Friday, December 11, 2009

Flight night in Dewan over AirAsia

06 December 2009

Debate goes on and on about budget carrier and airport tax arrears

MALAYSIAN MPs have a love-hate relationship with AirAsia. Those who love the low-budget carrier are full of praise but those who are against it go all out to criticise the carrier, from its business model to airport tax arrears.

This mixed feelings towards AirAsia kept the debate in the House going till late at night last Tuesday.

So intense was the debate that Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia was forced to intervene, telling Wangsa Maju’s PKR MP Wee Choo Keong to go easy on the low-budget carrier.

“Yang Berhormat, please don’t go after AirAsia to the extent that it will have to close shop. It will be a problem for me as I always fly with AirAsia,” he said half in jest.

This remark took place when Wee was going after Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri while the latter was replying on a series of issues related to AirAsia raised during the debate on his ministry, ranging from advance purchase of air tickets to the airport tax that the budget carrier still owed to Malaysia Airport Holdings Bhd (MAHB).

Abdul Rahim earlier had told Wee during question time that AirAsia had paid MAHB RM111.6mil in airport tax after an incentive of RM25mil was given.

Wee raised the same issue during the debate on the Transport Ministry at the committee stage of the Budget.

“Why must AirAsia be given the incentive as the airport tax is actually paid by passengers? What is the rationale when a person can be dragged to court for owing the Government RM3,000 or even face bankruptcy, but AirAsia gets to enjoy an incentive to settle arrears since 2002?

“Is there any interest charged for the amount owed since 2002? Why is there no penalty?” he asked.

Fong Kui Lun (DAP-Bukit Bintang) joined the fray by questioning the convenience fee charged by AirAsia on those who buy tickets using credit cards while Ismail Mohamed Said (BN-Kuala Kurau) asked the Transport Ministry about floating price for AirAsia tickets.

Salahuddin Ayub (PAS-Kubang Kerian) and N. Gobalakrishnan (PKR-Padang Serai), however, did not share the sentiments of Wee, Fong and Ismail.

Both had only nice things to say about AirAsia.

“We should not regard AirAsia as an enemy. It should be seen as a competitor company.

“We can learn from its achievement. It started from zero and look at where it is now.

“We should not link flying AirAsia with being less patriotic. Does flying AirAsia means one is not patriotic but flying MAS is? That is not the mentality of the 21st century... the Government is still subsidising MAS for its domestic flights.

“How long will this go on?” asked Salahuddin.

Gobalakrishnan hailed AirAsia for making it possible for people to travel cheaply.

“AirAsia has shown the way. Perhaps the ministry should consider giving two to three more licences to other new budget airlines,” he said.

The issue of independent power producers (IPP) saw Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Peter Chin getting into a war of words with Machang MP Saifuddin Nasution Ismail of PKR.

“The way Machang puts it, it seems that the Government is stupid and merely make payments to the IPPs for nothing,” said Chin.

He also dismissed the MP’s claim that IPPs were getting excessive profits from their deals with the Government.

Saifuddin, however, claimed that it was so and cited an agreement between one IPP and the power authority in United Kingdom in which the company was only making a reasonable profit compared to the one signed with the Government.

“Apart from actual electricity consumption and capacity charge, there is payment for standby charge and the subsidy on gas which are not included in the agreement signed in UK. The agreements signed here are lopsided,” he told Chin.

“Prove your allegations. We can also discuss outside the House,” Chin replied.

The exchange of words between Chin and Saifuddin was so fiery that the Speaker had to stop Datuk Dr Marcus Mojigoh (BN-Putatan) from interjecting.

Despite that, Dr Marcus managed to do so and asked Saifuddin who was the Finance Minister who had approved the IPP agreements back in 1993 and was now in the opposition (referring to Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim).

Dewan resumes its sitting tomorrow.

By Lee Yuk Peng

The Star

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