Sabah's Harris Salleh says Malaysia headed for ‘failed state status’
By Joe Fernandez
KOTA KINABALU: Former Sabah chief minister Harris Salleh sees Malaysia’s existing political and administrative system as heading towards a “failed state status” within the next 20 to 30 years. He described these states as the “Club of Doom”.
However, he rules out the system in Malaysia changing from within or on its own as “it’s so entrenched that it’s difficult, if not impossible (for it), to change”.
“It’s on public record that many leaders who have reportedly committed wrongdoings are being elected again and again,” said Harris. “These wrongdoings have been widely reported in the media.”
Harris’ remarks were delivered in a prepared pre-Aidilfitri talk on leadership to students, in a run-up to Malaysia Day tomorrow, at Universiti Institut Teknologi Mara (UiTM) here. His talk just became available to the media.
“The main contributing factor is that the voters are not politically and economically independent,” said Harris. “The voters depend for their livelihood on political patronage.”
Race and religion, he said, played the most important part in selecting a leader.
Reiterating the central theme in his talk that the present system was dated, he opined that the country had the largest number of restrictive laws and policies, quite a number exceedingly harsh, “and not conducive for the citizens to move forward”.
Malaysia also had the largest number of “this and that”, he pointed out. As examples, he cited the number of civil servants and the number of agencies per population and the most number of public holidays – 48 – in the world. “Surely, all these are not conducive for the citizens to move forward.”
'Possible to change for the better'
Harris expressed confidence, without getting into any specifics, that it is still possible for the country to change for the better, but only once the voters are politically and economically independent. “Once this is attained, a responsible leader will emerge and lead the country,” he said. “Then there will be good laws and policies.”
Harris, who dropped out from school after Year Six, described a policy as an extension of the law and a guideline for the implementation (resolution) of a particular issue “and should be the best for any particular issue and for the people”.
He used three examples from his Berjaya administration (1976-1985) to explain what good policies are in a government: giving all schoolchildren free uniforms, shoes, books pencils and a packet of milk a day; giving and alienating 15 acres of land each to every landless Sabahan; and increasing the payment of dividends from Yayasan Sabah (Sabah Foundation) from RM100 to RM200 per annum.
“These policies helped almost everyone but they were abolished or revoked by successive governments,” said Harris. “Thus the schoolchildren, the landless and Sabahans have been deprived.”
(The school milk programme in Sabah has been reinstated but only three times a week and confined to Years One to Three.)
Seething with quiet anger, Harris charged that 90% of the 906,330 acres reserved in 74 locations throughout Sabah for 60,000 people in 1983 were not handed over by Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), which replaced Berjaya in 1985. Instead, he alleged the lands earmarked by his administration were given away by PBS to local companies which promptly sold them (for a quick profit) to companies based in Peninsular Malaysia.
Denying that he was making up stories, Harris said that Joseph Kurup -- who left PBS in 1994 to form Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah -- revealed all the land details in 2003 amidst allegations that Sabah was the poorest state in Malaysia. Harris attributed the poverty in the state to, among others, the 60,000 landless growing to nearly 200,000 over the last 27 years.
“The revocation of Berjaya’s land policies by the succeeding PBS administration has made Sabah the poorest state in Malaysia over the last 20 years,” said Harris. “Sabah is an agricultural state and an overwhelming number depend on the land for their survival.”
'Good laws revoked by government'
Sabah’s descent into poverty from being the second richest in Malaysia, said Harris, proves that there’s no guarantee that laws and policies made by responsible leaders will be honoured by their successors or successor governments.
“Unfortunately, irresponsible successive leaders and governments have deemed it fit to abolish and revoke important policies for the people.”
The former chief minister urged “the eminent professors and lecturers” of UiTM to research the poverty of Sabah and relate it to the successive state governments since independence and their various laws and policies.
Harris expressed no surprise that “even good laws and policies” are often revoked by government leaders.
“Politics has become big business in Malaysia,” he explained. “People go into politics not to serve the country but to use it as an avenue to enrich themselves.”
The rest of Harris’ talk on Malaysia was devoted to Sabah, which he described as an example of what’s going wrong elsewhere in the country.
He urged Sabahans and Malaysians to stand up for the truth and “call a spade a spade”, citing a saying: “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
He observed that many people at all levels including students, just appear to be condoning – “by their inaction” -- whatever (wrong) is happening around them.
He warned that there will be nothing left for Sabahans within the next 20 to years except the crumbs and leftovers “if nothing is done today to put things right”. “Leaders, after skimming the wealth of the state within a short time, migrate to other countries,” said Harris. “With their political patronage and connections, some of the people have managed to make a lot of money within a few years.”
There are forces at work who are not bothered what happens to Sabah and Sabahans, added Harris. “Their business is not in the production of goods and adding economic value but to act as go-betweens and enrich themselves and others in power.”
This state of affairs, said Harris, “cannot and should not be allowed to go on”.