PETALING JAYA: The reimposition of cabotage policy on submarine cable repair works did not cause tech giants to skip Malaysia as part of its plans to install undersea cables to boost Internet connection in the region, says Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong.
Referring to Facebook's plan to install Bifrost and Echo undersea cables, the Transport Minister said the two undersea cables did not mean to bypass Malaysia because Facebook had built a database in Tanjong Keling Data Centre Park, Singapore in 2019.
Dr Wee said the data centre was built in Singapore because Malaysia lacked the appropriate data centre infrastructure.
"For example between 2018 and 2019 (under Pakatan Harapan), Malaysia was busy wasting time and money for ancient ideas such as flying cars, rather than a data centre and the third industrial revolution," he said in a Facebook post on Sunday (April 4).
Dr Wee was responding to a report by portal SoyaCincau that quoted the Malaysia Internet Exchange (MyIX) as urging the government to reinstate the cabotage exemption for foreign vessels to conduct undersea cable repair works or risk losing out foreign direct investments to neighbouring countries.
He also dismissed claims by the report that Facebook is avoiding Malaysia in its plans to install undersea cable due to the reimposition of the cabotage policy on submarine cable repair works.
"It is a baseless accusation and it doesn't reflect the entire situation thoroughly. Therefore, I have to provide an explanation," he added.
At the same time, Dr Wee also chided former transport minister Anthony Loke for distorting the issue by sharing the article by SoyaCincau on Facebook.
"As an influential politician, he is seen too excited in sharing sources that cannot be trusted. Why isn't Loke interested in opinions from The Economist or Channel News Asia?"
Dr Wee said rising tensions between the United States and China have caused American companies to avoid installing undersea cables in the South China Sea.
"Their main concern is that US communications might be exposed to monitoring by Beijing. That is why since 2018, the trend is to place undersea cables through the Pacific Ocean as its substitute, bypassing the South China Sea.
"Therefore, it isn't an issue that is related with the national cabotage policy," he said, adding that the cabotage exemption by the former Pakatan government was later revoked by him on Nov 15 last year.
Dr Wee said the Transport Ministry was not siding any companies and issues of monopoly did not arise because the ministry had approved multiple applications for foreign vessels to conduct undersea cable repair works, which was accessible via the ministry's official website.
Dr Wee noted that six undersea cable repair works by foreign vessels were approved within three days, and only one application took six days.
"Therefore, delays weren't caused by the Malaysia Shipowners' Association (Masa) or the Transport Ministry."
Dr Wee explained that delays were due to decisions made by the Asean Explorer and Asean Restorer management, which is Singtel.
"Please don't find excuses to blame the Transport Ministry that apparently we caused delays in the application process."
In reiterating that the reimposition of the cabotage policy was to preserve the interest of the national shipping industry, Dr Wee urged the public not to be influenced by "half-baked" news reports over the issue.
He also pointed out that Indonesia tightened its national cabotage policy in an effort to provide more opportunities to local players.
"Why didn't Loke mention this at all? Indonesia is allowed to safeguard its national sovereignty but Malaysia isn't allowed?" he questioned.
Dr Wee urged Loke to meet with Masa president Datuk Abdul Hak Md Amin, its committee members and prominent shipping figure Tan Sri Halim Mohamad to find out more about the opinions of local industry players about the current cabotage policy.
Previously, the MyIX claimed that the cabotage policy caused undersea cable repairs to take up to 27 days in Malaysia, compared to much shorter times in other countries in the region.