By Kee Thuan Chye
Kidnappings and illegal immigrants – these are issues that are closely related, because they raise the pressing question of how secure Sabah’s east coast really is. So when a Chinese tourist and a Filipino worker were abducted by gunmen from Singamata Reef Resort off Semporna on April 2, proving once again that marauders from around the surrounding areas and the Philippines can easily penetrate Sabah’s eastern border, the incident also reminded us how easily illegal immigrants have been hopping into Sabah over the decades.
This naturally led to another question. A Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) was established in 2012 to finally investigate the issue of Sabah’s illegal immigrants, and it concluded its hearings on September 20, 2013. But after seven months, we have not yet been told what the six-man panel have recommended. When will the RCI findings be revealed?
Is the Federal Government, as usual, waiting for the right timing to release the findings so that it can use the occasion for its own political leverage? Or is it holding back because the recommendations may be detrimental to its own position?
In any case, one supposes the Federal Government is not in a hurry now to address the illegal immigrants problem in Sabah because the 13th general election (GE13) is already over and the Barisan Nasional (BN) state government was retained without suffering major casualties. Besides, despite the fact that the issue has been of great concern to Sabahans for the longest time, it is, on the other hand, something the Federal Government would rather ignore. Looking back at the many years of nonchalance it displayed towards the incessant lobbying of Sabah political parties, including and especially those within the BN fold, for the establishment of the RCI, we can see that this is true.
It took the defections to Pakatan Rakyat in July 2012 of Wilfred Bumburing, a former deputy chief minister of Sabah from Upko (United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation), and the then federal deputy housing and local government minister Lajim Ukin from Umno, both saying they had lost faith in BN ever wanting to solve Sabah’s many long-standing problems, including the illegal immigrants issue, before action on the RCI was finally taken.
Fearing further defections ahead of the impending GE13, Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had several months earlier mentioned the possibility of an RCI on the issue, finally announced on August 11, 2012, that the RCI would proceed.
Then, Najib did it out of urgency and political need. But now he has the luxury of time to release the report when it is expedient for him to do so. But will the report make a radical difference, anyway? Will the panel’s recommendations be bold? More important, if the recommendations called for drastic action to be taken to once and for all solve the perennial problem, would the Government apply them? Or would it, as in the V.K. Lingam RCI and the one calling for the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), sweep the whole thing out of reckoning?
After all, from the testimonies of the 211 witnesses at the RCI, we have seen how shocking some of their revelations are. And how incriminating they are of BN leaders.
The witnesses have confirmed that the issuing of citizenships illegally and for serving the political agenda of flooding the state with Muslim voters to facilitate the continuation of Muslim (and later, Umno) rule did take place. An ex-NRD (National Registration Department) officer even testified that about 100,000 blue ICs were issued to these immigrants in 1993 alone.
They have told us that government agencies like the NRD, the Immigration Department, National Civics Bureau (BTN) and the Election Commission (EC) were complicit in registering illegal immigrants as voters. Even the police co-operated.
The testimonies of former Sandakan chief district officer Hassnar Ebrahim, former Sabah NRD director Ramli Kamaruddin, former Sabah NRD assistant registrar Kee Dzulkifly Kee Abd Jalil, former Sabah NRD officer Yakup Damsah and former banker Mat Swadi Awi, all affirming government conspiracy in an organised programme of giving out identity cards illegally to illegal immigrants, are particularly damning.
But there have also been constructive suggestions emerging from the inquiry. One in particular, suggested by some of the witnesses, like former Sabah chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan, is to recall all ICs issued in Sabah to confirm which of the IC holders are true Sabahans. This sounds like a very sensible first step towards weeding out those who got their citizenships through foul means.
Former federal minister Bernard Dompok is also an ardent champion of this move. “Although this may sound extreme, it has to be done,” he said. As such, the RCI panel would have excelled in doing its job to express this as one of its strongest recommendations in its report. Let’s hope it has done so. In which case, it should be incumbent on the Federal Government to conduct the required exercise – and to adhere to Article 26 of the Constitution of Malaysia, which calls for citizens to be deprived of their citizenships if it is found that their documents were obtained “by means of fraud, false representation or the concealment of any material fact”.
As Dompok put it, “there can be no compromise when a Malaysian IC, and consequentially citizenship, is obtained through dubious means. The holder of such a document was never a Malaysian citizen in the first place.”
He added, “If the ICs in Sabah are all recalled and replaced upon verification, this very act will answer all those criticisms faced by the Election Commission on the contamination of the voters list. Those who have obtained citizenship on the sly and become voters can be struck off the list immediately.”
Remarkably, then, this exercise would achieve two significant purposes.
In fact, when he was on the stand, Dompok contributed a fair bit of substantial material to the RCI. He presented what he called the Upko Initiative, a voluminous study that also identifies numerous entry points into Sabah used by illegals as stepping stones into the state. It shows how kinship and ethnic affiliations among illegals and illegal Malaysians pose a challenge to national security, how the social networks of immigrants can complicate actions that are taken to combat acts of terror like those that occurred during the Sulu incursion in February last year. It warns that such acts of terror are just the tip of the iceberg, and that more can occur in the future if the proper measures are not taken.
The danger to Sabah is therefore obvious. And the April 2 kidnapping reinforces this. Bingkor assemblyman Jeffrey Kitingan testified at the RCI that the issuance of illegal ICs did indeed lead to problems such as the Sulu incursion, and claimed that many of the intruders who were killed were buried in Sabah afterwards because they possessed Malaysian ICs.
How can the Federal Government continue to ignore the danger? It must instead show the political will to help Sabah. That can be done only by taking immediate measures to solve Sabah’s long-standing problem and keep out unwanted elements. And that begins with releasing the RCI findings.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the book The Elections Bullshit, available in bookstores.