LABUAN: Labuan should be turned into an urban and administrative centre of a regional development corridor.
Chairman of the BIMP-EAGA Business Council Labuan, Azhar Othman said to realise this, major projects like the Labuan bridge and a new seaport should be launched at the earliest possible time.
“Insofar as its duty-free island status, this should be expanded, not curtailed. The duties on tobacco products should be repealed. A central impedance to a lower cost of living is our dependency on imports, which cannot be helped.
“It is, therefore, important that the Government offers incentives for ships to call on Labuan more frequently instead of avoiding it altogether like what we are facing now. Downstream petrochemical industries should be encouraged with tax incentives from the Government. This will create more jobs and business opportunities.
“The many government departments and agencies in Labuan should also have a common head that they should report to at the local level to ensure better coordination and avoid wastage,” he said in a statement.
Azhar said as the affairs of Labuan are under the purview of the Prime Minister himself, people on the island should take the opportunity to voice out their displeasure on the challenges they have been and are still facing directly to him.
“Let’s request the Prime Minister to visit Labuan but, in the spirit of openness, make sure he makes time to meet the people and listen to their grouses and suggestions.
“Last and certainly not the least, let us have one voice, regardless of our political affiliations, so that we will be seen as strong and united, just as we should…if things don’t improve, a referendum is inevitable,” he said.
In the last one week, there have been calls by political leaders to consider a different path for Labuan after almost 40 years as a Federal Territory. They lamented that the Federal Government has failed to develop Labuan since it was federalised in 1984.
“Many of us, residents of Labuan, were once proud of its 3-in-1 status – a duty-free island, an International Business and Financial Centre and a Federal Territory – with the hope that Labuan would be a highly developed island-city. A mini Singapore, if you like.
“The ever-changing Ministers of Federal Territories have failed to listen to the grouses of ordinary citizens. The unemployment rate is the second worst in the country which is an irony in itself given that Labuan is an oil and gas hub with an abundance of job opportunities. The cost of living also continues to rise which is another irony of the fact that Labuan is a duty-free island. Our financial centre status looks good on paper but it has not generated the spilt-over effects we were hoping for,” he said.