KOTA KINABALU: The State Government must be given full autonomy to handle and address the longstanding issue of undocumented immigrants and stateless foreigners in Sabah, including their children, in seeking a permanent solution.
Api Api Assemblywoman Datuk Christina Liew made the proposal during the debate on the Government Policy Speech by the Head of State at the 16th State Legislative Assembly sitting on Monday.
“This issue has been a thorn in the flesh for Sabah for several decades since the nineteen seventies (1970s). And obviously, the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Illegal Immigrants in Sabah (RCI) that was set up in 2012 had failed to resolve the problem, she pointed out, due to lack of political will to act on the numerous recommendations of the RCI.
“Only through full autonomy for Sabah will the State be able to resolve this problem once and for all. It is high time that we remove this thorn. Why can’t we settle this issue after 50 years?” she asked.
Liew, who is also Tawau MP, stressed that the Special Committee on Undocumented Foreign Workers and Foreign Nationals (that is headed by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan) must be empowered to specifically deal with all stakeholders and act without fear or favour in seeking a permanent solution (including repatriation of illegal Indonesian and Filipino immigrants).
“To be inclusive, there must be representation in this Special Committee from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, the Consulate-General of the Republic of Indonesia in Kota Kinabalu and other bodies related to other foreign nationals.
“I am of the view that the Opposition must also sit on the Panel on Undocumented Foreign Workers and Foreign Nationals to provide input and take part in the decision-making process.
“Most importantly, there must be political will on the part of all stakeholders to abide by the decision or to execute the recommendations to be made by the Special Committee,” she told the Assembly.
From Liew’s observation, for many years, Sabah has been pushing for a Philippine consular office to be opened in Kota Kinabalu but to no avail. “Both the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) governments at federal level had made efforts to persuade the Philippines to set up a consulate in Sabah.”
Given that the proposed Consulate Office cannot be set up in Sabah (due to the Sabah Claim), she expressed the hope that the Sabah Government will pursue the setting up of the proposed Philippine Passport Facilitation Centre in Sabah.
“I understand that talks have been ongoing between the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia and Manila over the proposal since 2019,” Liew said. “It is believed that there are about one million Filipinos in Sabah, many of whom are without passports or have not renewed their passports because it is too costly for them to travel to Kuala Lumpur for the purpose of applying for or renewing the document.”
The Api Api Assemblywoman also pointed out that many Sabahans do not support the proposal to issue a “foreigner’s identity card” to foreigners residing for long in Sabah, including their children.
“Many of these migrant children now roam the streets begging locals or harassing visitors for food or money. Some are seen scavenging bin centres in the Kota Kinabalu city or in residential areas in Luyang,” she said, adding that it is feared that this “special card” will pave the way for the foreign nationals to acquire Malaysian citizenship status in future.
On another matter, Liew said she would support the State Government if it proposed to rename the position of Sabah’s head of government from ‘Chief Minister’ to ‘Premier’ as in the case of Sarawak.
“The proposal for a change of title from ‘Chief Minister’ to ‘Premier’ befits the recent amendment to the Federal Constitution to restore the status of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners within the Federation of Malaysia under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63),” she said.
The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2021, which proposed to restore Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners to Malaya in the Federation of Malaysia in line with the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), was passed in the Dewan Rakyat on December 14, 2021.
Usage of the “Premier” title is a practice in many other countries, including Canada, China and South Africa, and states, including New South Wales in Australia, Liew added.
Meanwhile, the Api Api Assemblywoman urged the State Government to come clean on the 16 “sick” projects in Sabah as disclosed by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy), Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, recently.
“According to him, Sabah has the highest number of “sick” projects (16), among the affected states. Why is it happening in Sabah? Where has it gone wrong?” Liew asked.
The Government, she said, must be transparent and reveal all these projects as the matter is of State interest.
“Do not trivialise this problem. Has the State Government taken action to address and rectify these delayed projects? The people want to know what remedial measures have been taken to expedite the implementation and completion of these projects.
At this juncture, Liew drew the Assembly’s attention to the delayed Tawau Hospital Construction and Upgrade project which was acknowledged in the Dewan Rakyat recently as one of the two “sick” projects in Sabah under the Health Ministry (KKM). JKR Malaysia is the implementing agency for the project.
“It should have been completed in May 2020 under the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP). What is going on in the Government? Is the Government doing anything about it?” she queried. “Be transparent and tell us what is happening, and perhaps we will try to understand and be patient.”
The Federal funds allocated for the Tawau Hospital Upgrade project must be utilised to get it completed as soon as possible or within the shortest possible time, she added.