KOTA KINABALU: Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) president Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan said the first step in resolving Sabah’s problem with the influx of immigrants was to stem the flow of people entering the state illegally.
“The next step is to look at those who are already in Sabah and what to do with them. Those with jobs should be regularised and documented while those without documents should be sent home to their respective home countries,” he said.
Pairin who is the 199th witness to give evidence at the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the presence of illegal immigrants in Sabah said this when asked by conducting officer Manoj Kurup on what he thought should be done to resolve the problem in the state.
The Deputy Chief Minister also said another solution would be to recall identity cards issued to those by way of statutory declaration because they were likely to have been issued to those who were not qualified in the first place.
“There are so many of these Statutory Declarations that this is no joke. By vetting through the Statutory Declaration we can determine if they are genuine,” he said.
Pairin also told the panel that when he was the Assistant Minister to the Chief Minister during the Berjaya era, he had spoken out about the need for the federal government to resolve the illegal immigrants problem in Sabah but was in return reprimanded for it by the top Berjaya leadership.
“It wasn’t really made clear but what was said was that I should not talk about this issue anymore. I kept that in mind but on occasion I would touch on that matter and the reaction was the same. I was not a happy man (at that time) because the top government was not happy with me,” he stressed.
According to him, the people in Sabah at that time were generally not happy because laws on entering Sabah were not enforced because nobody should come into a country without any documents.
“We continued to harp on this issue and I remember the government took some steps to clear squatter colonies in and around Kota Kinabalu but that was not the final solution … it continued to be a problem.
“PBS when in government continued to harp on this and took pains to conduct investigations into the issue and I personally presented the findings to the then Prime Minister. I believe the result of this was the setting up of the Federal Special Task Force,” he said.
Pairin also told the panel that he had requested the federal government to take the necessary steps to resolve the issue and assured it that the state government would assist as much as possible within its power.
“As PBS was in the opposition then, the federal government decided that I was qualified to sit as the chairman of the State Security Council which went against the grain of resolving the problem,” he stressed.
According to Pairin, the PBS government implemented an amnesty program for illegal immigrants in the state and through it, registered about 60,000 people.
“After that, indications came from the federal government to stop the program,” he said, and when asked if he knew the reason why, Pairin replied: “That is a very debatable area. There were so many things going on that did not please the federal government. Obviously we continued to harp on the issue and when incidents like the kidnapping (in Semporna) happened, the authorities took steps like increasing the manpower of the security forces there but that was not enough.
“PBS as a party tried to take the matter up with the government and called for the setting up of a Royal Commission of Inquiry to look into the influx of immigrants into Sabah. We were not the only party concerned as other political parties were equally concerned with the need to see that the problem was addressed,” he said.
Then other events took place that were against the law of the country like the syndicates issuing ICs through dubious means and names of foreigners who were not Malaysian citizens appearing in the electoral roll.
He disclosed that PBS’ studies then showed that there were about 80,000 names of phantom voters found in the electoral roll.
“It became a political issue and we expected the Election Commission to remove the names from the electoral roll because they were not genuine Malaysians. A lot of the names were removed and we were happy but at the next general election, some of the names were still there,” he said.
“In the context of false ICs or phantom voters, we could see foreigners holding two identification documents bearing different names but the same photograph. This indicated that the person could vote twice,” he said adding that he had raised the issue up in parliament.
Pairin claimed that lack of enforcement of the nation’s laws was among the reasons why the illegal immigrant problem in Sabah could not be solved as people could just enter or leave the state without any hindrance.
“By right, those in charge should not be thinking twice about safeguarding our nation’s security and sovereignty,” Pairin added.
Asked by commission chairman Tan Sri Steve Shim if there was a lack of political will to resolve Sabah’s immigrant problem, Pairin said: “I agree with that. There must be political will to enforce the laws big or small. It should be important that we do not even think twice about enforcing our laws.”
Pairin also said PBS, along with other BN component parties, had agreed that there was a need to bring up the issues of setting up the RCI to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak which the latter did after “a lot of convincing” Pairin added.
“To me, this is a very strong proactive action on his (Najib’s) part as it shows that he acknowledges the problems presented to him … issues that cannot be set aside and to take the bull by the horns.”
He also said the establishment of Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSCOM) and ESSZONE was something that should have been done a long time ago.
“The Lahad Datu intrusion triggered the necessary steps which we have been waiting for all this while,” he said adding that the government of the day has the political will to implement the RCI’s recommendations on how to resolve the issue.
To the question by Sabah Law Association (SLA) if the PBS government could have done more to stop the influx of the illegal immigrants, Pairin replied: “I wish I could have done more. Now we have to reflect back on what were the obstacles we faced. When we pressed on the importance of tackling the issue, no action was taken.
“All the jurisdiction was under federal control and we had no direct control in that sense. We only had 11 months to govern in 1986 and we were disturbed all the time. It was such that nothing much could be done,” he said.
To Shim’s question of if there was real and effective collaboration from both state and federal governments to resolve the issue, Pairin’s reply was “Yes”.