Sabah, Sarawak feel chill wind of MAS and AirAsia's move
For the first time ever, the Sabah and Sarawak governments are no longer represented on the MAS board of directors.
The opposition Sabah Progressive Party was, however, quick to spot it. Its president, Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee, lamented that it was symptomatic of how his state has systematically been relegated from matters of national concern that touched on Sabah.
As of this writing, there has been nary a public explanation or reaction from either the Sarawak government or the opposition on the matter.
Unless it has quietly sold out, the Sarawak government remains a shareholder of MAS and it was on that basis that either the state secretary or the state financial secretary traditionally sat on the MAS board.
That has to be a matter of some import for the state. Air travel remains a critical service in Sabah and Sarawak despite improvements in other modes of transport.
Already, travel industry players in Sarawak are expressing concern about the implications of the airlines' share swap, particularly as they relate to a possible curtailment of healthy competition and any detrimental effects on fare pricing and travel choice for air passengers.
Initial misgivings about the supposed airline industry rationalisation a few years ago in Sarawak had proven correct although the advent of competition in the industry later on blunted some of the concerns if not entirely removed them.
Any lessening of competition among the domestic airlines now will only revive earlier concerns such as a further reduction in the number and frequency of air services between the major towns of the two states.
Then again, in the case of Sarawak, there is the additional concern that Kuching will further lose out as an air hub with direct links to international destinations as both MAS and AirAsia consolidate their investments in major hubs in Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu.
Kuching requires a major and concerted effort to realise its aspirations for international air connectivity and that effort may not be forthcoming if left entirely to the two major airlines, with no one from the state government side pushing the state's agenda from within the airlines' top decision-making structures.
The Federal Government has said that it would remain an integral player in the airline industry. That may prove both a blessing and a millstone for all those with a stake in the success of the industry.
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