KOTA KINABALU: Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing is not backing down despite criticism from his Sabah counterpart Datuk Christina Liew over the decision to stop all licensed agents handling the Malaysia My Second Home (Sabah-MM2H) programme.

Instead the federal minister urged the Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister to understand the issue before laying the blame on him or the Tourism Ministry.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page Saturday (June 8), Tiong said that his ministry had extended “several invitations” to Liew to discuss the MM2H issue, but she had “deemed it not worthy to turn up and discuss the matter for Sabah.”

Not only did she fail to turn up, Liew also did not delegate a single representative, Tiong claimed.

“This is disappointing, to say the least. Liew criticises the MM2H policies, yet refuses to attend meetings personally to understand the details of the programme related to agent registration,” he said.

“This is not a simple matter, it relates to national safety and reputation. If basic tasks are not handled well, how can we attract foreign visitors to boost the tourism industry,” Tiong asked.

He said Liew was welcome to take full credit for bringing visitors to Sabah, either through direct or chartered flights, but visitor safety must always come first, adding that he had also highlighted the issue with Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor.

“I regret that many tourism issues entrusted to her have not been resolved.

“My advice to her, as the state minister for tourism, is not to rush into making criticism but rather focus on addressing the issues of tourism safety first.

“I have repeatedly explained in Cabinet that existing agents of MM2H must re-register themselves to address the prevailing problem of agents subleasing their permits or disappearing with collected agency fees,” he explained.

He also clarified that the renewal of the MM2H visas are not related to the agent permits.

MM2H agents in Malaysia must reapply for their permits after the latest regulations are released or gazetted.

“The Tourism Ministry will no longer recognise existing agents, all expired permits must be reapplied, and (they will) undergo strict background checks.

“Renewal of permits is only approved for those who qualify under the new regulations,” he said.

He had also told Cabinet that the authority to do so would be delegated to Sabah and Sarawak, adding that he expected to meet Hajiji and Sarawak Premier Tan Sri Abang Johari Openg, as well as other related parties that had worked hard in drafting MM2H programme policies.

“It is not about whether Sabah is allowed to appoint its own agents, but Liew should understand the issues,” he said.

On Friday (June 7), Liew announced that Sabah’s MM2H programme would continue, with or without the green light from the federal ministry, adding that its sudden directive had unnecessarily disrupted the programme that had gone through over a year of planning and preparations.

Aside from Liew, Sarawak Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Minister Datuk Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah had also lashed out at Tiong for the decision, adding that the move has adversely affected the programme’s progress.

“You must understand, Sabah and Sarawak have rights also. As far as the tourism industry is concerned, it should be a state right, but we are willing to share it,” he was quoted by a local Sarawak daily.

He also opined that as a Sarawakian, Tiong should know that any pertinent matters related to Sabah and Sarawak needed to be discussed with both states, adding that while tourism comes under the federal list, it does not mean the ministry has full rights to implement its policies.

Abdul Karim reminded Tiong that there are limitations as it is bound by Sarawak’s autonomy in immigration, adding that tourism matters were being discussed for inclusion under the concurrent list during the recent Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) meeting.

Meanwhile, there was no mention of Abdul Karim’s comments in Tiong’s Facebook post.