KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 — The Perikatan Nasional government must explain why it withdrew cabotage exemption on November 13 for foreign-registered vessels performing undersea cable maintenance in Malaysian waters, former transport minister Anthony Loke said.

Loke asked if the decision was simply because the exemption was introduced during the previous Pakatan Harapan administration.

“I would like to ask the Transport Ministry, what were the government’s considerations in cancelling the cabotage exemption policy for undersea cable maintenance effect November 13 as gazetted in the Federal Gazette PU (B) 592 recently.

“Were the voices and demands of the local telecommunications and internet industries taken into account? What is the priority of Internet access in Malaysia, in terms of industrial development for the Industrial Revolution 4.0 ere?

“Why does the minister of transport seem to be making decisions unilaterally regardless of comments and requests from Ministry of Communications and Multimedia, Mosti (Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation), Miti (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) and the other ministries?” Loke asked during his debate of Budget 2021 in Parliament today.

Loke asked why his successor, Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong, has yet to address the matter despite its significance or explain the reversal to stakeholders.

Loke, who is DAP’s Seremban MP, last year announced the decision to exempt cabotage on foreign vessels performing undersea cable maintenance in Malaysian waters starting April 1, 2019 as Malaysia had vessels that fit the technical requirements needed to carry out such works.

He reportedly said the cabotage exemption was requested by telecommunication companies such as TIME dotCom Bhd and Telekom Malaysia Bhd, and supported by the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia.

Telco firms must still apply for a domestic shipping licence from the Transport Ministry but they will be exempted from other standard operating procedures that will lengthen the regulatory approval period by four to 14 days, he said then.

According to Loke, a 2016 report by the International Cable Protection Committee found that Malaysia’s performance on undersea cable maintenance was not up to par as it needed 20 days lead time.

“So when the cable is damaged, telecommunication and Internet services are affected.

“Although these types of incidents are hard to avoid, but maintenance works can be done as quickly as possible if contractors’ licences and permit are issued without delay,” he added.