Causeway mess: Good politics, bad diplomacy

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Malaysia-Singapore relations, so assiduously nurtured by the two Prime Ministers, are in tatters as the Causeway became a scene of confusion with buses on both sides stopping services today. School children, workers and others were caught in the middle of a dispute triggered after Singapore increased the vehicle entry permit.

The Malaysians tried to introduce the permit fee on the other side of the Causeway, found out their move is discriminatory because their other border crossings in Sabah, Sarawak and the northern most part of Peninsular Malaysia do not have such a fee.

They then hiked the toll fees as a tool to hit back and the relations between the two countries are now in a mess.

Was there a need for Singapore to increase the permit fee in the first place, the first time since an adjustment was made in 2004? It was actually reduced then – yes, you read it correctly REDUCED — to increase the flow of tourist traffic into the country.

Singapore’s argument that the permit fee is being increased because Singapore vehicle prices have doubled since 2006 and the main culprit is the cost of COEs.

And with Malaysian motorists entering Singapore and not feeling too much of a pinch, and with a government in Singapore becoming increasingly sensitive to public sentiments, acting against foreign vehicles is good domestic politics – but bad diplomacy, as the unfolding events are showing.

When giants fight it is the small man who suffers. It is time for the two PMs to step in and stop this pain and suffering.