ban will result in devastating our RM7.74 billion tourism sector.

“This industry alone has helped propel Sabah’s GDP growth to 8.2% last year, the highest in Malaysia. Don’t jeopardise our large income for the sake of RM200 million,” he said.

Aziz said instead of reviving the barter trade that benefited only a few, it was better for the Warisan government to continue the construction of the Pan Borneo Highway.

“With better roads connecting major towns in Sabah, more foreign investors will be attracted to come to Sabah, opening their businesses here and thus providing jobs to the locals.

“At the same time, it would be better to reduce Sabah’s dependence on the tourism industry as it may not be sustainable in the long run,” he said.

Yesterday, Shafie announced that the barter trading between Sabah and the Philippines and Indonesia will resume from Jan 1 next year.

Shafie hoped to encourage economic activities within the eastern Sabah region. He added that strict standard operating procedures (SOP) and guidelines would be put in place to ensure the barter trade is not abused and is geared towards business.

According to a report published by the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), the suspension of barter trading in 2016 had caused losses in business revenue amounting to millions of ringgit and the loss of employment of hundreds of workers in the industry.

A survey among 11 companies engaged in the industry showed that the losses of direct income to traders due to the suspension ranged from RM1,680,000 to RM3,750,000 for eight traders in the survey sample conducted in May 2016.

Other effects included the laying-off of barter-trade workers, who moved to seek jobs in other sectors.