Guan Eng seeks to clear air over Sarawak’s debt to Putrajaya

Lim Guan Eng addresses a press conference at the Ministry of Finance in Putrajaya January 8, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Lim Guan Eng addresses a press conference at the Ministry of Finance in Putrajaya January 8, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 9 — Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng today sought to provide clarity over the amount of money owed to the federal government by Sarawak after a prolonged public spat with the state government.

Citing from federal government records as at December 31, 2018, Lim said Sarawak owes RM2.43 billion, with arrears amounting to RM46.5 million.

“It must be stressed that the Finance Ministry’s media statement dated January 6, 2019 was using figures as at November 30, 2018, where the balance of the debt is more than RM2.5 billion with arrears amounting nearly RM50 million.

“Based on Federal Government records at December 31, 2018, the debt owed by the Sarawak state government is RM2.43 billion and there are still arrears of RM46.5 million,” the federal minister said in a statement.

Lim made the disclosure after several days of back-and-forth rowing with Sarawak over the amount of money the state and federal governments were said to owe each other.

The spat began when state Tourism, Culture, Arts, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Karim Rahman Hamzah asked Lim for Sarawak’s share of last year’s tourism tax revenue collected by the government.

“For the record, RM4,653,302 tourism tax was collected from Sarawak between September 2017 and September 2018 as revealed by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MOTAC) and half of that as promised should be remitted back to Sarawak.

“Why must he get emotional and blow his top and ask Sarawak to pay back its outstanding loan to the federal government which is totally unrelated to the question I raised?” Karim was reported to have asked of Lim on January 6.

In today’s statement, Lim accused Sarawak of attacking Putrajaya and making false allegations that Sabah had received its 50 per cent share of the tourism tax collected since 2017.

The federal minister emphasised that all states, even Sarawak, would receive their 50 per cent share of the tourism tax revenue by end March.