Yeah why did the PM give Sabah and Sarawak all the less important ministries – such as the Ministry of “Jaga Muzium (Arts and Culture) and Jaga cuaca ( Ministry of Science, Tech and Innovation).

The Prime Minister had looked east for allies to buttress him in his quest to hold on to the national leadership, but was instead confronted by resentful Sabahans who clearly spoke their mind.

AGGRIEVED at having been shunted aside for so many decades, not trusted and unappreciated despite their repeated proof of loyalty to the centre congealed into a phalanx of issues brought before Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s door last Monday.

The common sore points voiced by the nine Sabah Barisan Nasional component parties, apparently without orchestration, must have taken Abdullah aback.

He had gone to Sabah in large part to consolidate his position in Umno, amid calls from detractors in the peninsula for him to step down. But by all accounts, Umno Sabah proved to be his most fiery dialogue partner.

Initially, he had intended to meet the other Barisan parties collectively but after listening to their morning stance, he thought it wiser to give each of them 40 minutes of his undivided attention.

“Given our genuine concerns and unhappiness, we spoke with the same voice, as one party,” said state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

And since ideology, rather than cold money, seemed to be the core of grievances, talk of rumoured crossovers was neither amplified nor silenced by his meeting. At the end of the day, all the Sabah leaders pledged their allegiance to the Barisan and its leader – without specifically naming who that leader might be.

It had taken Abdullah a month shy of a day before he turned his sights on the state that had delivered 24 out of 25 parliamentary seats in a “sweat-it-out” general election on March 8.

He had visited neighbouring Sarawak, responsible for 30 out of 31 seats, just three days earlier. Between them, the two East Malaysian states had delivered 54 parliamentary seats, enabling the coalition to win 140 seats nationwide.

Watching expectantly from a distance, Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, vice-president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and head of its steering committee for East Malaysia, felt that Abdullah’s visit did not nullify the possibility of crossovers.

By “just listening and promising” but not offering anything specific, Kitingan is hopeful that “sufficient numbers would (switch camps) to cause a bandwagon effect”, with the possibility of reverting the federal government.

Indeed, some of the points raised at Abdullah’s marathon meeting were the very ones outlined in PKR’s election manifesto.

The federal government’s seeming lack of recognition – and appreciation – of Sabah’s contribution was a major source of resentment.

“There’s a feeling that when it comes to delivery, they expect maximum delivery; but when it comes to reward, we just get the leftovers,” said Masidi.

“In the dialogue, Umno Sabah was not holding the federal government to ransom,” he said. Positions (federal) was only one of the issues; it was not the most important issue.

“Sabah would like an overall re-evaluation of policy and development approach.”

Sabah’s unhappiness rolls back to the Borneonisation issue: that “when Sabah and Sarawak formed Malaysia in 1963, it was a merger of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore with the Federation of Malaya.

Different terms

“Over the years, Sabah and Sarawak got better terms than the other states,” added Masidi.

“On their own entity, they were not two of the 13 (states) but two of the four (signatory partners).

“The terms for Sabah and Sarawak are different on that basis. We have 11 ministries, 30 state departments and agencies, more than 24,000 civil servants and an operating expenditure of RM600mil per annum.

“We have the sufficient (implementing) ministries and agencies,” said Masidi. “But the central government preferred to set up their own.”

Funds were channelled through a Federal Development Department, created in states under Opposition rule such as Kelantan and in Sabah under the Parti Bersatu Sabah state government. But after 1994, the federal department remained as a legacy from a previous rule.

“The parallel federal department insulted a lot of Sabahans,” noted Masidi. “It meant duplication of government functions, more red tape and chaos in the delivery system.”

Moreover, “the federal government does not have a consultative attitude,” he added. “We want this rectified.”

All the Sabah parties advocated the Borneonisation of the Sabah civil service.

“It left a bitter taste when lower category staff from the peninsula are recruited to serve in Sabah,” said Masidi.

