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Sabah immigrants: What's next?

Sabah immigrants: What's next?
He said the RCI findings on immigrants in Sabah need to be seen in a comprehensive manner.
Royal Commission of Inquiry on Immigrants in Sabah and moving forward

This is my response to the Royal Commission on Inquiry on immigrants in Sabah, released yesterday. I would like to state here that the next focus should be moving forward, especially for Sabahans. Efforts must be pointed as to what to do next and not to point fingers looking for mistakes or talk about what has happened in the past. Sabah can only move forward and progress if we think positive.

The RCI findings need to be seen in a comprehensive manner. The people of Sabah also need to play its role in moving forward together. Without realising, we are also part of this problem. For example, the people of Sabah must reduce their preference to hire cheap foreign labour. We complain about the influx of immigrants but at the same time, we do not hesitate to hire them because they are cheaper. I realize hiring a local would incur higher cost because of higher wage demanded. Higher cost means product or service will also be higher. But, such sacrifice is worthwhile to achieve long term benefit. With more number of locals hired, we can reduce our dependence on foreign labour.
The government need to re-look at its policy on hiring locals for jobs that they are not too keen (example: maids, construction workers, plantation workers and service sector). Among the policy is higher wages. Also need to be studied is more facility and conducive work environment.  This is important if Sabahans really want to implement a policy of no illegal foreign workers – policy to prevent foreign workers from entering or maybe completely stop. This can only be done if the people of Sabah are united to make it a reality.

Another thing that need to be extended is the Prosper Thy Neighbour policy. Malaysia must help South Philippines to achieve peace. The peace would bring prosperity and provide more jobs for the people of Philippines. The situation itself would reduce immigrants to cross border and look for jobs in Sabah.

The Prosper Thy Neighbour concept must move hand in hand with the East ASEAM Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).BIMP EAGA is an economic cooperation set up by four countries; Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines with the aim of improving business, tourism and investment in and out of ASEAN region. However, BIMP-EAGA is not as active as it should be, it plays important role in developing the economy of the region as in its scope. It is fair for Malaysia to review its role in BIMP-EAGA when it takes on the role of ASEAN chair next year. We need to have common strategies to bring greater prosperity to the region.

I understand the importance of identifying those behind the influx of foreigners in Sabah. That would end the questions raised for years. We have to do what we can to bring the culprit to face the music. Many of them can br arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act of the 1990s. I believe the authorities will take appropriate action if more evidences are found. At the same time, raids against illegal settlements and repatriation to the country of origin must be continued.

At the same time, we should stop politicising the issue of immigrants in Sabah. The issue is bigger than politics because it involves the peoples’ lives collectively, crossing the political border. This is an issue of humanity that needed to handled together. The fact is, the concern over the immigrants in Sabah had united leaders of different political ideologies to move on the same goals as we think of the future of the Sabahans in their own state. Don’t be trapped in the games by certain parties, looking for political leverage based on the RCI report.

What is the next step? I believe we must prioritise. Apart from all that mentioned above, there are more steps that we can take, re-evaluate and improve. For example, we need to improve our border controls in addition to tightening citizenship registration process and Immigration laws. We need to strengthen border controls in the east coast of Sabah, in addition to monitoring the state's waters more closely. This can be started by giving responsibility to the local communities to be the eyes and ears of the authorities. Perhaps we can learn from the United Kingdom and Australia in handling the issue of immigrants in their countries.

As a conclusion, pointing fingers and blaming others for the last three decades did not solve the problems. Instead, it had taken time and slowed the pace of progress. While some were busy looking for faults in others, the Sabah borders continue to be invaded. That is why we need to re-look at existing efforts so that it can become more constructive, especially in aspects that can help us move forward and provide practical solutions to these complicated issues. The proposals above are not thorough and I believe we can think of rational and practical steps to address it if done together. It can be started with the question: “What can I do to become part of the solution and not the problem?”.

Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan
Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister
BN Sabah Secretary.