Bersih calls for second RCI into Sabah illegal immigrants – and with more clout

Electoral Reform Committee chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman (left) with Bersih’s Thomas Fann in Kota Kinabalu.

KOTA KINABALU: Bersih 2.0 has suggested that the government consider having a second Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants in Sabah to solve the problem once and for all.

Bersih chairman Thomas Fann said this time the RCI should have powers to investigate and give recommendations against those who were responsible for “Project IC”, under which thousands of illegal immigrants were said to have been granted Malaysian citizenship.

“Otherwise, this matter will always be hanging over Sabah and it will always be political for people… there’ll be no clarity.

“Once and for all, the government has to settle this matter. The political will must be there.”

Project IC is a reference to alleged systematic granting of citizenship to illegal immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s, effectively changing the state’s demographics.

An RCI on illegal immigrants concluded its public hearings in 2013. Among those who testified were Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former Sabah chief minister Harris Salleh and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim.

Fann said the courts should decide on the RCI’s findings to help resolve the issue of dubious citizens becoming voters in the state.

He said the courts can look into the list of identity cards allegedly issued to non-citizens submitted by people who testified at the RCI.

“An RCI was conducted and a list was compiled. They actually identified the serial numbers of these ICs.

“I think there needs to be a legal determinant once and for all about the status of groups of dubious citizens in this state.

“The next step is the courts must make a decision whether these people are citizens or not.

“Once that question is addressed, then it is only a follow through by the National Registration Department (NRD),” he told FMT when met on the sidelines of an election code of ethics workshop held by the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) here yesterday (Thursday).

Sabah opposition parties have expressed concerns that illegal immigrants and questionable voters could automatically be registered as voters if the electoral roll is not cleaned up.

On July 16, the Dewan Rakyat unanimously approved amendments in the constitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, as well as to allow automatic registration of voters.

Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR) and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) had supported the move but cautioned that the electoral roll must be tidied up first before automatic voter registration is implemented in Sabah.

SAPP said the clean-up is needed as the RCI had shown that “Project IC” was real.

The RCI’s report released in late 2014 however did not blame political parties in the granting of citizenship to illegal immigrants, and instead pointed the finger at corrupt officials.

Fann said if the courts found that ICs were illegally issued, NRD could act on the matter.

“Then we can expunge all these ICs from the database and, therefore, they won’t appear in the electoral roll.”

ERC chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said doubts about the citizenship database in NRD should be further discussed.

“We have to really talk to NRD on this, together with Bersih, to allay all fears.

“I’ve been a player in elections for 30 to 40 years and I know what’s the problem here. I’m also very concerned about that. I have taken note of this.”

“I do not have the answer over that. I’m as concerned as everybody else — we want to see it’s a clean electoral roll,” Rashid said.

He said the Election Commission should be given powers to have more control over the electoral roll.

“For instance, in cases where voters are no longer around, EC should have the power to remove their names.”

He said at present, the names of deceased voters are still on the roll.

“As a result, the public will say the EC is not efficient.”

Rashid, who is a former EC chairman, said he had previously requested the Attorney-General’s Chambers to grant EC these powers.

“But they were reluctant to give the powers because maybe they don’t really trust the EC. They’re afraid EC will abuse that power,” he said.