Race and religion issues holding back progress, says ex-Sabah CM

Former Sabah chief minister Bernard Dompok speaks at the 2019 Malaysia Day forum organised by Upko in Kota Kinabalu today.

KOTA KINABALU: Former Sabah chief minister Bernard Dompok believes that the current national political climate that emphasises race and religion is holding the country back from reaching its potential.

Speaking at a 2019 Malaysia Day forum organised by Upko here today, Dompok said that when Sabah and Sarawak agreed to be part of Malaysia 56 years ago, the people in the two regions envisioned a nation celebrating its diversity and living in peace and harmony.

For example, he said films portrayed by the late P Ramlee always showed a time when religion was not worn on the sleeves, and that racial differences were not a big problem.

“But it has changed from that to something more complicated today.

“We wanted freedom of religion. For me, it means that we should be free to become Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or practise any other religion because that is within our rights.

“However, at the same time, it should also be within our rights to opt out of our religion, and we should not be prevented from doing so. Sadly, I think this is missing.

“That is why these two subjects – race and religion – are the biggest stumbling blocks to achieving the aspiration of this potentially great nation,” he said.

Dompok who retired from politics after resigning as the president of Upko (United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation) which he founded, said he had seen how some politicians wore different masks when speaking to other politicians and their electorates.

The former Malaysian ambassador to the Holy See said these politicians would declare peace when speaking in private, but used racial and religious issues when they were “out and about in the gallery” and speaking in front of their voters.

“How can we have a nation that believes it is this or that race that must call the shots? It is not good for nation-building,” he said.

Commenting on the change of government after the general election last year, Dompok said there was a general euphoria which was to be expected because the people believed their sufferings and heartaches would soon be over.

Unfortunately, he said those hopes had all but ended in disappointment because the people had not seen the changes they expected to see.

Dompok also voiced concern about the continued lop-sidedness of development projects under the new government.

He acknowledged former prime minister Najib Razak’s role in giving Sabah and Sarawak more prominent ministerial posts in the federal Cabinet compared to the prime ministers before him.

“Prior to that, 90% of ministers were all from Malaya. During Najib’s time, we saw more ministers coming out of Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.

He also cautioned the federal and state governments about the huge presence of illegal immigrants in the state which, he said, was comparable to a Trojan horse, “ready to open its belly and create problems”.

He rued the missed chances of resolving the issue after the conclusion of the royal commission of inquiry into illegal immigrants in Sabah in 2013.

Despite the formation of committees, he said nothing was done to address the problem.

“Sometimes, we wonder if there is sincerity in wanting to resolve the problem. This is an urgent matter that needs to be settled immediately,” he said.