Yong: Why do Sabahans have to pay more?

By Queville To, FMT

KOTA KINABALU: Former chief minister Yong Teck Lee has questioned the economic policies imposed by the federal government which have kept the prices of goods in Sabah higher than in the peninsula.

Yong, the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) chief said there was no reason for this to happen  as the government could subsidise the freight charges for goods shipped to Sabah to ensure the prices of goods in the country were equal.

He said the federal government should do this without any further delay if it really cares for the well being of Sabah people.

He contended that if the federal government could afford to give more than RM250 million per year to subsidise the four main highways in Peninsular Malaysia in order to keep the toll rates low and lessen the burden on road users, it should have no problem applying the same strategy to assist the people of Sabah.

The prices of goods in Sabah have always been higher than Peninsular Malaysia ever since the state joined the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963.

“Before Sabah joined to form Federation of Malaysia, cargo ships from all over the world could come to Sabah and Kota Kinabalu to load and unload goods freely.

“But this was no longer the case after the formation of Malaysia,” he pointed out.

Protectionist policy

The cause of the imbalance has also been put down to the imposition of the controversial Cabotage Policy introduced introduced in 1980, which critics say was a protectionist policy which has benefited a privileged few shipping companies.

As a result, today it costs the Sabah traders more than RM2,000 to bring in goods and merchandises in a 20-foot container.

This thus contributed to higher cost of doing business in Sabah and inevitably contributing to a high cost of living, as the traders have no choice but to pass on the additional cost to the consumers.

Making matter worse, the average take-home pay for a consumer in Sabah is currently the lowest in the country.

Yong also took a swipe at the centralization of powers by the federal government which he said had caused great misery to the people of Sabah.

He said even the conversion of a van into a hearse had to be approved in Putrajaya as the party found out when it applied for such a conversion to carter for the needs of the residents in Sepanggar.

Also in the line of fire was the performance of Bernas (Padiberas Nasional), the country’s sole rice importer.

Rice is costlier in Sabah

The government entity stands accused of hindering Sabah’s potential to become a major rice
producer in the country and causing the marketing of costlier rice in the state as no one else is allowed to import or export rice.

“If we could plant padi ourselves, not only can we achieve self-sufficiency we could even have surplus for export.

“When I was the Chief Minister and (current Parliamentary Speaker)  Pandikar Amin was the State Agriculture Minister we had planned to undertake large scale padi plantation to make sure that Sabah could become self sufficient within three to five years and even have surplus to export rice to other countries.

“Unfortunately, in today’s situation, even if we have surplus of rice supply, we have no right to export rice, as it is the exclusive right of Bernas.

“Even the state government is not allowed to import and export rice on its own.

“And on top of that, each and every family in Sabah is subsidizing Bernas as the rice sold in Sabah cost more than the rice sold in Peninsular Malaysia.

“I have highlighted this many times in the past, but until today Bernas just plays dumb.