IT ALL started innocuously enough. Last week, Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah (pic) told reporters in Kuching that the state had yet to receive some RM2.7mil in tourism tax revenue from the federal government.
Actually this is not new. Last November, in his winding-up speech, Abdul Karim told the state assembly that Sarawak was still waiting to receive its share of the tourism tax, which amounted to RM439,731 from September to December 2017 and another RM2.3mil from January to September last year.
Abdul Karim's speech passed without comment two months ago.
This time, however, Lim Guan Eng took exception in a strongly-worded response. What seemed to rile the Finance Minister last week was Abdul Karim's additional remark that Sabah had already received the tourism tax revenue.
According to Abdul Karim, he enquired whether Sabah had received the tax during his visit to Sabah recently and received an affirmative reply.
Lim appeared to take this as an accusation that the federal government was treating Sarawak unfairly.
In a statement, he said the federal government did not discriminate against Sarawak and clarified that the tourism tax revenue had not been paid to any state yet as the ministry was still finalising the accounts for 2018.
He also told Abdul Karim not to make "slanderous statements" about the tourism tax when Sarawak owed the federal government RM2.5bil in debt with nearly RM50mil in arrears.
This prompted a reply from Abdul Karim, who said Lim was "blowing his top" and "playing politics" over a request for the tourism tax to be paid to Sarawak.
"Am I politicising or uttering 'fitnah' (slander) in the process of asking (for) what is owing to the state over a matter that has been promised by the previous Tourism Minister and the present Finance Minister?" Abdul Karim said, adding that Sarawak's loans with the federal government had nothing to do with the tourism tax.
The war of words did not end there as Sarawakian politicians waded into the fray to defend Abdul Karim and criticise Lim.
Even the state government was compelled to get involved, issuing a statement to clarify that there were no arrears in its loan repayment to the federal government.
"As at Dec 31, 2018, the total amount of federal loans owed by the state is RM2.38bil.
"Every year the Sarawak state government provides sufficient allocation in its annual budget for repayment of the loans.
"In fact, Sarawak is one of the state which has no arrears in loan repayment," it said.
Subsequently Lim was reported saying that based on federal government records on Dec 31, 2018, the Sarawak government owed RM2.43bil with arrears of RM46.5mil.
How did a spat over tourism tax end up in a dispute about loan amounts and arrears?
It goes to show how quickly things can escalate when politicians snipe at each other and try to score points, especially when they're from opposite sides.
But we should resist the temptation to prolong this row any longer. Stripped of political rhetoric, the points made by both sides are that Sarawak wants its share of the tourism tax revenue and that the revenue will be distributed to all states by the first quarter of this year.
Any further arguing based on back-and-forth accusations and assumptions will serve no purpose than to cloud the issue even more and stir up unnecessary resentment on all sides.
Enough has been said already. Let's all move on. I'm sure the federal and state governments have more pressing issues to attend to.
And perhaps in future, politicians can be more measured in their response to each other instead of looking to pick a fight.
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