News | Dr Wee challenges Guan Eng to debate after heated row over cabotage in Parliament

KUALA LUMPUR: There was a heated moment in the august House after Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong (BN-Ayer Hitam) threw the gauntlet at Lim Guan Eng (PH-Bagan) to have an open debate over the present national cabotage policy.

The challenge came after Lim asked Dr Wee whether the reimposition of the cabotage policy for submarine cable repair works had caused several tech giants to skip Malaysia in plans to install undersea cables to boost Internet connectivity in the region.

“I’m ready to debate with Bagan. He used to claim that I’m not qualified to be the MCA president. So, I’m issuing this challenge now.

“Let’s debate for an hour, any topics can be discussed,” he said during Ministers’ Question Time in the Dewan Rakyat on Thursday (Sept 30).

In response, Lim accepted the challenge and asked Dr Wee to set the time, before Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun intervened and muted the former finance minister’s microphone.

Azhar then asked Dr Wee to proceed with his parliamentary reply.

Dr Wee explained that Apricot is a 12,000km undersea Internet cable project by Facebook and Google connecting Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore.

Malaysia isn’t left out of any regional undersea cable projects, as it is part of the MIST (Malaysia, India, Singapore, Thailand) project, an 8,000km subsea cable system that is due to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2022, said Dr Wee.

Mist will eventually be connected with the Apricot project, added Dr Wee.

“YB, this is common sense,” Dr Wee told Guan Eng.

“The issue of Malaysia losing out after being bypassed (by the Apricot project) is nonsensical,” added Dr Wee.

Earlier, Lim cited a news report that the Apricot project by Facebook and Google would bypass Malaysia entirely and he blamed the nation’s cabotage policy as deterring foreign investments.

“Can this cabotage policy be withdrawn so we won’t miss out on foreign investments as mentioned by the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) chairman Datuk Dr Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff?” he asked.

In response, Dr Wee explained that Malaysia was skipped in the Apricot project due to rising tensions in the United States and China trade war in 2015.

Dr Wee said that Malaysia’s cabotage policy on undersea cable installation has always been the same since 1980.

“What Bagan is saying now is about repair works. Repair works and installation are different matters and that’s why what was said by MDEC is wrong, because the cabotage policy covers the context of repair works, and not installation.”

In April, Rais was quoted as urging the government to reimplement cabotage exemptions for undersea cable repair works, saying that it is vital to attract foreign investments.

At present, the national cabotage policy does not place a ban on foreign-flagged vessels from repairing undersea cables in Malaysian waters.

Foreign vessels are allowed to enter Malaysian waters and only need to apply for an electronic domestic licences (eDSL), which takes three days, before entering,

The re-imposition of the cabotage policy for submarine cable repair works has been a contentious issue, with critics arguing that such a policy could deter foreign investment and cause giant tech companies to exclude Malaysia from cable projects aimed at boosting regional Internet connectivity.

However, calls to re-impose the cabotage policy were defended by the Malaysian Shipowners’ Association, which deemed the move necessary to safeguard national sovereignty and the interests of the national shipping industry.

Introduced in January 1980, the cabotage policy for cable repair works was revoked by the former Pakatan Harapan government in April 2019, which exempted vessels involved in submarine cable repair and maintenance work from having to apply for a domestic shipping licence.

The cabotage policy was reintroduced by Dr Wee on Nov 16, 2020. – THE STAR

by Tarrence Tanand Rahimy Rahiim & Martin Carvalho

credit photo: Yusuf Mat Isa

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