KUALA LUMPUR: The state of Sabah could be a time bomb as deep-seated animosity between locals and foreigners — thousands of whom have been given Malaysian identity cards — could cause social upheaval besides revealing its porous borders that pose a threat to the country’s sovereignty, said a Pakatan Rakyat lawmaker.
Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli said the deluge of foreigners, who some estimate made up 25% of its current population, has caused steep competition with locals over limited resources, jobs and business opportunities.
Sabah’s economy has not grown in tandem with its population boom, which government figures show occurred at a rate of 300% from the 1970s to 2000, because of the influx of foreigners from the Philippines and Indonesia, Rafizi said at a forum on the state’s illegal immigration woes, titled “How many are real Sabahans?”.
The forum follows the release of a 2012 Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) report into the matter in December last year, which was inconclusive and held no one in high authority accountable for the issuance of Malaysian identity cards to foreigners in exchange for votes.
The RCI report said it did not find any “political motive” behind the massive identity card fraud, which has been dubbed “Project IC”.
“The animosity and anxiety that such a population boom creates have political, economic and social ramifications and it’s the kind of recipe that leads to disaster,” said Rafizi at the forum organised by DAP last night in Kuala Lumpur.
The anger among Sabah locals over illegal immigration and fraudulent citizenships has boiled over in recent times with louder calls for Sabah’s rights to be respected and even calls for secession.
On Monday, four activists were charged in Kota Kinabalu under the Sedition Act for possessing and distributing materials advocating secession from Malaysia.
Among the speakers at the forum were DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang, Dr Chong Eng Leong, who authored a book on Sabah’s illegal immigrants, and Sabah DAP chairman Jimmy Wong.
Chong and other Sabah writers previously claimed that more than 802,000 foreigners had been given ICs and work permits ever since the 1970s in exchange for votes.
A The Malaysian Insider survey and series of reports last year found that many Sabahans are hostile towards foreigners with ICs who are gobbling up taxi permits and hawker stall licences.
A straw poll in July last year found that the majority of respondents in Sabah or 52% said that illegal immigrants were the No 1 problem facing Sabah.
In his speech at the forum, Rafizi said Sabah’s immigrant problem was a national issue as it could jeopardise Malaysia’s sovereignty and its claims to the Ambalat oil fields off Sabah’s southeastern coast.
This is because firm national borders are necessary to claiming resources within Malaysian waters.
“But how do you talk about territorial claims when your borders are porous and you allow people with dual citizenship to come and go as they please?
“It’s also a national security issue as people get kidnapped for ransom in eastern Sabah. It’s like having one part of the country where people cannot feel safe,” said Rafizi who is also PKR vice-president.
The Lahad Datu incursion in early 2013 was a consequence of the changes to Sabah society caused by migrants holding dual citizenship, he said.
However, Rafizi called for calm and compassion in finding a resolution to the problem.
“There is no silver bullet to solve this. It is also a humanitarian issue of how we deal with hundreds of thousands of families who have lived in Sabah for the past 40 years. You cannot just deport them like that.”
Chong, who is also a PKR activist, claimed the influx of immigrants had nothing to do with religion or race but was done for political control of Sabah.
This was revealed by five witnesses in the Sabah RCI who had been National Registration Department officers involved in giving out ICs to foreigners.
Sabah opposition politicians have made similar claims before, saying that there was a massive conspiracy originating from Putrajaya to give thousands of foreigners ICs and register them as voters.
It is alleged that these voters would then be told to vote for Barisan Nasional. RCI witnesses claimed that the plot originated from former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
This has been strenuously denied by Dr Mahathir, while the RCI claims it was done by rogue civil servants and syndicates.
Chong said testimonies linking high-level politicians with the distribution of ICs for political aims were ignored in the RCI.
“Even a former Sabah state secretary, Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, testified that the ICs were laminated in Kuala Lumpur to give to foreigners. This was also ignored.”
He also estimates that there are more than 200,000 individuals in the Sabah electoral roll who could be “unqualified” voters.
Lim said DAP would set up a parliamentary committee to study the Sabah RCI report, which has been characterised by Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers as lacking in substance. — The Malaysian Insider
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on March 18, 2015.