Sabah in dilemma without direction

This article is in response to reports titled “Where’s your plan for Sabah, PBS asks Shafie” and “Shafie ruined Sabah’s economy in a year, says Umno” published in FMT on Aug 10 and 13, respectively.

PBS deputy president Radin Malleh shared his concerns about Warisan wanting to portray itself as a champion of illegal immigrants, while it failed to implement development plans in Sabah. Similarly, an Umno Youth leader, Aziz Julkarnain, questioned the chief minister about Sabah’s growth, in particular the state’s weakening GDP to 6.7% in less than a year.

The unhappiness among the people and representatives, including civil societies, in Sabah continues to grow. No state in Malaysia has received that much of criticism as Sabah has. After 15 months in power and without a blueprint or development plan to show for, can you blame them?

No development plan or blueprint was even presented at state legislative assembly meetings in the last 15 months. In fact, at the 15th state legislature assembly meeting recently, the chief minister only provided updates to questions on Sabah Forest Industries (SFI) Sdn Bhd. Even at providing updates, he had omitted to mention that a RM98 million unsecured loan was granted by Sabah Development Bank to SFI, a company that has been under receivership since mid-2017.

How is this possible? These unsettling revelations have given rise to a number of negative perceptions about the state and its leadership, and without any direction on the way forward, there are many concerns that need to be quickly addressed.

The blueprint on the development plans is key because without it:

1. Investors would be reluctant and sceptical about investing in Sabah, especially when there is no direction. They would want to know how the state can play a role in supporting their investment strategies. On the other hand, without a blueprint, it would give China investors a free rein to dictate terms about their investments in the state, which could lead to compromises being made by the state government. The Sabah government would be disadvantaged.

2. Unemployment would escalate. Plans to channel tens of thousands of new recruits coming on-stream (annually) comprising graduates, professionals, technical, skilled and semi-skilled workforce cannot be implemented. This will further add to the already high unemployment rate in Sabah.

The latest 2018 statistics show that Sabah’s unemployment rate had risen to 5.8% compared to 5.6% in 2017. This does not augur well for the qualified and unemployed workforce in Sabah. In fact, 5.8% is the highest unemployment rate recorded in Sabah since 2010.

3. No flood mitigating schemes. Sabah is inundated with flood crises year after year and yet there have been no concrete plans for a structured mitigation scheme. Why doesn’t the state utilise its own allocation to resolve the issue urgently, while negotiating the terms with the federal government? Why do people have to continuously suffer?

4. There are no new development projects by the Sabah government, obviously so with the blueprint. The state government is just reviving projects conceived by the previous government, despite continuous opposition and protests by the people and civil societies. Some of the projects include the Tanjung Aru Eco Development, Papar Dam, urban development and skybridge projects. After 15 months, the state has yet to introduce any new projects of its own that can benefit the people.

5. The government will continue giving preference to illegal immigrants. The Sabah government has assumed a “friendly”’ approach towards illegal immigrants, and the people know why. This may not be wrong. It is, after all, humanitarian but the state government must do it right by adopting specific repatriation programmes for illegal immigrants, not issue birth certificates and identity cards to victims whenever fire destroys any squatter area.

In a nutshell, without direction, the Sabah government will be in a dilemma. It should seek the federal government’s assistance for the benefit and wellbeing of its citizens. Don’t let the people of Sabah suffer.

Cast aside egos. Make sacrifices. Today, the integrity of the state government has become one of the biggest issues that the present leadership must contend with. It has become an issue because matters pertaining to governance and transparency, coupled with the inaction of the Sabah Cabinet ministers, have not been properly addressed, resulting in “integrity and capability” issues.

The people are questioning the Sabah ministers’ capabilities and the ability of the state government to resolve people and development issues. They want the state government to lead them out of their predicament. Promises during speeches are insufficient if nothing comes of them. What the state leaders don’t realise is that they have brought upon themselves this situation because of their own inaction.

With the growing number of “verbal conflicts” between state leaders and the people and civil societies on socio and economic development projects, there seems to be no plausible solution in sight.

The people of Sabah wanted a change in the state government, and they got it, but this is definitely not what they bargained for.

VP Christian is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.