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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Red tape hampers import of steel bars

It is almost three months since the government liberalised the steel bars and billet market, but some contractors say they are still being slapped with 15 per cent import duty by the Customs Department.

The Cabinet had on May 12 2008 announced immediate tax-free status on steel bars and billets, be it imported or exported.

"Our first shipment of steel bars, worth RM6 million, is stuck in Singapore because the Customs Department insists that the steel bar grade of British Standard 4449 does not match their computerised Malaysia Standard 146," Johor Master Builders Association president Loh Liam Hiang said.

The Johor Customs Department continues to impose a 15 per cent import duty on the shipment, he said, adding that the association's members are already at their wits' end because steel bars in the local market are too expensive.

"How many small- and medium-sized contractors can afford to pay RM4,000 per tonne for steel bars? We decided to import but now the shipment is stuck in Singapore. How are we going to meet project deadlines? For every one day delay, we've to pay penalties," he added.

Loh was participating in a nationwide dialogue involving some 600 contractors organised by the Masters Builders Association of Malaysia (MBAM) in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

MBAM president Ng Kee Leen, who was also present, said while importation of steel bars is within the federal government's purview, sand supply is controlled by state governments via issuance of sand mining permits.

Ng said contractors in Selangor are facing sand shortage because the state government had stopped issuing sand extraction permits. This has affected concrete castings and held back some projects for contractors.

"We appeal to the Selangor state government to quickly re-issue permits to help normalise sand supply," he said.

By New Straits Times (by Ooi Tee Ching)

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