I most welcome the stand taken by Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun and his assistant minister Pang Nyuk Min, against the Federal Tourism and Culture Ministry’s proposal to impose a tourism service fee on hotel rooms.
However, in order to settle the issue once and for all, the state should be brave enough to take back its power on tourism by proposing an amendment to the Schedule 9 of the Federal Constitution in the coming Parliament sitting.
The federal government’s plan is to impose a Tourism Services Fee (TSF) of between RM5 and RM30 per room, per night on anyone who stays at a hotel or serviced apartment - be it a foreign or local tourist - to raise revenue and promote tourism. The fee collection, due to come into effect on Sept 16, will be based on the star rating of the hotel and will be in addition to other fees/taxes levied such as those in Malacca, Penang and Langkawi.
When the Federal Tourism and Culture Minister, Nazri Aziz, said, “Even if we decide to impose levy on Sabah hotels, we can do it, as tourism falls under federal (jurisdiction)”, he in fact has only highlighted the point that tourism fell under federal jurisdiction.
However, it is wrong for Nazri to comment that “it is not taking away the state’s power, not even devolution because we are not doing this outside the constitutional requirement”.
The historical fact is that tourism has always been under the state jurisdiction before, and that the so-called federal power has taken over it after Parliament amended Schedule 9 in June 1994. In the Sabah context, it happened after the then-PBS state government was toppled by Barisan Nasional.
According to ‘The Constitution of Malaysia: A Contextual Analysis’, authored by academician Andrew Harding, “The single significant amendment to Schedule 9 relates to the issue of tourism, which was added to the Federal List in 1994; this was slipped into a major constitutional amendment relating to other issues and without consultation with the state governments, which had their own tourism initiatives. However, states have not been prevented, in practice, from promoting tourism.”
Clearly, it is not enough for the Sabah and Sarawak governments to just take a common stand against the federal government’s proposal to impose a tourism service fee on hotel rooms.
The Borneo states governments should pass a resolution in each state assembly respectively, to demand that the federal government return the power related to tourism to the two autonomous states.
MPs from Borneo should consider proposing a private member’s bill
If the Parliamentarians from the ruling party in the Borneo states failed to convince the government to amend Schedule 9, then parliamentarians from Borneo should consider proposing a private member’s bill to make tourism under state jurisdiction again.
If there is ever a need to impose a tourism fee on hotel rooms in Sabah, the state government should be the one rightly to have the right to collect it and decide how to use it for the state’s tourism promotion or development.
Let’s look at the figures. According to Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta), 10 percent of the state’s income is derived from 3.2 million tourists which is 65 percent domestic arrivals, spending RM6.6 billion a year. Estimation for the Tourism Service Fee will see additional RM58 million payable to the federal government, on top of the existing RM368 million generated from the Sabah tourism industry in Goods and Services Tax (GST) payable to federal coffers.
We understand that federal tourism allocations to Sabah amount to only RM58 million yearly. Why should we collect the extra fee which would jeorpadise the tourism industry’s prospects but is payable to the federal government as they only return back a tiny amount of allocations compared with the huge contributions we have made? It is ridiculous for Putrajaya to collect tax at the expense of the state’s resources.
It’s time to tack back the state’s jurisdiction over the tourism. For the benefit of Sabahans and the betterment of Malaysia, we need to decentralise fiscal power from Putrajaya to the state. If Sabah BN dare not do so, it’s meaningless even if we have rejected the federal government’s plan successfully this round. Bear in mind, Putrajaya won’t stop here.
CHAN FOONG HIN is the DAP assemblyperson for Sri Tanjong.