For 40 years, Sabah had been laid bare by swarms of  “political locusts” downgrading   it from a “once wealthy state to the same economic league as Kelantan” reaching “a point of no return”

 at the 37th DAP Anniversary Dinner
by Lim Kit Siang

(Kota KinabaluFriday): This is the 40th anniversary of Sabah when together with Sarawak and Singapore,  Malaysia was formed in 1963 from an expanded Malaya.  It is also a time for an assessment of the successes and failures of nationhood and political development in the past four decades in Sabah. 

There is probably no better start for such an assessment than an encounter with a taxi-driver in Kota Kinabalu.  In the past few days, the planes are beginning to be full again, hotel room occupancy rates up and travel business and local economy  starting to revive  after  the crippling effects of the SARS outbreak. 

But the comment of a Kota Kinabalu taxi-driver was most perceptive and meaningful, when he posed the question:  “What is the SARS outbreak for three months when the people of Sabah had been suffering from SARS for seven long years!”

I was at first mystified by what the taxi-driver meant, whether Sabah had secretly been the victim of the fatal SARS outbreak for seven long years without the knowledge of the people in Malaysia ,  the world and the WHO! 

The taxi-driver enlightened me that the SARS outbreak which had afflicted Sabah for seven years is not the frightening new disease which had killed hundreds of people in China, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore and Malaysia but stands for  “Saham Amanah Rakyat Sabah” syndrome! 

In 1996, the then Sabah Chief Minister Yong Teck Lee persuaded  57,000 Sabahans to invest in SAS – Saham Amanah Sabah – convincing them that it was a great buy which would multiply its value twice or thrice its original price of one ringgit!  Today, SAS has reached the point of no return, dropped from RM1 to below 20 sen, with some telling me that it is now worth only 19 sen while others putting it as low as 12 sen – incurring over RM400 million losses! 

DAP MP for Bukit Mertajam, Chong Eng and the DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Po Kuan had just given a multimedia presentation of the great deterioration of law and order in the country resulting in the high rate of crime and the fear of crime, recently illustrated by the brutal Canny Ong abduction-rape-murder in Kuala Lumpur, marking the end of an era of public security and citizen safety in the streets, public spaces and even homes.

Sabah lost that innocence more than 30 years ago – when Sabah was transformed from a very safe and law-abiding state where people had no qualms or fears to leave their houses unlocked because of a non-existing crime rate to a a very  unsafe place because of the influx of illegal immigrants. 

The following judgment could serve as a verdict of 40 years of nationhood and development in Sabah: 

“The management of Sabah’s resources, civil service and political situation are among the factors contributing to the state’s lackluster economic performance.  Sabah was once a wealthy state but it has reached a point of no return and is now in the same economic league as Kelantan.” 

This indictment of  40 years of  development of Sabah did not come from the DAP or the Opposition but was made by an UMNO national leader who would have been the country’s Finance Minister if he had not lost the 1999 general election – Datuk Mustapha Mohamad, now the National Economic Action Council executive director at a dialogue at Universiti Malaysia Sabah in Kota Kinabalu in February this year! 

Sabah has reached such economic doldrums not because of inefficient and bungling Opposition rule – but after nine years of Barisan Nasional government with its special brand of rotation of the post of Sabah Chief Minister. 

Sabah is a special state and has a long list of “firsts”, though many with dubious honour,  in Malaysia. 

One such dubious  “first” is in having the most number of Chief Ministers in the past 40 years as compared, for instance, with Sarawak – both of which joined together to form Malaysia 40 years ago.  In the past 40 years, Sarawak had four Chief Ministers but Sabah had as many as 13 Chief Ministers! 

Having so many Chief Ministers  should be a blessing and a boon to the people of Sabah, in particular seven Chief Ministers in the past nine years, if Chief Ministers competed as to who can serve the people and state better – but it would undeniably be a curse for Sabah if  so many Chief Ministers in so short a span of time only resulted in the competition  as to who  could serve themselves and their cronies better at the expense of the people and the state. 

Barisan Nasional’s rotation of the Sabah Chief Minister system has proved to be a double disaster for Sabah.  It was introduced  by the Barisan Nasional as a gambit to wrest state power from the PBS of Datuk Seri Josteph Pairin Kitingan, allegedly to prove a higher commitment to the principles of multi-racialism and political pluralism. 

It has not worked out as promised as in the past nine years, there had been four Chief Ministers from UMNO, two Chinese Chief Ministers claiming to represent the Chinese community, while the Kadazandusun community had only one Chief Minister who lasted only 14 months! 

