THE opposition yesterday continued to raise objections against the government’s decision to halt barter trade with the Philippines, arguing that the move could have a severe economic impact on businesses and communities in the east coast.
Sri Tanjong assemblyman Chan Foong Hin said the decades-long barter trading was not only important to businesses but also allowed for exchanges of essential goods needed by the people on both sides of the borders.
He said barter trade brought in some 50 to 70 tonnes of fish and other seafood from Indonesia into Tawau daily, apart from various other products such as cosmetics.
He added that foreign merchant vessels could not simply come in as they must first acquire permission from the local authorities while measures to prevent subsidized goods from being smuggled out from Sabah were also in place.
“So, I think banning barter trade for security reasons is not justified. It is not fair to punish business and the community for the security issues we are facing,” he said.
He proposed that barter trade be reinstated but its processes be refined to deal with any security threats seen as related to the activity.
Industrial Development Minister Datuk Raymond Tan Shu Kiah, in responding to Chan, said there was no question that the ban had damaging impacts on certain businesses but Sabah must look at the bigger picture and ensure safety and security for all businesses and the entire state.
He stressed that the state government wanted its Philippine and Indonesian counterparts to be on board and take responsibility to help ensure security in the region.
“We want our neighbours to take part in addressing this (security) issue. We want not just business, we want security and better businesses for Tawau and Sandakan and other districts in the east coast,” he said.
Tan said it was unfair for the opposition to keep accusing the government of not being capable of ensuring the security of the state when they kept objecting to measures introduced to address security threats.
He also rubbished calls previously made by Likas assemblyman Junz Wong to disband the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom), saying this would only worsen security problems in the east coast.
Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Tawfiq Abu Bakar Titingan in defending the decision to impose the ban on barter trade, said the move was necessary in view of the kidnap-for-ransom groups’ new tactic of targeting slow moving vessels in and around international waters bordering Sabah.
He said the groups were now desperate and would even cross to Indonesian waters to pursue potential target ships, hoping to abduct Malaysians or Indonesians on board.
“I must stress that there has been gradual improvement in security since the setting up of ESSCom, where we have foiled several attempts by foreign armed groups. This tighter security has forced them to change tactic and go for easier target near the water borders. So, we have to respond to this, hence the halting of the barter trade,” he said.
Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Pairin Kitingan meanwhile said barter trade was among the matters looked into when the government holistically examined all factors involved in the security issues in the east coast.
He said the ban might not be agreed by all quarters but the government had taken a decision on the matter.
“We may not all agree with it but that is the decision of the government,” he said.
He also noted that the government had decided to further study the ban and therefore the call by the opposition to review the decision was not relevant, as this was already being done.
Sukau assemblyman Datuk Saddi Abdul Rahman when debating the government policy also supported the ban, describing it as appropriate and timely.
He said stopping the barter trade with Southern Philippines would not only have positive impact on efforts to address current security issues in the east coast but also help in addressing one unfair business trade between Sabah and foreign barter traders.
According to him, the activity was more profitable for foreign vessels and Sabah was on the losing end with its subsidized products being smuggled out.
“Various contraband, including turtle eggs, not to mention drugs and firearms are being sneaked in under the cover of barter trade,” he said.
Most of the other representatives who presented their debate yesterday also touched on the issue, with BN assemblymen expressing their support while calling for improvement measures to be set in place should barter trade be re-introduced in the future.