Sunday, July 21

Illegal ‘white van’ operators to face heavier fines

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KOTA KINABALU: Operators of illegal ‘white vans’, vehicles used as tour buses without permits from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC), are at risk of being hauled to court and slapped with a maximum penalty of RM50,000, or two years’ imprisonment, or both.

MOTAC Sabah office director Ag Ahmad Zaki Abu Bakar said 10 cases had been sent to Kuala Lumpur seeking approval to be prosecuted in court this year.

Ahmad Zaki said white van operators would no longer be issued a RM500 compound, but would face a penalty up to RM50,000, two-year imprisonment, or both.

“I advise illegal white vans to stop once and for all as they are killing the industry,

“We always get lame excuses like they are taking their so-called ‘friends’ and not tourists, but this time they will have to tell it to the judges.

“A maximum penalty of RM50,000 is at risk if (illegal white van operators) are found guilty.

“RM500 (compound) may be nothing, but RM50,000 will be something for them,” Ahmad Zaki said in a press conference here yesterday.

Ahmad Zaki said MOTAC had also established an enforcement unit starting January 1 this year to step up enforcement all over Sabah.

He said the federal ministry had also engaged the police to conduct joint operations such as road blocks to nab white van operators.

Sabah Tourism Federation (STB) has previously raised the issue of illegal tour guides and tour bus operators. The federation has urged the government to impose a hefty fine of up to RM50,000 and enforce imprisonment to deter these illegal operators as the current RM500 compound was too low.

Ahmad Zaki thanked all the tourism industry players namely Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents (MATTA) Sabah Chapter, STF, Sabah Tourism Association (STA), Sabah Backpackers Association (SBA), Sandakan Tourism Association (STAN) and others on their views regarding this matter.

Ahmad Zaki said he was given six months to find a solution to this long-standing problem.

“I acknowledge each and every published comment, and ask everyone to join hands in vanishing illegal white vans.

“It will not be an easy task, but what I have learned so far from this industry is that nothing is impossible,” he said.

He said MOTAC would also implement a campaign headed by SBA to create awareness among tourists on illegal white vans. The ministry would work closely with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in this awareness campaign that would start today (April 22).

Meanwhile, Ahmad Zaki said MOTAC Sabah office would be holding a seminar today to discuss its strategies and enforcement on illegal white vans, including the maximum penalty, with 140 tourism industry players. Sabah Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun is expected to officiate at the event.

He said the seminar today would also educate industry players on how to lodge a proper complaint on white vans.

Ahmad Zaki said many a time complainants merely submitted pictures of suspected white vans without any proof or evidence for MOTAC to proceed.

On the other hand, Ahmad Zaki warned those who have yet to settle their compounds to do so within a month starting today or they would also be called to court.

He said there were 11 cases last year that had yet to settle their compounds which amounted to RM4,100.

“They know that they are compounded but if the compound does not reach them because of technical issues like incomplete address, it does not mean that they are off the hook.

“I urge them to come to our office to check with us,” he stressed.

Ahmad Zaki, who just stepped in as the state director of MOTAC Sabah last September, pledged to end this prolonged issue.

“We have only one shot at this, and I am here to make it count.”