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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sabah no longer a candy store for BN

The invasion of Lahad Datu and other news making events of 2013 should make the government rethink its policies in the East Malaysian state.
COMMENT
By Jason Majpie
KOTA KINABALU: The bizarre February invasion of a small village in Lahad Datu by more than 200 armed men from the Southern Philippines was the top story of 2013 in Sabah.
Their undetected entry into the state should force the federal government to reconsider its policy of looking at the state as merely its candy store.
The invasion raised the stakes in state-federal relations and brought a surge of traffic to online media sites which went where the mainstream media dared not.
The fettering of the mainstream media raised the profile of independent, online news sites in helping the growth of journalism in the state.
News websites reported tens of thousands of new readership hits and forced the mainstream local and national newspapers to step up efforts to shift to the new media and halt declining readership.
Other main talking points of the year in Sabah were the royal commission inquiry (RCI) on the immigration quandary the state has found itself in, the 13th general election and the banning of “Allah” as God’s name for non-Muslims.
Here are the top 10 news events in order.
LAHAD DATU INVASION: Some 200 mercenaries from the Southern Philippines said to be aligned to the so-called Sulu Sultanate took over Kg Tanduo on Feb 9, setting off an all-out military assault by Malaysian security forces after a three-week standoff. The fighting ended with casualties on both sides.
The invasion also sparked a bloody gunfight in Semporna, when a police unit raiding a water village populated mainly by immigrants was ambushed.
The intrusion roiled Malaysian politics and stunned the nation’s leaders, who had earlier laughed off talk of a “reverse takeover” of the state.
Efforts are now being made to enhance the security of the part of the border stretching from the northern most regions of the state to Semporna in the east.
GENERAL ELECTION: Barisan Nasional’s stranglehold on political power was loosened in the bitterly fought election, the 13th since the formation of Malaysia 50 years ago.
The opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat made major inroads into the state at both parliamentary and state levels, but as the year was ending three defections whittled down their numbers in the state assembly.
Still, MPs aligned to the Sabah Barisan Nasional coalition government made their mark by propping up the coalition government at federal level, which was in danger of being evicted from office after a dismal showing in the peninsula.
ROYAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY: The RCI to look into the illegal immigrant issue in Sabah was finally set up and began hearing riveting testimony from witnesses who included former prime minister Mahathir Mohammd and former Sabah chief ministers Harris Salleh, Bernard Dompok and Joseph Pairin Kitingan as well as government officers and illegal immigrants themselves.
However, the sudden death of star witness Mutalib @ Abdul Mutalib Mohd Daud days before he was to be called to the stand robbed the inquiry of some of its sting.
The state is now awaiting the inquiry’s findings.
RELIGIOUS CONTROVERSY: Christians in the state who had been calling on Allah in their worship were left confused by a court ruling that declared that only Muslims could use that name of God.
Federal cabinet ministers put out conflicting interpretations, further muddling the issue. Some said the ruling was not binding on Christians in Sabah and Sarawak.
Federal authorities went on to seize hundreds of copies of a Catholic newspaper despite earlier assurances that there was no ban on the use of the “Allah” in the East Malaysian states.
WILDLIFE: Conservationists were stunned to learn of the death of 14 pygmy elephants found at the Rara Forest Reserve, about 139km from Tawau. They had been poisoned.
The incident made news around the world and put under scrutiny the government’s seriousness in safeguarding Sabah’s unique flora and fauna. Its wildlife protection and conservation credentials were left in tatters by year end when nothing came of the investigations into the killing despite claims of thoroughness and transparency.
The expansion of oil palm plantations remains the curse of conservation efforts, with activists despairing for the future of the state’s wildlife and their habitat.
SECURITY: The murder of a Taiwanese tourist and abduction of his wife from the Pom Pom island resort on the east coast of the state by an armed group from the Southern Philippines last month reopened old wounds about the lack of security along the eastern seaboard.
The incident caused several foreign embassies to caution their countries’ citizens about the recurrent dangers they faced in some parts of the state.
As the year ended, security forces were forced to say they had stepped up border patrols following claims that intelligence sources had picked up chatter of criminals planning to use the festive period to launch a surprise raid.
Also thrust in the spotlight were the murky relations between resort operaters and government officials after it surfaced that some foreigners on the islands were them as private property and off limits to locals.
ENVIRONMENT: Residents of several kampungs in Penampang are hunkering down to fend off a state government plan to construct a dam in the scenic valley of Kaiduan.
About 2,000 people will be affected and nine kampungs submerged if the project goes ahead.
The government claims that the dam is imperative to ensure steady water supply to the west coast.
The state government also caused unease with the announcement of the development of the iconic Tanjong Aru beach.
This, along with other high-density development projects announced without consulting the various stakeholders, is raising the ire of many.
The controversial projects are blamed for an increasing incidence of flooding in populated areas as well as gridlocks on the roads.
MALAYNISATION: The call by Sabah Mufti Bungsu @ Aziz Jaafar to “Malaynise” the state’s indigenous community practising Islam as an effort towards Muslim unity was met with outrage.
Critics said he had insulted the Kadazan community and should be dragged to the native court for saying they do not really exist.
Both the state and federal governments were forced to step in to stem the backlash when hundreds signed an online protest saying the mufti’s proposal to convert the north Borneo state’s natives into Malays was akin to stripping them of their identity.
Sabahans noted that their easy-going ways and the harmony in the state had all but disappeared.
OIL & ECONOMICS: The puzzle over Sabah’s surrender of its oil and gas wealth for just 5% of the profits while development lags and services are second-rate continued to pose awkward questions for past and present politicians.
Many eagerly lapped up reports about former chief ministers Harris Salleh and Yong Teck Lee slugging it out over who was at fault.
The cabotage policy controlling shipping is blamed for keeping prices of goods and services high and has come under sustained attack.
The question of whether Sabah had kept pace with development in the peninsula continued to torment politicians, commentators and general observers.
As has been the case for several years now, Bingkor assemblyman Jeffrey Kitingan claimed the unofficial title of “most outspoke politician” on major issues affecting the state.
IMMIGRATION: The state government found itself in a predicament after it barred popular opposition politician Nurul Izzah from entering Sabah.
Nurul, the MP for Lembah Pantai, was stopped at the airport and placed on the next flight out of the city when she flew in to celebrate Kamaatan,  the Harvest Festival, with Sabahans on the invitation of Penampang MP Darell Leiking.
Critics ripped apart the executive order, signed by Chief Minister Musa Aman, calling it political punishment and mean-spirited given that the government has done little about the hundreds of thousands of foreigners who have entered and stayed in the state illegally and even given citizenship.
The backlash forced a state government about-turn shortly afterwards, which caused more brickbats to be hurled at the Barisan Nasional coalition government for indecisiveness.
It was not the first time that politicians and activists from the peninsula had been barred from visiting Sabah.
Earlier the same month, former deputy prime minister and now opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim,  veteran MP Lim Kit Siang and Bersih co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan had received the same treatment.
As in past years, the negatives outweighed the positives but there are signs that some long-delayed services and infrastructure development are beginning to make their presence felt.
At the year’s end, two major projects that have stagnated—the state’s main hospital and the Kota Kinabalu International Airport—stick out as ugly reminders that development in the Borneo state is not a priority.
Time will tell if these and other projects will have a positive impact on the lives of Sabahans.
Rising prices already threaten to hide any advantages gained.

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