Cut fares to Sabah and Sarawak

A FRIEND asked what my thoughts were on domestic air fares. I thought it a strange question because I would have thought flights between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak were cheap and subsidised. I was wrong.

He said: "Last election, I had to take a flight to Kota Kinabalu, and only reached my area at 3am. I was back in Kuala Lumpur after voting, before noon."

The cost? "Almost RM500, I guess," he said, adding that flights overseas could be cheaper.

If an election is called on March 27, flights to Kota Kinabalu and back to Kuala Lumpur will be close to RM500 if I were to book it at the time of writing on March 2.

Now, I'm all for airlines practising free market policies along with supply and demand determining pricing, but does it have to be at the expense of our citizens from Sabah and Sarawak?

One can only imagine what those working in the peninsula have to save for festive seasons and even if a relative were to get married on short notice.

Thus, perhaps there is a need for government intervention when it comes to ensuring we actually act like a nation and bring those prices down. After all, this is the government that promised a "1Malaysia, 1Price" campaign listed in their 2013 manifesto.

Bringing down air fares between Malaysian states, even one separated by the South China Sea, could be part of their promises for 2018. Surely we can have a policy on price reductions for Malaysians who are from Sabah and Sarawak.

Would it be perceived as a campaign gimmick? You bet. But what isn't in the lead up to the general election?

How much would such a policy cost, and who would bear it?

Valid questions, but seeing as how there are also citizens from Sabah and Sarawak living in Peninsular Malaysia who pay taxes like the goods and services tax and duties on cigarettes and alcohol, it would be returning and spending that money on them.

More must be done to bridge this geographical and cultural divide between the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak.

The idealist in me wants student exchange programmes where tertiary and secondary school students get to interact for three months in a unity exchange programme.

Another idealist thought is to have a huge power plant and a power supply backbone between Sabah and Sarawak, subsequently a high-speed rail coupled with a fibre optic backbone which links to the peninsula. Of course, these are also for profit projects that can be connected to Kalimantan in Indonesia and even Brunei.

These are things the federal government has had or is planning to have for the peninsula, and there should be a plan to have the same in Sabah and Sarawak as soon as possible, rather than treating those Malaysian citizens' needs as a "backburner" project to implement in 20 to 30 years time.

Let's be honest, Sabah and Sarawak have not been given top priority for far too long by past leaders who reaped the cash and left it bare.

However, these should be done with an addendum – let Sabah and Sarawak be Sabah and Sarawak.

For some strange reason, there seems to be a misguided notion that the states in their multicultural, multi-religious and diverse culture need to be "saved" – and that is honestly far from the truth.

If anything, the harmonious interaction of the people of Sabah and Sarawak, in relation to their racial and religious diversity, needs to be adapted here in the peninsula.

Look at race relations in the peninsula compared to both states, the ability to live our lives without religious fervour taking a priority over harmony, and ask yourselves who needs "saving" to remain a united nation.

A lot must be done for Sabah and Sarawak to be at par with the states in Peninsular Malaysia; from infrastructure to the prices of daily necessities to job creation and increasing wages, all the way up to fostering national cohesion among Malaysians.

But let's start with a reduction in domestic air fares.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com