Does Sabah Deserve the RCI It Got?
By Kee Thuan Chye
The Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the illegal immigrants in Sabah has turned out to be a big disappointment.
We had hoped to get conclusive findings in its report – announced last Wednesday, almost two years after the hearings began in January 2013 – but instead, after the 43 days spent on hearing the testimonies of 211 witnesses, the months of writing the report and then the months of keeping Malaysians waiting for it to be announced, what the panel came out to tell us was that Project IC “probably existed”.
“Probably”? Project IC, which purportedly gave out citizenships illegally and systematically to immigrants in Sabah, has been in the Malaysian consciousness for decades. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was even said to be the mastermind behind it, which accounts for why the scheme is called Project M as well. Those who were part of it testified to its existence at the RCI and named figures in high authority implicated in it.
And yet the RCI concludes that the whole operation was not politically motivated. It says the Government and political parties were not involved. It blames instead syndicates and former National Registration Department (NRD) officials out to make big bucks.
It reveals that between 1963 and Aug 2013, only a total of 68,703 immigrants were awarded citizenship – despite attestations by witnesses that hundreds of thousands of ICs were given out, despite claims made by Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) as early as 2007 that the number of immigrants with genuine ICs by that time was about 600,000.
The RCI’s figure is low because it came from the NRD’s director-general and may therefore be expected to be conservative. Nonetheless, it begs the question: How could so many immigrants have been given citizenship so easily without the collusion and approval of people in high places?
The key witnesses had testified that government agencies like the NRD, the Immigration Department, National Civics Bureau (BTN) and the Election Commission (EC) were involved in registering illegal immigrants as voters. Even the police gave their cooperation.
One witness said, “You would not get the approval for (the issuance of the ICs and their registration in electoral rolls) without the involvement of the agencies concerned.” Would such complicity have been forthcoming without the intervention of higher – political – authority?
Former Sabah NRD assistant registrar Kee Dzulkifly Kee Abd Jalil revealed that in 1993 alone, 100,000 blue ICs were given to Filipino, Indonesian and Pakistani immigrants in Sabah. If in one year, as many as 100,000 ICs were allegedly given out, how could the RCI accept that only 68,703 citizenships were issued over a period of 40 years?
In any case, why does the RCI panel not give credence to the testimonies of the key witnesses who were, after all, the front-line perpetrators of the scheme? It explains that this is because “none of the witnesses were subjected to cross-examination”. And also because – hold on to your chairs – “the big names formerly in government who took the witness stand never admitted to any wrongdoing”. This would refer to people like Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim, Harris Salleh and others. Let’s get real; would they have admitted it if they had indeed done wrong?
Besides, why should the word of the latter category count for more than that of witnesses like Kee Dzulkifly, Hassnar Ebrahim and Mat Swadi Awi?
Hassnar, a former Sandakan chief district officer, testified that he attended a “secret meeting” in the 1980s with the police and government officials that proposed the addition of between 130,000 and 150,000 names to the Sabah electoral roll to boost the number of Muslim voters – and Megat Junid Megat Ayub, who was home minister then, assured the meeting that Mahathir had approved the project.
Mat Swadi testified that from 1987 to 1990, he deployed Malay and Muslim voters to strategic constituencies, using genuine citizens as well as immigrants who already had either fake or genuine ICs, and elicited the aid of the EC in registering them. He did this at the request of then United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) president Datu Mustapha Datu Harun – with the consent of Megat Junid. They both assured him that Mahathir had given his approval to the plan.
Hassnar and Mat Swadi corroborated each other’s implication of Megat Junid and Mahathir. In fact, the RCI admits in its report that the five key witnesses who were actively involved in the shenanigans did corroborate one another’s evidence at the hearings, and yet it maintains that politics was not part of the equation.
Could syndicates and former NRD officials alone have been able to pull it off? Is the RCI credible for believing this to be so?
It hardly even addresses the pressing issue of electoral fraud caused by a compromised electoral roll resulting from the illegal granting of citizenships. Why this is overlooked is strange because one of the terms of reference of the RCI is to determine whether those who were illegally granted citizenship have been registered in the electoral roll.
What a waste of time and public money the RCI has turned out to be. Prime Minister Najib Razak probably knew what the outcome would be when he gave the panel its terms of reference. That’s why it was safe to proceed. Given these terms, the RCI cannot name the guilty parties involved or recommend punitive action against them.
It says it only has the power to “inquire” and “make findings”. Follow-up action is up to the Government. It recommends the setting-up of a permanent secretariat to manage the immigrants issue in Sabah, and in accepting this, the Government has appointed Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman to head the secretariat.
But these are people who have obligations to the Barisan Nasional (BN) Government – and, of course, their own party, Umno. And given that our credibility in the Government and Umno-BN is at rock-bottom, how can we be sure they will do right by the people of Sabah? When it comes to deciding between the interests of genuine Sabahans and the interests of their party, which do you think they will go for?
The secretariat will also oversee the separate working committee that is headed by Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan, set up last month by Najib Razak for the purpose of studying the RCI’s recommendations.
At the time, Pairin said, “Effective implementation is needed, including stern enforcement. … We need to eradicate the perception among illegals that they have the right to encroach on Sabah.” But that was before the RCI findings were released. Now that they are, is he truly satisfied with the outcome? Could he be satisfied given that his party has taken a strong stance on the issue over the decades, having been calling for an RCI since 1985?
Does he still remember that he used to persistently insist that Muslim immigrants from Sulu and Indonesia were being given citizenship so that they could dilute the Christian electorate in the state and Sabah would have a Muslim majority? Does he remember that it was done to stop his own party, PBS, from ruling Sabah?
If he does, should he accept the RCI’s findings tamely and take on the job of chairman of the working committee?
Well, he’s caught of course. His party is part of the ruling BN so if he expresses disagreement with the RCI and agitates for something more to be done, he will have consequences to face from the federal big boys. So chances are, we can’t hope for much from Pairin. Neither can we hope for much from the other Sabah parties that are also part of BN.
But what about the genuine Sabahans, the ones who have suffered most because of the social, economic and security problems caused by the unchecked influx of immigrants over the decades? They must have had high hopes that the RCI would finally show the way to some kind of resolution, a light to brighten up their future?
Are they going to accept this RCI report and continue to live with the problem? Are they going to continue to support the current government at the next general election? Are they unaware that if the federal government – or even just the Sabah state government – were to fall to the Opposition, a new investigation into the illegal immigrants issue might be instituted which could expose more of the ugly truth?
If the answer to each of these questions is yes, then Sabah may be beyond saving. All we can say in addition to that is that they deserve the RCI they got.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the current bestselling book Can We Save Malaysia, Please!