Place Esscom under police, says former army man

Esscom serves as a coordinating body for security operations by the Malaysian Armed Forces, Royal Malaysian Police and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A retired army officer has suggested that the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) be placed under the purview of the police, amid reports that the initiative launched six years ago to enhance security in the area will be restructured.

Speaking to FMT, Lieutenant Colonel (Rtd) Ahmad Ghazali Abu Hassan, who is also a former professor at Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia’s Department of Strategic Studies, said this is because Esscom’s core duties deal with the eradication of cross-border crimes.

“Cross-border crimes like kidnapping and piracy are quite rampant, and affect the local population and the tourism industry,” said Ghazali who co-authored a study on the effectiveness of Esscom in 2017 which was presented to the home ministry and Bukit Aman.

“Tackling these requires police work, including investigations and intelligence gathering activities, so the police should be entrusted with this responsibility.”

Esscom was established in 2013, in the wake of the Lahad Datu intrusion by Sulu militants. It serves as a coordinating body for security operations by the Malaysian Armed Forces, Royal Malaysian Police and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) in Sabah’s east coast.

Last year, Deputy Home Minister Azis Jamman said the ministry was conducting a study on the effectiveness of Esscom, including its chain of command which he called unclear given that each security force takes orders from its own leaders.

More recently, Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu said Esscom would be restructured to further enhance security on Sabah’s east coast.

Ghazali said despite being a coordinating body, Esscom does not have dedicated resources including troops directly under its command.

“This is the major problem faced by Esscom. It has to rely on support from the troops and resources of other security agencies operating in the area.

“This adversely affects its ability to act with speed and agility, an important prerequisite in cross-border crime prevention.”

At the narrowest point of the Sulu Sea, between Sabah and the Philippines, Ghazali said, a pump boat used by criminals would only need around 15 minutes to escape Malaysian territorial waters.

So if Esscom is to be restructured, he added, it should be placed under police command and given the necessary army, naval, air and coast guard resources under its direct command.

He said this would facilitate quick and seamless operational capabilities.

Ideally, he said, all security agencies operating in the area should be placed under Esscom coordination to prevent any overlap in command.

But he added that the military and MMEA would still play an important secondary role in providing the necessary support in areas where they are trained to perform.

Independent security analyst Lam Choong Wah said Sabah’s security problems are compounded by domestic issues like immigration and dubious citizenship.

These are longstanding issues in Sabah, with Esscom intelligence division director Ahmad Nadzer Nordin saying in 2014 that illegal immigrants are believed to be the henchmen of kidnapping masterminds.

“The restructuring Esscom must not only involve police and military field operation issues but also domestic issues, particularly stricter national registration and immigration enforcement,” Lam told FMT.