Free flow of foreign investments bad for natives, says Sabah activist

KOTA KINABALU: The decision by Chief Minister Shafie Apdal to open Sabah to investors from China has raised concerns that unrestrained investments will affect the indigenous people in the state.

Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation Asia coordinator Andrew Atama Ambrose said the concern was over the lack of transparency and impact study.

He blamed this on politicians whom he said were busy chasing wealth for their political ambitions and their practice of crony capitalism.

“In Malaysia, no systematic study of the Chinese foreign direct investment has been undertaken to date, especially concerning its impact on the indigenous people of Sabah.

“Chinese investments in the region have evolved from being individual and isolated projects to acquiring properties and political power,” he said.

Atama told FMT he was concerned that this evolution of foreign investment companies, especially from China, was negatively affecting the green and indigenous way of life in Sabah.

He warned that Chinese investments were usually followed by an increase of labour force in Sabah which would directly impact the already-stagnant local labour market.

“These investments will also open the door wider to illegal immigration and cheap unskilled labour which is already threatening the local job market,” he added.

He also voiced concern that the focus of China’s investment into the extractive industry and manufacturing would have unprecedented impact on the environment and lead to massive land grabbing to set up factories and mining spots.

“This will result in a bigger relocation of indigenous people and loss of culture and way of life. Hence, we need to study this further with the support of the international community,” he said.

Atama said while he was not opposed to what some called “good investments”, it would come to nothing if there was no social protection and labour rights, especially when the private sector rejects the minimum wage law in the country.

He urged the state government to put in place proper policies to safeguard the people instead of only reaping profits at their expense.

Recently, Shafie said the Sabah government welcomed companies and businessmen from China investing and bringing in more capital and technology to increase the state’s economic development.

He also said a group of investors from China were prepared to invest US$2.5 billion in an unnamed sector in Sabah and create about 3,000 jobs for Sabahans.

He added that the government would work towards developing a more conducive and supportive environment for investors.