Labuan is second best place in the world

LABUAN: If everything goes according to plan, Labuan will be an attractive holiday and business destination by 2015.

However, its residents are sceptical it can be achieved, unless the problem of high prices of goods on the island is resolved.

Various quarters have expressed their concern through various channels about their fear of Labuan becoming an isolated island, a distant cry from the 1980s when it was declared a free tax island and attracted many visitors.

A meeting at the Labuan Domestic Trade, Consumerism and Cooperatives Office recently was told that the price of consumer goods in Labuan was 20 to 30 percent higher than in other states.

The main reason is due to transport cost as almost all consumer goods are brought in from mainland Sabah using the ferry service.

With most cargo sent to mainland Sabah, the Merdeka Port in Labuan is void of activity.

Chairman of the Labuan Consumers Action Council, Fauziah Datuk Mohd Din told Bernama that the only thing cheap in Labuan were vehicles and liquor.

"Visitors come to Labuan only for the entertainment because of cheap liquor, besides the GROs at entertainment centres," she said.

She said if nothing was done to solve the problem, the free tax island status accorded to Labuan was no longer suitable.

One suggestion to overcome the problem is to build a bridge linking Labuan and mainland Sabah at Menumbok.

Meanwhile, several residents want continuous efforts be made to resolve the problem of high prices.

Chong Mei Yuen, 42, said the setting up of the Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority's (FAMA) farmers' market would provide an alternative for residents to spend wisely.

"A kilogramme of Spanish mackerel can be bought at RM14 at the farmers' market compared with RM18 at the market," she added.

Rashid Johan, 38, a government servant from the peninsular, is feeling the pinch.

"When I was transferred to Labuan three years ago, I thought the cost of living here was lower because of its status as a free tax island, but it is not so. The pricea of goods here is very high," he added.

An operations manager of a shopping centre, Mary Anne Lin, 41, said prices of goods at the premises were fixed based on the transportation cost incurred.

Jennifer George, 44, a supplier, said she obtained her supply of goods without going through middlemen or agents to avoid paying extra charges.

Hotel operators are also affected with a drop in occupancy rate.

Terence Kim, 51, a sales manager at a four-star hotel here, said the number of visitors to the island had dropped compared with the 1980s and 1990s when Labuan was a shopping haven. - Bernama

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