Coming to grips with the truth

Columnist Datuk Stan Yee – Daily Express, Sunday 1 June 2008

Last Sunday, Sabah MP Datuk Wilfred Bumburing raised the possibility of the Moro Liberation National Front leader Nur Misuari taking the dispute over Sabah to the International Court of Justice. He urged the Government to act fast on the problem of illegal immegrants in Sabah, presumably to forestall further complications.

The people of Sabah have not been very worried about the claim. It is a non-issue, to use the Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman words. Our best defence has been our right to self-determination as enshrineed in the UN charter. That’s why Datuk Rais Yatim confidently brandished the Cobbold Commission Report, so to speak, when commenting on the Phillipines government’s claim to Sabah. This is the document that says the people of Sabah wanted to be in Malaysia and has been the main justification for the formation of Malaysia. But in the unlikely event that the claim goes to ICJ, and in the even more unlikely event that the ICJ ordered another referendum, UN sponsored or otherwise, there is a chance, however remote, that self-determination this time around may turn out differently as the demographic factor of Sabah has changed. The possession of MyKad as qualification to take part in the referendum would come in handy for tens of thousands of Filipinos residing in Sabah, thanks to “Project IC”.

There are two separate Sabah claims here, one by descendants of the Sultan of Sulu to whom Malaysia still pay “Cession Money” annually, and the other by the government in Manila based simply on the logic that what purports to belong to the Sultan of Sulu also belongs to the Republic of Phillipines.

Granted, few in Semenanjung know much about Sabah’s history, or the claim, but when Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim said that the Phillipines claim to Sabah is only made by a “small group that is political in nature”, and that Malaysia does not consider it as an official claim, that is surprising, to put it mildly. The Phillipines passed a law many years ago to declare Sabah their territory, and for good measure published a map that included Sabah as part of the Phillipines. They also refused to set up a consulate in Kota Kinabalu to drive home a message that you do not need to set up a consulate in your own territory. Yet we closed our eyes while waiting for a diplomatic note that officially proclaims the country suzerainty over Sabah. Bung Mokhtar is right in saying that we ought to deal with the Phillipines more forcefully. Diplomatic niceties have got us nowhere.

That leads me back to the Royal Commission that DAP tried to present in Parliament recently. The whole idea of the proposed Royal Commission is not so much to directly repatriate the illegals as to establish the truth about the “Project IC” issue that has bearing on the citizenship status of tens of thousands of Filipinos in Sabah.

The idea is, having established their status, the government will then be able to decide more confidently what to do with those who obtained their MyKad by fraudulent means, if it truely wishes to do the right thing about the illegals. But, first, we must establish the facts about Project IC.

Sabah’s leaders appears to have to minds about having a royal commission. In a recent statement the Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman said that a concertered effort by all concerned would probably produce better results than setting up the proposed royal commission. He was of course correct in the sense that whatever findings and recommendations that come out of the commission’s inquiry would still have to be considered by the government for possible action, and action must necessarily involve a concerted effort by many government agencies.

But let it be said that the problem has festered for more than 30 years and the idea of “concerted effort” to deal with the problem has been bandied about for just as long. Regrettably, today we are no nearer to finding a solution than when the problem first began to cause concern in the seventies.

Of course, one would much prefer that we do not have to resort to a royal commission which is costly, time consuming and a step that may lead right where we were in the 70s. But as the supposed concerted effort by these government enforcement agencies has to produced the desired results, many people want to know why. This is where the royal commission may be able to shed some light on the problem.

However, few in Sabah are so naive as to consider such a panel a panacea for the problem. As a big part of the problrm stems from the granting of citizenship to tens of thousands of Filipinos and a smaller number of Indonesians through “Project IC” scheme, allegedly directed in secrecy at the topmost level of the Federal Government, getting to bottom of this allegation is fraught with difficulties. You need to interrogate big shots who simply ignore your “invitation” to give evidence and refuse to answer questions that they do not like. This is why we need a royal commission with quasi-judiciary powers, even though these powers are restricted to the “Terms of Reference” of the commission and possibly also a date by which the commission must finish its work.

But, ultimately, the solutions rests on the nation’s political will to solve the problem. the findings of the royal commission together with recommendations could of course be highly influential and can lead to important decisions. On the other hand, they could also lead to a cul-de-sac and completely ignored by the government if such a political will non-existant. A case in point is the report of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police. This Royal Commission was established by the King on 4 February 2004 under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1950.

