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Tourism tax: Show us the money, says Sarawak

Sarawak has withdrawn from the Malaysian Tourism Board, escalating a sudden spat between the state and federal governments over a new tourism tax set to begin next month.

"The state government deems that the participation of its representatives in Tourism Malaysia is not necessary as this is duplicating the role and functions of the Sarawak Tourism Promotion Board," the chief minister's office said in a brief statement yesterday.

The move prompted calls from federal ministers - mainly Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan - for the Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz to be more diplomatic and concilliatory in discussing the thorny issue with his counterparts in the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

"We should talk on such issues in such a way that does not hurt the feelings of the people in Sabah and Sarawak," Mr Anifah said.

The tax on accommodation is set to be levied nationwide from July 1, at between RM2.50 and RM20 (between 80 Singapore cents and S$6.50) per room per night depending on the star-rating of the hotel.

Putrajaya says proceeds from the tax will be reinvested into the tourism industry.

But Sarawak Tourism Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah had previously called for the tax to be deferred in Sabah and Sarawak, insisting the federal government should respect the Malaysia Agreement 1963 when deciding on such matters. Under the 1963 agreement, Sabah and Sarawak formed Malaysia with Malaya and Singapore on the understanding that they were equal partners with autonomy in certain areas.

To this day, Sabah and Sarawak have autonomy over immigration and can bar other Malaysians from entering their borders.

The law was originally silent on where control of tourism lies but a 1994 constitutional amendment placed it under federal powers.

Mr Nazri responded on Sunday by labelling the Sarawak minister a greenhorn, and asking him not to behave "like a gangster", reported the Malay Mail Online.

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