Tax is not the problem, tact is

This Nazri-Karim episode has little, indeed nothing, to do with the so-called hotel tax

Abdar Rahman Koya, Free Malaysia Today

It is not every day that we hear Malaysian politicians ignore party lines to voice out an opinion, that act of expression that has evaded our backbenchers for so long in the name of parliamentary democracy.

Yesterday, we partied online over a comment from Nazri Aziz, the tourism minister, who effectively told a “rookie” Sarawak minister off and not disrespect a senior federal minister.

Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah’s insolence is that he suggested his state be spared from the new tourism tax, which was passed in the wee hours of April 6 this year.

The rookie, a four-term assemblyman, then went on to “insult” all non-Sarawakian Malaysians by invoking the Malaysia Agreement of 1963, whose inadequacy to deal in matters of tourism was compensated by a constitutional amendment decades later.

Of course, the dust will soon settle. The climax was yesterday. And going by the conventional drama structure, today and the days to come will be the “falling action” stage. Barisan Nasional leaders will close ranks, and both Karim and Nazri may pose for a selfie with a smiling Najib Razak and a plate of iftar dates in the background.

So should the rest of Malaysians, especially the opposition, take sides knowing that the end will be business as usual?

No, not if the significance of the whole episode is lost on us. This episode has little, indeed nothing, to do with the so-called hotel tax. Just like the “kangkong” episode of January 2014 was not about food prices, or the “get two jobs” gaffe by a minister was not about working round the clock.

The fact is that this latest spat has everything to do with arrogance and civility, especially when dealing with people who have for every five years ensured the numbers to send people like Nazri to the polished halls of Putrajaya.

Which is why it does not matter if the fault lies in Nazri’s colleagues from Sarawak for not objecting to the Tourism Tax Bill when it was debated and passed just a couple of hours before sunrise.

Sarawakians, or Malaysians at large, would be the last to be worried about the business aspects of the tourist industry, which is what the new tax is all about. Ordinary locals would care two hoots about hotels in the state charging outsiders an extra RM2.50 or RM20.00

So what is it that riled up Sarawakians on social media, with even their neighbours coming into the fray for his defence, ignoring party affiliations?

Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian rightly summed it up: it is Nazri’s “dismissive, insulting and condescending” response.

Long after the handshake in Putrajaya, one lesson remains: Sarawakians have come a long way, from pushing their votes into the ballot box, to telling others that they are not to be pushed around.