Rescue Malaysia’s digital future when Cabinet meets next, Guan Eng tells Putrajaya

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong arrives for a press conference in Putrajaya April 5, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong arrives for a press conference in Putrajaya April 5, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 26 — Former finance minister Lim Guan Eng has once again urged Perikatan Nasional (PN) ministers to reverse the cabotage policy by their transport counterpart Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong at their Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Lim said should the cabotage policy be reverted to the one which was made by Pakatan Harapan transport minister Anthony Loke, the Cabinet will be able to salvage the nation’s digital future, redirecting investments worth RM12 billion to RM15 billion.

“The Cabinet meeting on Wednesday must rescue our digital future and high-tech digital investments of between RM12 to RM15 billion by reversing the flawed cabotage policy where Wee refused to grant exemption to foreign ships carrying repairs of submarine cables.

“The Cabinet should make a clear and unequivocal choice between saving Wee’s face by stubbornly clinging on to his failed cabotage policy or saving massive digital investments of  RM12 to RM15 billion,” Lim said in a statement today.

The Bagan MP’s statement comes on the heels of a two-week deadline set by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on April 14 for six ministries to review the effect of the country’s cabotage policy on the digital and shipping industries.

“The cabotage exemption allowing foreign ships to carry out submarine cable repairs was granted in March 2019 by the Loke.

“Wee revoked the cabotage exemption on November 13, 2020, ignoring complaints that it will cause (repair) delays of up to 27 days, an unacceptable lapse in our high-speed internet age,” he said.

Lim also reminded that even Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) chairman Datuk Rais Hussin too had condemned Wee’s revocation of the cabotage exemption which resulted in Malaysia being sidelined by Facebook and Google.

According to Rais, losing the investments to Singapore and Indonesia is a devastating blow to Malaysia’s digital future.

“The two-week review period is now up. The Cabinet can no longer delay but must expeditiously revoke Wee’s failed cabotage policy.

“This puts the Cabinet to test as to whether priority is given to Malaysia’s digital future or their own political future to secure Wee’s two-MCA MPs who are on Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) since it is critical for the PN government that they cannot afford to lose any MPs following the loss of its parliamentary majority?” said Lim.

On April 14, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the Cabinet had in its meeting raised the issue of the cabotage policy exemption for submarine cable repairs.

Khairy was reported saying that several ministers including himself have been instructed to deliberate on the impact that the cabotage policy exemption would have on digital investments and the local shipping industry.

The others include the international trade and industry minister, finance minister,  communications and multimedia minister, transport minister, minister in charge of the economic planning unit and entrepreneur development and cooperatives minister.  

The repeal of the cabotage exemption finalised last November 18 has been blamed as the main reason why Malaysia was excluded from a joint megaproject by tech giants Facebook and Google to construct two underwater cables to increase internet connectivity between Singapore,  Indonesia and North America.  

Wee however defended the repeal as necessary to reduce the outflow of foreign currency through freight charges, and to reduce dependencies on foreign vessels by promoting participation from local shipping industries, among others.