05 November 2014
RMAF base at Butterworth (photo : Kane)
KOTA KINABALU: Former Sabah Chief Minister Harris Salleh has written a letter of appeal to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and Cabinet Ministers to re-consider the proposed relocation of the RMAF Base from Butterworth to Labuan.
He wants the base to be in Tawau as part of measures to strengthen the security apparatus being currently put in place along the eastern seaboard of Sabah.
“It takes about an hour’s flying time from Labuan to the various towns and trouble spots along the east coast.
This travelling time definitely causes a problem in the event of an emergency,” said Harris. “Tawau is just a short hop away from Lahad Datu, Semporna and Sandakan.”
Tawau, stressed Harris, was the best location for the RMAF Base because there’s no air force base at the moment along the eastern seaboard to cover this vulnerable stretch of the Sabah coastline.
Harris also thinks that the presence of the RMAF in Labuan is likely to have a negative impact on the island’s tourism potential which is expected to replace the oil and gas projects being increasingly shifted to Sabah and Sarawak.
“The RMAF has already been in Labuan for more than 60 years i.e. since World War II. There are no benefits to the island and the people from its presence,” said Harris. “The lack of local benefits after more than 60 years was also the reason that the Philippines Government did not renew the US lease on Subic Bay.”
He urged the people of Labuan to support his Appeal by speaking up on the issue and stress on the importance of the tourism industry to the island following its oil and gas industries being relocated elsewhere in Borneo. The former Chief Minister did not mention Labuan’s status as an international offshore financial centre.
“Knowing Kuala Lumpur, any suggestion from me alone will not be entertained,” he conceded frankly. “But Kuala Lumpur will listen to the people of Labuan if they speak up.”
“They must also argue for retaining Labuan at least as a regional centre for the oil and gas sector besides being an island reliant on tourism.”
Arguing for the future of Labuan to be free of the presence of the RMAF, Harris stressed that the island can expect its first one million tourists in five years time.
“Travel agents from China and Borneo have agreed to make Labuan a transit point for tourists from China flying to various destinations in Borneo,” said Harris. “A good percentage of the transit traffic is likely to spend a night or two in Labuan.”
“We must not allow this future to be compromised by shifting the RMAF Base from Butterworth to Labuan.”
He pointed out that, on another plus point, Labuan has already been declared a free flying zone which will come into effect on 1 Jan 2015.
(Free Malaysia Today)