Young Sabahans believe they have been sacrificed for the votes of the `Bumiputera Baru' in the state.
TAMBUNAN: Life in this scenic rural district has always been a hardscrabble. It is the heartland of the Kadazandusuns and the hometown to many top state government leaders since North Borneo became the state of Sabah.
History notes that from as far back as the colonial era, Tambunan had leaders in the top administration.
The late Anthony Gibon was a prominent member of the KDM community during the time of the colonial government.
The late James Ongkili, who was a former deputy chief minister during the Berjaya government (1976-1985) and had also served as justice minister and minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in the federal government, hailed from the district.
His younger brother Maximus Ongkili, who is now federal Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, is also from here.
Current Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan (photo) who was once Chief Minister when his Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) governed the state from 1985-1994 has been Tambunan assemblyman since 1976.
Pairin is also the Huguan Siou or paramount leader of the KDM community.
In fact, to name Tambunan as their hometown has almost become a prerequisite for political leaders to claim legitimacy.
But converse with people in the district and a different story emerges. Tambunan has failed to benefit from producing a rich crop of state leaders.
In truth, the people have little to be happy about with the pace of development in the district over the last 50 years and they put the blame on the doorstep of their representatives in the government.
John Jinus Sibin, who heads the Tambunan branch of opposition PKR, did not mince his words when he said: “Pairin has been our representative for 36 years but little has been done since then to improve the livelihood of the people of Tambunan… there are no major economic activities worth their name going on here.”
He pointed to the single bank in the scrappy township as proof that there was hardly any need for financial activities in Tambunan.
“No other bank is likely to come to Tambunan. Very soon, Tambunan will be a dead town,” Sibin added.
He pointed out that local leaders have never managed to wrangle a fairer share of the state’s economic pie to improve even the most basic infrastructure in the district.
Bitterness is building up and Pairin, who is also the MP for Keningau, which comprises the state seats of Tambunan, Bingkor and Liawan, is at the receiving end.
Tambunan, nestled in a fertile valley in the interior division, covers an area of 1,347 sq km. The population is estimated to be 36,297 in 2010.
Based on the 2010 census compiled by the Department of Statistics, poverty and the inability to further their education are the major issues facing the youth here.
Coming from subsistence-farming families, most of them stopped studying after completing SPM (Form Five), as they cannot afford the high costs of further education.
Many scrape up just enough cash to go to the big cities as soon as they are of age and eke out a living there at minimal wages.
“They migrate to Kuala Lumpur to seek jobs. Those who are lucky may get fair treatment from their employers but unfortunately not all are lucky. Many have been cheated and victimised,” said Sibin.
Social welfare groups have noted that many who chose to move to the cities to find work have become drug addicts and are engaged in vice to support their lifestyle.
“We pity them and cannot blame them as they start with a sincere and noble intention to travel to the peninsula to earn money to help their ageing parents and to help their siblings who are still schooling,” Sibin said.
The influx of illegal immigrant labour into all corners of the state has also kept wages down as local employers are happy to employ foreigners for cheap labour.
The young believe they have been sacrificed for the votes of the “Bumiputera Baru” in Sabah and their future lies elsewhere.
It is an ominous warning to Pairin who is relying on the goodwill of his community not to snub their Huguan Siou in the coming general election.
But he may have just emptied the till of native kindness over the last 30-odd years going by the murmurs of dissatisfaction heard among villagers here.
“I believe the only solution is to change leaders, Pairin included, and form a new government at state and federal levels,” Sibin said.