KOTA KINABALU: Former Chief Minister Harris Salleh has urged Putrajaya to empower Umno leaders in Sabah so that they are not dependent on contracts from it.
“These local leaders have to look for all sorts of income, including illegal, to continue to be ‘welfare officers’ to their members,” Harris said in a statement to The Daily Express.
He cautioned that unless the federal government resolved the plight of the financially impoverished local leaders in Sabah Umno, the party was headed for a political downfall.
“Umno and the federal government must work out a way for local Umno leaders and the rural people to have permanent and sustainable incomes,” said Harris.
Wading into an ongoing debate, Harris disclosed that he was among those responsible for Umno coming to Sabah.
“It was not Umno which wanted to come to Sabah,” said Harris. “Umno came to the state because Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) left out Usno when it formed the state government in 1985.”
He said that he and three other Muslim leaders wrote a letter in mid-1986 to then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to invite Umno to Sabah.
He disclosed that Sakaran Dandai, Said Keruak and Ghani Gilong, a convert, were the others.
“Umno did not come uninvited to Sabah,” reiterated Harris. “Umno had never expressed a wish to come to Sabah and Sarawak.”
Harris said that another reason for inviting Umno to the state was to pave the way for a Sabahan to become prime minister.
“This possibility was proven when Shafie Apdal became an Umno vice president,” he said in referring to the Semporna MP who now heads Parti Warisan Sabah.
The third reason for Umno in Sabah, he said, was to make Malaysia work.
“We needed to be in the mainstream of the administration in the federal government,” he said.
The Berjaya Party led by Harris was crushed in the 1985 state polls by the 45-day old PBS led by Joseph Pairin Kitingan.
Harris conceded there was no way that local leaders in Sabah would emerge to become prime minister although Umno’s Constitution and structure was not against it.
“In fact, Sabah had the second largest group of members in Umno. However, Umno members are from the low income group and are financially dependent on the federal government.”
Nevertheless, he said, Umno has never wavered from its promise to share political power.
“Umno was magnanimous when Barisan Nasional (BN) accepted PBS back into its fold in 2003. PBS stabbed BN in the back in the 1990 general election when it left the coalition.”
At that point, said Harris, the idea of Umno expanding to Sabah “was taken out of the drawer”. -FMT