In its 576 page report submitted to the Prime Minister on 29 April 2005 and which was publicly released on 12 June the same year, the commission made 125 recommendations focusing on three main areas of reform-crime reduction, eradicating corruption and observing human rights in policing the country. The majority of the recommendations have yet to be carried out by the government and there is fear that the report is likely to suffer the same fate as most government reports – shelved and forgotten.

The report of the Royal Commission on Lingam video clip case does not give cause for optimism either. All that the Commission seems to have achieved after establishing the authenticity of video clips and the identities of the six people involved in the judicial brokering scandal is to break the raging fever that had led to its creation.

The Government is left to deal with the aftermath, apparently uncertain about what to do next. The news that the ACA has now begun to look into those involved appears to bring the matter right back to sqare one. For all the power given to the Commission, it seems that its findings can only serve as having made a prima facie to go before the ACA for possible charges to be filed.

Despite the clamour for its creation to deal with the illegals, a royal commission can even backfire and end up being little more than a way to end public criticism of government inaction, without actually doing anything. This is especially true if the commission includes persons from the opposition camp as well, which it should be more credible. But the inclusion of the latter may have the effect of cushioning the criticisms directed to the government. This happens when the sobering realities of what can and cannot be done are shared in a bi-partisan working group. Also, while we are fixated on the royal commission’s investigations, the on-going measures to solve the problem, little though they may be, may stall.

One way not be all starry-eyed about what a royal commission can or cannot do, but one would still like to see the government institute a public inquiry into this matter of great importance and controversy. What the people of Sabah want to establish is that the “Project IC” did exist and not a figment of the imagination of some people.

Through an in-depth investigation we may get to the truth behind the phenomenal increase of Sabah’s population, especially the 12% increased during the period between 2002 and 2007, from 2,730,100 to 3,063,600 people, as disclosed by the Prime Minister’s Department in a written reply to a question from Sepanggar MP Datuk Eric Mojimbun in Parliament recently. The Royal Commission may be able to link the extraordinary increase to the Project IC.

So far the government has not made any official stand on this widespread allegations. This raises more suspicion and the very act of ignoring such a great weight of public opinion that seeks the truth is tantamount to being disrespectful to the people of Sabah.

If the Federal Government has nothing to hide then it should be open to a public inquiry. If there have been shady deals these were shady deals of the Mahathir administration which the Abdullah administration can try to put right. Time is of the essence here. The longer the delay in establishing the truth, the more Abdullah’s administration will be regarded as a party to the Project IC deal that has caused so much resentment in Sabah.

By exposing it and the personalities who perpetrated it we can move on. We can at least start on the premise that the tens of thousands of Filipinos and a great many Indonesians who have been granted the MyKad identification documents did not qualify to get them and must therefore remain as illegals to be dealt with in whatever way the present government considers just and proper, especially for the people of Sabah.

Unless this controversy is sorted out, the Task Force has no reference point and may be obliged to honour the MyKad carried by these people whom Sabahan looked upon as foreigners and illegals.

Because of it quasi-judicial powers and the likelihood that it will be chaired by a retired senior judge untarnished by any known scandal, a Royal Commission can do much to get to the bottom of the illegals problem. The work will involve research into the issue, consultations with people in the know both within and outside of government. The warant may grant immense investigatory powers, including summoning witnesses under oath, seizing of documents and other evidence (sometimes including those protected by the OSA) and compelling all government officials to aid in the execution of the Commission.

But in the process of the inquiry, the daily report of interrogations would highlight many of the problem that led to the intractable problems of the illegals in this country. When the proposed motion to set up the Royal Commission was moved, what a pity the presiding speaker who shot it down was a Sabahan. His decision to disallow the motion was immediately interpreted as partisan. It was a pity because the DAP might have thought that  a Sabahan in the Speaker’s chair would seize the opportnity to let loose a lively debate on the issue in Parliament. This would have been a welcome departure, as for too long the people of Sabah have been ranting and raving about this problem as if this is just a Sabah problem and not a national problem.

If Datuk Ronald Kiandee had allowed the motion, and even if by doing so he made a wrong intrepretation of the Standing Order, it would not be a terrible mistake. Many similar mistakes were probably made before his time. He would have erred in good faith for Sabah. Unfortunately he obviously thought that being correct and showing that he knew the Standing Order well was more important than giving Sabah’s desperate problem an airing at the national arena.

Partisan politics aside, in a matter as important as giving the nation’s elected representatives an opportunity to adress Sabah’s perenial plight, he would have been forgiven for making this mistake. Let’s hope that there will be another chance.

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About dusunbukit

You've got your truth, I've got my truth. We can't be both wrong. The real challenge is to discern the difference. Pardon me if I offend you, but I'm going to put my words bluntly. So, lets rumble..
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