Labuan: Former Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh said he is still trying to fathom why the Federal Government keeps on punishing the people of Labuan when they have always voted for the Barisan Nasional (BN).
“It is simply beyond comprehension,” he said, adding that the feedback he gets is that the Federal Government is either deliberately sabotaging the island’s economy or simply ignoring it.
He said the Federal Government cannot blame the Labuan people for having this perception because they can see that it has done very little to expand their economy. “Worse is that, the Federal Government, by the action of its various departments and agencies has been actively implementing measures to ensure that the people of Labuan have a hard time earning a living.
“Heading this task is the Customs Department which has put in all sorts of silly impediments to curtail the status of Labuan’s free port status. Using the excuse of excessive smuggling, it has even placed a Customs officer in each and every liquor store.
“This is bad and stupid. Nowhere in the free world is this in practice. Only in the bad old days in the communist countries. All the reasons the Customs Department can give for its actions smell of inefficiency and that it cannot do its job,” he said.
He said it cannot be that Federal leaders are unaware that the oil and gas industry has disappeared.
“Even Petronas has moved its operations to Sabah and Sarawak. Foreign oil and gas companies have either scaled or shut down operations. Latest to follow is Labuan Shipyard which announced retrenchment of staff,” he said.
He accused the Federal Government of being insensitive to the fact that times are hard in Labuan and adding insult to injury, it is now even imposing restrictions on Labuan vehicles going to Sabah and Sarawak.
It has also introduced curtailments of imports from Sabah and Sarawak as if the Federal Government does not know that the cost of living, especially meat and vegetables. Now, Labuan needs permit to get durians from Sabah and Sarawak.
Harris said the Federal Government’s indifference towards Labuan’s economic plight and dire situation has caused its population to shrink from 100,000 to a mere 70,000 with those who can move to greener pastures already having gone while those remaining are mostly “sitting ducks” with no future to look forward to.
“They have every right to ask the Federal Government this question – what is the economy of Labuan?
The answer is nothing that they can look forward to. Most of them are losing hope. Labuan is totally dependent on the salaries the Federal Government pays to its staff.
“Labuan’s economy will get worse with the completion of the Pan Borneo Highway, unless the Federal Government can reconsider building the Labuan/Sabah Bridge. Why would Bruneians and Sarawakians want to go to Labuan when they can drive straight through to KK’s numerous spots of entertainment, enjoyment and restaurants.
Looks like the few announcements of intent by various Prime Ministers to build this bridge have no meaning at all,” he said.
Harris said it is incomprehensible that the Federal Government has continued to turn a blind eye to Labuan’s problem when it has accepted Labuan as a Federal Territory in 1984.
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