PETALING JAYA: Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz has defended his remark that Sabah was still unsafe to visit amid criticism that his statement harmed tourism in the state.
He told The Star Online that he made the remark during a debate in Parliament as he had to tell "the truth" so that he did not give a wrong impression to tourists.
"First of all, it was a debate in Parliament and it was not like I organised a press conference and declared that Sabah was not safe," he said, adding that he had backed his argument based on reports that Sabah was still “in a recovery situation”.
"When we are still in this situation, it means it is still not safe to go to Sabah. I cannot say it is safe now just because we have Esscom there," said Nazri.
Esscom is the Eastern Sabah Security Command that was set up after February 2013 Lahad Datu intrusion by Sulu gunmen but had come under public scrutiny following several cross-border kidnapping cases.
Nazri said the continued extension of curfew in the state’s east coast also gave the impression that Sabah was still under threat.
"I had to tell the truth because if I told journalists overseas that Sabah was safe, then they would ask, why are our people still held by the kidnappers?
"In fact, among those who were kidnapped are policemen who are supposed to guard our security. So, how do I answer that?" asked Nazri.
On the statement by Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar that Sabah was safe to visit, Nazri said it contradicted the announcement of another two-week extension of curfew made by the Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abd Rahman.
"I'd like to ask the IGP, if the Sabah police chief said the curfew was extended, does it not mean that it is still not safe? Then, how can you allow tourists to go there?" he said.
Nazri had come under fire particularly from Sabah tourism key players who accused him of worsening the already affected industry.
The minister had on Monday in Parliament said that he would not guarantee the safety of tourists in the state as long as the two kidnapping cases remained unsolved.
Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun also said Nazri's statement did not make "logical sense", as it would only undo the hard work undertaken by Sabah’s tourism authorities to revive the industry.
Responding to this, Nazri said he would welcome detractors who could prove him wrong by explaining to foreign tourists, particularly from China, whose confidence to visit Malaysia had deteriorated since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
"If the Sabah Tourism Minister, the IGP and also the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) feel my statement is wrong, I hope they can help me by going to China and declaring that Sabah is a safe place to visit.
"Don't just blame me...just go to China and meet their media and say that Sabah is safe. I would be really grateful if they could do that for me," he added.