MGG: Pulau Tioman: A special duty-free arrangement for one man
By M.G.G. Pillai
23/1/2002 4:25 am Wed
01-15 Feb 2002
Pulau Tioman: A special duty-free arrangement for one man
Pulau Tioman, 50 kms off Pahang in the South China Sea, is made
duty free, as Pulau Langkawi off Kedah, so tourism could remain
Malaysia's second largest foreign exchange earner. All stops are
pulled to attract more tourists. What better than make Pulau
Tioman a duty-free island? Pahang and Kuala Lumpur announced
great plans to make it attractive to tourists. With, no doubt,
similar plans for other islands off Malaysia's coast -- Pulau
Pangkor, off the Perak coast, for one.
No one, not even the usually critical Straits Times in
Singapore, looked beyond the official announcement. Who would
benefit if Pulau Tioman is duty-free? In the 1970s, a casino was
planned, but quickly dropped when opposition to it threatened
votes. It was too far away from the coast, and reached only from
Endau in Johore, and it would have upset the local villagers.
In those days, that was enough to scuttle a project. The then
prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak, in whose parliamentary
constituency Pulau Tioman was, would have none of it.
Malaysia was once known for its duty-free island in Penang.
It was cut off in pique for reasons not hard to fathom. If
tourism is the aim of Pulau Tioman made duty-free, the government
should consider Penang instead. It is built to bring in
tourists, it has hundreds of hotels to suit all pockets, and what
The present duty-free island of Pulau Langkawi was developed
from scratch. And it shows. The villagers are short-changed,
forced to sell their lands cheap for others to lease them at
usurious prices to investors. Cronies made money hand-over-fist
while the residents eked out a living. But the tourists did not
come, and when exhibitions are held, hotels and exhibition halls
charged an arm and a leg that it was once bitten twice shy.
So failed Pulau Langkawi is, the government looks to
withdraw its duty-free status. Indeed, a government task force
looks to how it could be without disrupting all that Langkawi
stands for, and without admitting failure. Yet, Pulau Tioman is
made duty-free. A duty-free emporium without custom must fail.
So, why? So a crony would benefit!
In Pulau Tioman the only development of any note is a
tourist resort owned by the Berjaya Group, whose owner is Tan Sri
Dato' Seri Vincent Tan. To get there, you go by a three-hour
often-choppy boat ride from Endau or fly Berjaya Air from
Kuantan. The only beneficiary to making it duty free is Tan Sri
Dato' Seri Vincent Tan. He has a head start. All others must
start from scratch.
He has a tourist village in Pulau Redang, off Trengganu,
which is reached easily but it would not get special favours
since Trengganu is run by PAS and which Kuala Lumpur wants to see
run down. So, he gets Pulau Tioman. Why? Are there plans to
shift Club Med from Cherating to Tioman? Is a casino planned
there? If the aim is to make Malaysia more welcome to tourists,
why is Pulau Tioman the target, since not as many as to Langkawi
would go there?
Langkawi was to have had a casino. The Genting Berhad
chairman, Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, surveyed the area and would have
built it but for PAS's unexpectedly good showing in the 1999
General Election. Is that now transferred to Tioman? For that
there must be ease of reach. As it stands, only one man stands
to benefit. And that does not guarantee success. One man is
behind Pulau Langkawi. His name is Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed.
And he could not make it prosper. How could Tan Sri Dato' Seri
Vincent in Pulau Tioman?
So, why is Tan Sri Dato' Seri Vincent Tan so favoured? Is
it a payoff to close The Sun newspaper so the revamped New
Straits Times could build up its circulation? Is it yet another
handout to a crony who proved his failure not once but thrice?
All all three privatisation projects given him -- Indah Water
Konsortium, the monorail, the Linear City -- failed in his hands.
Yet he is considered for more. Why? Is Pulau Tioman now a duty
free island so a crony could survive? Questions for which no
answers are forthcoming - MGG