PENAMPANG 31/03/2013: If not for the invasion of a small village on the east coast of Sabah a few weeks ago by a group of armed Filipinos calling themselves the Royal Army of Sulu, the fate of over a million new immigrants – legal and illegal – would have been settled.
They would have all been so thoroughly embedded in Sabah’s social fabric that any change to their status would have caused economic and political upheaval in the state that would never be permitted.
Even an ongoing inquiry into how hundreds of thousands of them had acquired citizenship during the Barisan Nasional coalition government’s rule of the state and how the state’s population had exploded as a result, would have had little scope to remedy the lack of harmony.
But all that has changed in the past few weeks.
It has put two federal cabinet ministers at odds.
The trio of Kadazandusun and Murut-based coalition members, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), the United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), have united to demand that all citizenship papers granted to those in the state be revoked and reissued to only those qualified to be citizens.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz has rejected the demand on the grounds that it would be difficult for the federal government to issue new MyKad for those in Sabah, as demanded by the three KadazanDusunMurut-based BN parties.
“It is just a suggestion by the parties, but I feel it is difficult to be implemented … there are legal implications,” he said a week ago.
His comments have again raised suspicions about the direction of the current Royal Commission of Inquiry into the issue and the federal government’s intentions.
But his cabinet colleague, Bernard Dompok, the leader of Upko, is sticking to his guns, knowing that it is an issue that has widespread support among ordinary citizens in the state and perhaps the country.
Repeating his call yesterday for the recall and review of all Malaysian identity cards that were issued in Sabah, the Penampang MP said he would take the lead to surrender his identity card or MyKad to the relevant authority.
Idea not new
Dompok together with Joseph Pairin Kitingan of PBS and Joseph Kurup of PBRS say it is the best way to determine who are Malaysian citizens.
The idea is not new.
Former Sabah chief minister Yong Teck Lee who helms the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) which sits in the opposition proposed the drastic move more than a year ago.
Dompok reiterated his and his fellow BN leaders’ stand when officiating the district level KDM Malaysia Idol auditions roadshow here on Saturday.
The MP who is facing a tough challenge to retain the constituency for the BN, stressed that their approach was one way to weed out those ‘dubious citizens’ in the state who were originally illegal immigrants as well as foreigners who were granted Malaysian citizenship by the authorities for political reasons.
Like Pairin and Kurup who claim they had anticipated the immigrants issue would pose a great challenge and burden to the state in various social areas including health, education and housing, Dompok said the repercussions were now being felt throughout the country.
“It is a challenge because we will have to play host to foreign immigrants more than the country’s own citizens.
“So the resources of the country are divided to provide for the education, medical facilities of the people who have joined us.
“At the same time we are of course mindful that this country also benefits from the workers coming from abroad.
“However what we want is that those who come to Sabah have valid travel documents and not to enter the state through the back door and later obtain identification documents which legitimised them as Malaysian citizens,” he said.
He also believed such a move could compliment the efforts of the ongoing royal inquiry that was agreed to by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.
“This is a very serious matter and we have to surrender our IC and those who are really eligible to own a Malaysian identity card will be issued with a new one,” he said.
As elections loom and pressure builds on the BN political parties in the state, the fate of the immigrants who came to Sabah hoping for a better life remains in the balance.