“Whereas Sabah has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.”

The problem was that all recruitment is done in Kuala Lumpur so naturally people from the peninsula were favoured.

“When there are vacancies in Sabah, they should localise employment. Sabahans should be given priority,” he added.

Another old sore was the presence of illegal immigrants, “the mother of all problems”, said United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) secretary-general Datuk Wilfred Tangau, an issue reiterated many times because of their social and political implications.

The “cover up to give these people red identity cards” and in some cases even to make them citizens, has happened already, he said.

“There were two specific cases (in the recent election) when Filipinos came out in the open and said that they did not apply for this card. It was given to them. But nothing happened.

“In Kunak, my cousin told me that 200 of his students in Form Five had to leave the school because they didn’t have identity cards,” Tangau recounted.

“Their parents were given identity cards to vote without any record in the National Registration Department. They hoped that you would vote and then keep quiet.”

Poverty rate

The poverty figures have caused much confusion.

“For instance in this year’s Budget, Sabah’s poor were put at 23% where the national average is 3.8%. But recently, the Economic Planning Unit revised this downwards to 17% for Sabah. The figures are erratic because foreigners are sometimes in and sometimes out, in just a few months. The EPU has to grapple with who is poor in Sabah.

“Meanwhile, our kampungs are still without electricity or treated water,” Tangau pointed out.

He wants a Royal Commission of Inquiry on Illegal Immigrants in Sabah to resolve the problem and with the authority to command people to appear before it.

Abdullah’s offer of detention centres seemed to be dealing with the symptom rather than tackling the root of the problem. But Tangau welcomed the stopgap measure. Given the numbers, “we really need all these detention centres, with clear jurisdiction as to who is in authority, whether it is the Prisons Department, the police or immigration,” said Tangau.

Like the other oil producing states, Sabah earns 5% in oil royalties, which at present comes to RM400mil. The PKR had promised to quadruple that to 20%.

But unlike Terengganu, which processes its gas at Kertih and Sarawak through Bintulu, Sabah only has a gas landing base at Kg Gayang in Tuaran. He noted Abdullah’s receptivity to their idea of building a petrochemical plant in Kimanis in Papar, instead of the plan to pipe the gas to Bintulu at a cost of RM1.2bil to Petronas.

“This would provide economic spin-offs and jobs for the locals and give meaning to the Sabah development corridor,” he said.

Upgrading of roads was another specific. Sabah needed to seal 5,000km of state JKR roads. At a conservative cost of RM1mil per km, this would entail RM5bil. Since the Ninth Malaysia Plan had only allocated RM500mil for Sabah roads, the state representatives suggested scrapping a mega project elsewhere for this purpose.

As to Sabah representation in the federal government, it was not so much the numbers but the positions in Cabinet. The proffered post of Speaker, while welcome, was not necessarily equivalent to that of a minister in terms of authority.

“Sabah and Sarawak are the most underdeveloped states in Malaysia – so it would be logical to give the Rural and Regional Development portfolio to someone from these states; whereas Selangor is the most developed, why give it to a guy from the most developed state?” noted Masidi.

Datuk Shafie Apdal’s perceived “demotion” from Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs to Minister of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage “added salt to the wound,” he added.

Apparently the Sabah leaders had hoped that either Sabah or Sarawak would be given the Rural and Regional portfolio, and the other then be given the Works Ministry. That alone would have sufficed.

Sabah has been a part of Malaysia for 45 years.

“A lot of things have happened,” said Tangau. “This (federal attitude) is a problem for us. Please. This has gone beyond politics.

“How long will you not trust us? Instead you give us jaga museum, jaga kaji cuaca (take care of museums, oversee meteorological stations),” he said, referring to Shafie and to Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili, the federal Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation.

It all boiled down to trust. And to being treated as equal Malaysians. If Kuala Lumpur has forgotten the spirit of the 20-point agreement, or what is left of it, inked at the formation of Malaysia, Sabahans certainly have not.

Via The Star