by Lee Shi-Ian
The Malaysian Insider
September 19, 2013
The Royal Commission of Inquiry on Sabah’s illegal immigrants problem today heard from Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim that indiscriminate issuance of Malaysian identity cards had begun during the time of second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.
Anwar, the Deputy Prime Minister from 1993 until his dramatic sacking in 1998, Ibrahim, told the Inquiry that between 1972 and 1984, there was an influx of refugees fleeing fighting in the southern Philippines.
The refugees were granted identity cards indiscriminately between 1979 and 1990, said Anwar, who said a special task force was formed by the National Security Council for this purpose.
“The task force is still active today,” he said.
Anwar issues of national security were closely guarded by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during the latter’s premiership.
Dr Mahathir also doubled as the Home Minister at that time, who was in charge of citizenship matters.
“Yes, I knew of this special task force but I was not privy to its workings or exact details of its tasks.
“Ultimately, Dr Mahathir was the person responsible and if he chose not to bring-up the issue during Cabinet meetings, you have to wonder why,” said Anwar.
He further said that members of the administration then including within Umno were not aware of what transpired.
“There were no Cabinet papers on that issue nor was it brought up during meetings, you can check the minutes if you don’t believe me.
“Had I attended any such meeting relating to the issuance of identity cards to illegal immigrants, I am very sure that it would be noted in the minutes. I am not talking about an ordinary task force, I am referring to a special task force whose tasks were less than transparent,” Anwar told the Inquiry.
Saying the task force was still operational, he named Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawiand, saying both have more information about the task force.
“The task force was set up by the National Security Council, which is known to be a very important strategic body. What some people may not know is that the NSC also serves as Umno’s war room from time to time,” Anwar told the five-man RCI panel led by former Sabah and Sarawak Chief Justice Tan Sri Steve Shim Lip Kiong.
To a question by RCI consulting officer Manoj Kurup on how to dealing with illegal immigrants who held identity cards, Anwar replied:
“This is a massive nightmare for the country which was created by the executive, it involves massive corruption and a serious threat to Malaysia’s sovereignty. And now we are being asked how to clean up the mess created, which also had strong ramifications in the 13th general election.”
Shim and Manoj took turns in questioning Anwar on his role during that time.
Shim: There was a significant population increase in Sabah which occurred roughly around the time of Umno’s entry into the state. You were responsible for spearheading Umno’s entry into Sabah in 1991, isn’t that correct?
Anwar: Yes, there were good reasons for Umno to feel that they should have a strong influence in Sabah. However, you have to differentiate between a political party fighting a legitimate battle within the boundaries of the law and a party that isn’t.
Shim: There are perceptions that the population increase was due to illegal immigrants being incorporated into the community to increase the fortunes of a certain political party.
Anwar: It is unfair to blame the party as a whole as not everyone is privy to the matter. But the leaders who knew about the incident and chose to condone such secretive and clandestine acts of sabotage should be hauled up and held responsible. Nobody should condone an illegal operation which threatens national security.
Manoj: What can be done to tackle the issue of illegal immigrants holding Malaysian identity cards?
Anwar: We should be fair, not every Filipino in Sabah is an illegal immigrant, we must ascertain who are the actual refugees. Indiscriminate revocation of their identity cards is against international law, even if Malaysia is not a signatory to that particular agreement. But the first step we must take is to put an immediate stop to the issuance of identity cards to illegal immigrants. There are government or Umno officers who have been sent to Sepang and Selayang to issue identity documents to illegal immigrants. We must stop these excesses now without any excuses.
Manoj: What should be done with the illegal immigrants who have Malaysian identity cards, whose children and grandchildren were born here?
Anwar: This is a very complicated issue as withdrawing their identity cards would mean these people become stateless. We must think of the present generation and consider their rightful place in Malaysia.
Urging for caution when it comes to revoking the identity cards given under dubious circumstances, Anwar said the matter must be dealth with on humanitarian grounds.
“If we revoke the identity cards, who is going to accept the illegal immigrants? Certainly not the Philippines or Indonesia.
“I have held discussions with former Philippines President Fidel Ramos during our respective terms in office. He was reluctant in accepting former refugees back to the Philippines as he considered them Malaysia’s responsibility,” Anwar added. – September 19, 2013.