Jambun: Sabah, Putrajaya should discuss Labuan’s ‘plight’


KOTA KINABALU: Former Sabah Chief Minister Harris Salleh’s demand that the Federal Government return Labuan to the Sabah Government, said a human rights advocate, should be given “serious consideration” by all stakeholders. “Since the people of Labuan were not consulted in 1984 when their island was handed over to Putrajaya, the first question that arises is whether there should be a Referendum for the return of the island.”

Since the people of Labuan are Sabahans, stressed Daniel John Jambun, they would be happy for the island to be once again governed by the Sabah Government. “The leaders in Kota Kinabalu can relate better to the people of Labuan compared with the bureaucrats sitting so far away in Putrajaya.”

“What happens in the immediate vicinity interests the people of Labuan more than what happens in the peninsula.”

The Federal Government can however take comfort from the fact that it never asked the Sabah Government to turn over Labuan to it, reminded the human rights advocate. “Had the Federal Government asked for Labuan, it would have compensated the Sabah Government just as the Selangor Government was compensated when Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya were handed over.”

Jambun, the president of the UK-based Borneo’s Plight in Malaysia Foundation (Bopim), said that his NGO supports Harris’ demand although the former Chief Minister was singularly responsible for handing over Labuan to the Federal Government. “Harris probably has his reasons for demanding the return of Labuan.”

“He expected the island to boom with Putrajaya pumping in funds but unfortunately it did not happen in the way he expected. It didn’t happen at all.”

The last straw, added Jambun, may be the long proposed RM5 billion Labuan-Menumbok Bridge which has taken on an added urgency given the on-going Pan Borneo Highway. “Harris no doubt sees no reason why the Federal Government cannot approve the project as proposed by at least three parties including a group from China.”

“The government does not have to fund the project if it can alienate sealand at the Labuan and Menumbok links of the bridge.”

The Bopim Chief noted that Harris had cited a long list of reasons in the local media on why Labuan should be returned to Sabah. “All these reasons are not only valid but they have been valid for a long time.”

Jambun warned however that Labuan’s return may only marginally ease the island’s plight under the Sabah Government. “The bridge project can be expected to kick off with Putrajaya out of the way.”

“However, the Sabah Government would want assurances that the island would remain a free port and also International Offshore Financial Centre.”

Jambun pointed out that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s remarks during his weekend visit to the island wasn’t in any way encouraging. “He could only advise the islanders to bite the bullet for now and ride out the rough patch that they were going through.”

Daniel does not see Labuan’s fortunes picking up, dramatically or otherwise, when “better times” come. “Once the bridge is up, Labuan folk would probably prefer to work on the mainland where the shopping and entertainment was also better. There are no jobs on the island with the collapse in crude oil prices.”

He thinks the jury may no longer be out on whether Labuan should return to Sabah or otherwise. “If Putrajaya has no intention to allow the bridge link, then no one would say that Sabah should not take back the island.”

The choice, he said, really boils down to the island’s plight continuing unresolved as a Federal Territory or as part of Sabah once again. “It’s better to keep that reality in mind.”