KOTA KINABALU: A sociologist yesterday suggested stateless street kids be given some kind of status so that they can be recognized as part of the community.
“This would attract less objection from the local communities while at the same time help towards addressing the issue of stateless children in Sabah,” said Prof Dr Kntayya A/L Mariapan from Universiti Malaysia School’s School of Sociology when testifying in the Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants in Sabah.
He stressed that while directly giving immigrant children citizenship would draw strong objection from the local communities, a middle way was needed to be taken to address the issue.
Dr Kntayya, who appeared before the Commission as an expert witness, said these children could pose social threats if they continued to be rejected by the community as the chances of them getting involved in criminal activities such as prostitution and gangsterism were very high.
He informed the Commission that the Women and Family Development Ministry had asked him to conduct a research on street kids in Sabah but kept the findings confidential and prohibited him from publishing any materials from the study.
“I could not reveal anything from my study, but it is (the number of street kids in Sabah) very big. I must be careful not to reveal anything,” he said, when asked if the street kids were mostly foreigners and from which country.
To a question from panel chairman Tan Sri Steve Shim Lip Kiong, Dr Kntayya said he was not satisfied with how the street kids were being treated at the moment.
Earlier, he reckoned the government needed to be seen as sincere towards all parties in resolving the issue of refugees in Sabah.
He said based on his observation, giving citizenship to refugees in Sabah would cause resentment among the native communities, in particular the Kadazandusun and Murut (KDM) who are already feeling marginalized and outnumbered by the immigrants.
He said introducing such a sudden change would not go down well in the current situation of inter-racial ties in the State.
He noted that the KDM, who represented the majority of the population in the State before independence, felt that their way of life was being threatened as now the situation was reversed, where they are fast becoming the minority.
“Currently, a lot of changes are already taking place in the demography; when people are already marginalized, it will be difficult for them to accept further changes,” he told the Commission of Inquiry on Illegal Immigrants in Sabah, yesterday.
Dr Kntayya suggested that the authority take a more cautious approach before making it a policy to give citizenship to refugees.
“The street kids issue for example, when I said they should be absorbed into the community, the people in the meeting said no, our own children are suffering so why do we need to give welfare to foreigners? This is the kind of rejection… even for children; imagine the rejection for adults,” he said.
The Commission also suggested Dr Kntayya carry out a study on ethnic tolerance between the local and immigrant communities, to which he said he would if the government was willing to provide the funding.
Meanwhile, a witness told the RCI that she could not open a bank account in 2007 because somebody was using her identity card.
Chia Oi Len, 59, from Papar said this happened in 2007 after she had upgraded her old IC bearing a number starting with ‘H’ to the Bunga Raya version.
There were no problems using her IC until she tried to open an account with Maybank Karamunsing, and was told that someone else in Kuala Lumpur was already using her old IC with the bank.
Chia said she lodged a police report and decided to upgrade to MyKad after the incident.
As for voting, she said she never missed casting her vote in every election in her constituency and did not encounter any problems.
Another witness, Sabah Water Department chief engineer Quirine @ Quirinus Jokinol told the RCI that they suffered increasing losses and unnecessary costs between 2008 and 2012 due to illegal connections and water thefts in five districts in Sabah.
Making a comparison, he said the amount of water losses in 2008 was 71,394 cubic metres per year while 2012 recorded 259,734 cubic metre per year losses.
“Every cubic metre accounts for 90 sen and this translated to RM233,760.60 in losses last year, a jump from RM64,254.60 losses in 2008.
“As for unnecessary costs which include works to fix tampered pipes and meters, RM78,150 was spent in 2008 while RM275,690 was incurred in 2012,” he added.