The system of rotation of the post of Sabah Chief Minister has left the people and state of Sabah even more worse-off with every rotation. 

When I came to Sabah in the seventies, I highlighted three burning issues close to the heart of the people -  the issues of illegal immigrants, corruption and democracy! 

In all these three issues, the situation today is even worse than they were three decades ago.  In fact, democracy in Sabah had gone back by some 20 years, with the Sabah State Assembly reduced to a one-party chamber where the voice, grievances and aspirations of the ordinary people could no more be heard!   To restore democracy, the  people of Sabah have to go back 20 years to the “Spirit of Tambunan” in the Tambunan by-election in 1984 marking the the beginning of an   awakening and commitment to end  unpopular rule, corruption and misgovernance in the state. 

The issue of illegal immigrants has become so serious over the decades that it has fundamentally altered the demographic, political, economic and even constitutional landscape in the state, to the extent that many Sabahans are very disturbed and alienated  that the majority of the state’s population of 2.6 million are not genuine Sabahans or Malaysians! 

Kota Kinabalu, for instance, has become  the capital of unaccountability, untransparency and bad governance not only in Sabah but also in Malaysia.  The scandal of the most exorbitant municipal car-parking rates remained unresolved, as despite the various adjustments to the regime of the highest car-parking rates in the country topping RM38.50 a day, the KK Municipal Council is slated to up its overall car-park collection by 30%. 

From Wisma Merdeka to Centrepoint, there are 22 Twentieth Century Lamp-posts which are the symbols of Kota Kinabalu as the capital of unaccountability, untransparency and bad governance in Malaysia – as they cost the people RM2.1 million or RM46,000 each when their cost was only RM5,000 each. 

But there can be no more blatant symbol of Kota Kinabalu as the capital of unaccountability, untransparency and bad governance than the outrageous scandal of the closure of a public road for a private purpose, the closure of the Jalan Jati for the Sugar Bun operation.  

Although the issue has been taken to court in a legal challenge as  to the   legality of the closure of Jalan Jati by the KK Municipality for a private purpose, I find it most shocking that this issue has remained unresolved whether by the KK Municipality or the Sabah State Government for the past four years since mid-2000. 

I am not talking about the law, but the public morality and good governance of the decision.  The refusal of the authorities concerned to revoke the closure of Jalan Jati and return it from private use to common public use is the height of unaccountability, untransparency and bad governance of the Kota Kinabalu Municipality and the Sabah State Government. 

A survey and assessment of the political development and nation building of Sabah in the past 40 years reminds one of the imagery of swarm of locusts laying barren a rich and verdant land – that in the past 40 years,  Sabah had been had been laid bare by swarms of  “political locusts” downgrading   it from a “once wealthy state to the same economic league as Kelantan” reaching  “a point of no return”! 

This is why the forthcoming Sabah state general election and the 11th national general election are so  critical and unlike previous general elections  – for the voters of Kota Kinabalu and Sabah must unite to open up Jalan Jati, open up Kota Kinabalu, open up Sabah and open up Malaysia to democracy, justice, fair play and good governance! 

There is a further reason why the coming elections are two crucial tests for democracy  and nation-building in Sabah and Malaysia – as the very basis of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement which constitutes the basis for the formation of Malaysia is facing unprecedented challenge. 

The Cobbold Commission Report 1963, the founding document of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement, published the memorandum which was submitted by the Donald Stephens as Chairman of the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee on 23rd February 1962, which said:  “It is satisfied that the acceptance of Islam as the religion of  the Federation would not endanger religious freedom within Malaysia nor will it make Malaysia a State less secular”. 

The “929 Declaration” by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on Sept. 29, 2001 that Malaysia is an Islamic State goes against the very fundamentals of the 1957 Merdeka Constitution and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement of a democratic, secular and multi-religious nation where Islam is the official religion but Malaysia is not an Islamic State – whether ala-UMNO or ala-PAS. 

The fathers of the Merdeka Constitution and the Malaysia Agreement were not  anti-Islam or any religion  when they declared  Islam as the official religion would not in anyway undermine or compromise the secular basis and character of multi-religious Malaysia – that “it will make Malaysia a State less secular”. 

This is the fundamental constitutional principle and  nation-building  cornerstone which has been challenged by the “929 Declaration” and why Sabahans should stand in the very forefront with all other like-minded Malaysians to defend and uphold the 1957 Merdeka Constitution and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement to preserve, defend and uphold the democratic, secular and multi-religious basis and character of Sabah and Malaysia.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman