CONTEMPORARY MALAYSIA

con·tem·po·rar·y - Modern times in its generic sense, living, occurring, or existing, at the same time; often also used as a synonym for "modern" Ma·lay·sia - A country of southeast Asia consisting of the southern Malay Peninsula and the northern part of the island of Borneo.

The issue of illegal immigrants in Sabah has been going on for more than 30 years, but seems that no action is taken. I think its time for a change of Government. Article taken from MT.


By Stan Yee, Kota Kinabalu

So the Moro National Liberation Front leader Nur Misuari has threatened to take his claim on Sabah to the International Court of Justice.

Sabahans are not particularly rattled by such litigation and regard it as less a threat than the human tide from Southern Philippines that has swept through Sabah virtually unchecked for well over 30 years. The influx has reached a stage where there is real fear that where Misuari’s claim fails our porous borders and the lackadaisical handling of the influx by the federal government will help him succeed in making Sabah part of the Philippines, in substance if not in form. Even if the influx is stopped now the one-million plus immigrants who are already here, coupled with the high birthrate among them have already set the clock ticking towards that eventuality.

The territorial claim may not cause a ripple on the geopolitical scene. It is a non-issue, to use Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman’s words. So far we have relied on our right to self-determination to defend our rejection of the claim. That’s why Datuk Rais Yatim confidently brandished the Cobbold Commission Report, as it were, when he commented on the Philippines government’s claim to Sabah. But if one may toy with a poser, in the unlikely event that the claim goes to the ICJ, and in the even more unlikely event that the ICJ ordered another referendum, UN sponsored or otherwise, will there be a chance, however remote, that self-determination this time around may turn out differently, seeming that the demographic factor of Sabah has changed? The possession of MyKad as qualification to take part in the referendum would come in handy for tens of thousands of Filipinos residing in Sabah, thanks to “Project IC”.

The Sabah claim has come from two quarters, one by descendants of the Sultan of Sulu to whom Malaysia still pays “Cession Money” annually, and the other by the government in Manila based simply on the logic that what purports to belong to the Sultan of Sulu – or his heirs - also belongs to the Republic of the Philippines.

Granted, few in Semenanjung know much about Sabah’s history, or the claim, but when Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim said that the Philippines claim to Sabah is only made by a “small group that is political in nature”, and that Malaysia does not consider it as an official claim, that is surprising, to put it mildly. The Philippines passed a law many years ago to declare Sabah their territory, and for good measure published a map that included Sabah as part of the Philippines. They have not rescinded these declarations of sovereignty over Sabah despite many changes of presidents since Ferdinand Marcos. Furthermore, despite our numerous requests they have consistently refused to set up a consulate in Kota Kinabalu, obviously to drive home the point that you do not set up a consulate in your own territory. Yet we close our eyes while waiting for a diplomatic note from the Philippines that officially proclaims the country’s suzerainty over Sabah. Bung Moktar was right, we ought to deal with the Philippines more forcefully. Diplomatic niceties have got us nowhere. Meanwhile, the Filipinos in Sabah quietly tell their children that Sabah is theirs, whatever the people of Sabah may say.

That leads us to the proposed Royal Commission of Inquiry that DAP tried to present in Parliament recently. The whole idea of the proposed Royal Commission is not so much to directly bring about the repatriation of the illegals as it is to establish the truth about the “Project IC” issue that bears on the citizenship status of tens of thousands of Filipinos in Sabah. The idea is, having established their status, the government under Pak Lah will then be able to decide more confidently what to do with those who obtained their MyKad by fraudulent means, if it truly wishes to do the right thing about the illegals. But, first, it must establish the facts about Project IC.

Some people in leadership position appear to be of two minds about having a royal commission. In a recent statement the Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman said that a concerted effort by all concerned would probably produce better results than setting up the proposed royal commission. He was of course correct in the sense that whatever findings and recommendations that come out of the commission’s inquiry would still have to be considered by the government for possible action, and action must necessarily involve a concerted effort by many government agencies.

But let it be said that the problem has festered for more than 30 years and the idea of “concerted effort” to deal with the problem is not new. Regrettably, today we are no nearer to finding a solution than when the problem first began to cause concern in the seventies.

Of course, one would much prefer that we do not have to resort to a royal commission which is costly, time consuming and a step that may lead right to where we were in the 70s. But as the supposed concerted effort by the government enforcement agencies has not produced the desired results, many people want to know why. This is where the inquiry commission may be able to shed some light on the problem. But few in Sabah are so naïve as to consider such a panel a total remedy. As a big part of the problem stems from the granting of citizenships to tens of thousands of Filipinos and a smaller number of Indonesians through the “Project IC” scheme allegedly directed in secrecy at the topmost level of the federal government, getting to the bottom of this allegation is expected to be fraught with difficulties. You need to interrogate big shots who can simply ignore your “invitation” to give evidence, who refuse to answer questions that they do not like or simply tell fibs. This is why we need a royal commission with quasi-judicial powers, even though these powers are restricted to the "Terms of Reference" of the commission and possibly also a date by which the commission must finish its work.

Because of its quasi-judicial powers and the likelihood that it will comprise people who command respect and presumably untarnished by any known scandal, a Royal Commission may have sufficient clout to get to the bottom of the illegals problem. The work will involve research into the issue, consultations with people in the know both within and outside of the government. The warrant may grant immense investigatory powers, including summoning witnesses under oath, seizing of documents and other evidence, including those protected by the OSA, and enlisting the assistance of the government officials. In the process of the open inquiry, the daily report of interrogations would highlight many of the problems that led to the intractable problems of the illegals in this country. That in themselves may throw light on the way our government functioned during the three decades that saw Sabah slide to its depth of misery.

But, ultimately, the solution rests on the nation’s political will to solve the problem. The findings of the royal commission together with recommendations could of course be highly influential and can lead to important decisions. On the other hand, though, they could also lead to a cul-de-sac and be completely ignored by the government if such a political will doesn’t exist. A case in point is the report of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police. This Royal Commission was established by the King in February 2004 under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1950. In its voluminous report, submitted to the Prime Minister on 29 April, 2005 and released to the public just a little over a month later, the Commission made 125 recommendations focusing on three main areas that called for reform – the high crime rate, high degree of corruption and violation of human rights by the police. From the scant reports about implementation it seems obvious that most of the recommendations have yet to be carried out by the government. There is fear that the report will suffer the same fate as most government reports – shelved and forgotten.

The report of the Royal Commission on the Lingam video clip case does not appear to have fared any better either. All that the Commission seems to have achieved after establishing the authenticity of the video clips and the identities of the six people involved in the judicial brokering scandal is to break the raging fever that had led to its creation. The government is left to deal with the aftermath, apparently uncertain what to do next. The news that the ACA has now begun to look into those involved appears to have brought the matter right back to square one. For all the power given to the high profile Commission, it has not delivered the “shock and awe” as many expected and has gone no further than making a prima facie case for the findings to go before the ACA for further investigations that would lead to charges being filed against the six.

Despite the clamour for its creation to deal with the illegals, a royal commission can even backfire and end up stifling criticism against the government, without actually doing anything. This is especially likely if the commission includes persons from the opposition camp and NGOs as well, which it should to give the inquiry an aura of neutrality and transparency. The cushioning effect comes when the sobering realities of what can and cannot be done are fully explored and shared in a bi-partisan or politically neutral working group. Also, while those concerned are fixated on the royal commission’s investigations, the on-going measures to solve the problem - little though they may be - may stall.

Sabahans may not be all starry-eyed about what a royal commission can or cannot do, but they would still like to see the government institute a public inquiry into this matter of great importance and controversy. What the people of Sabah want to establish is that the “Project IC” did exist – if the past tense is appropriate - and is not just a figment of the imagination of some people. Through an in-depth investigation we may truly come to grips with the problem. For one thing, it may unravel the phenomenal increase of Sabah’s population – as high as 300% over the last 30 years by some unofficial estimates – but especially a 12 per cent increase during the period between 2002 and 2007, from 2,730,100 to 3,063,600 people, as disclosed by the Prime Minister's Department in a written reply to a question from Sepanggar MP Datuk Eric Majimbun in Parliament recently. I suppose we can take that as official. The Royal Commission should be able to link the extraordinary increase to the Project IC.

So far the government has not made any official stand on the “Project IC” allegation. This raises more suspicion that there is an attempt at cover-up, and the very act of ignoring such a great weight of public opinion that seeks the truth is tantamount to a slight, an act of disrespect to the people of Sabah who have every reason to worry about the future of their state which they erroneously thought would be well defended as part of Malaysia.

If the federal government has nothing to hide then it should be open to a public inquiry. If there have been shady deals these were shady deals of the Mahathir era which the present administration can try to put right. Time is of the essence here. The longer the delay in getting to the truth, the more Pak Lah’s administration will be regarded as a party to the Project IC deal that has caused so much resentment in Sabah.

By exposing it and the personalities who perpetrated it we can move on. We can at least start in the knowledge that the tens of thousands of Filipinos and a great many Indonesians who have been granted the MyKad identification documents did not qualify to get them and must be dealt with in whatever way the present government considers just and proper and consistent with the security considerations of Sabah. Unless the Project IC controversy is sorted out, the law enforcement personnel assigned to deal with the illegals have nothing authoritative to guide them and may therefore think they are justified in exercising their own discretion in dealing with people whom Sabahans looked upon as foreigners and illegals.

When the DAP proposed a motion to set up the Royal Commission, what a pity it was shot down. It is a pity because for too long the people of Sabah have been ranting and raving about this problem without receiving much attention from the federal government as if it is purely a Sabah problem and not a problem that concerns Malaysia’s national security and territorial integrity. It is even more a pity that solving the problem of the illegals in Sabah is a “favour” that can be made to look like some windfalls granted by the PM on a whirlwind visit, along with some development funds, a couple of appointments and some sundry items to keep the disgruntled in Sabah quiet for a while.

Well, not this time. The Prime Minister must do much more than chucking in some token “concessions” to keep Sabahans quiet. For three decades the high and mighty in KL have made our beautiful Sabah a pawn in their political game to counteract the combined political strength of the KDM and Chinese communities, even to the extent of changing the demographic landscape of Sabah. They left the door wide open to outsiders, even to people from a neighbouring country that lays claim to our state. That is a very serious dereliction of duty, even high treason, no matter how one looks at it.

The time for reckoning is now. But first, Sabah leaders must grow up and recognise that where Sabah’s territorial integrity is concerned they must all work together even if KL has other agenda. There is no room for partisan politics in this matter, not among Sabahans.