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Sunday May 18, 2008
By SUHAIMI AZNAM
Last week, speculation of significant crossovers to the Opposition gripped Parliament. But the real issues at stake for Sabah and Sarawak were blurred.
NERVES must have been jumping on Wednesday, the day when as many as 17 disgruntled Sabah MPs were expected to “jump ship”.
But the buzz fizzled out when it became apparent that the MPs were going to stay with the Barisan Nasional, this despite unveiled messages aired as early as the preceding week that several were ready to cross the floor to the Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
But PR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was in fact away in Indonesia on that day and, as Prime Minister-in-waiting, “would not be able to receive them”, an aide pointed out on the eve.
But “saudara Anwar” has set a new deadline for the crossover: Sept 16, the 45th anniversary of Malaysia Day, for maximum impact.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi swiftly moved to stem the tide by meeting individuals and groups in the run-up to D-day: Sabah Progressive Party president Datuk Yong Teck Lee met him on Tuesday as did three Bidayuh MPs from Sarawak who, just a fortnight after the March election, had fleetingly threatened to walk out.
Somehow, despite not having anything concrete in hand, Datuk Richard Riot Jaem (Serian), Datuk Dr James Dawos Mamit (Mambong) and Datuk Dr Tiki Lafe (Mas Gading) were talked out of their disenchantment.
Unfortunately, the anticipated defections overshadowed the real grouses aired by the MPs. Much of the unhappiness reverts to the famous 20-point agreement, the almost sacred treaty signed by the fathers of Malaysia.
Several of the points – such as head of state and language – have never been issues; others like immigration have been eroded in the 45 intervening years.
“Why are MPs making a noise? Because we want the Government to return to the spirit of the 20 points,” said Deputy Speaker Datuk Ronald Kiandee.
The heart of the resentment stems from a feeling that the federal government is exercising two policies: one for the peninsula and another for Sabahans and Sarawakians.
Or as Kalabakan MP Datuk Seri Abdul Ghapur Salleh put it bluntly: “We don’t want to be second-class citizens”.
Illegal immigrants were the primary complaint among Sabah MPs. They have raised it for countless years but it has fallen on deaf ears.
The first salvo was lobbed by Kimanis MP Datuk Anifah Aman, younger brother to Sabah Chief Minister who, in using the analogy of moving from a bungalow to a terrace house, said: “What’s the point of living in a bungalow if one has to sleep beside the toilet?”
Offers of RM30,000 or RM50,000 mean nothing to this suave, cigar-puffing businessman.
“Don’t insult us,” he told The Star. “It was never meant to blackmail the Government. I was only summarising the matters that are closest to Sabah hearts.”
“Before the next election, something has to be done. Why was it so easy to set up a Judicial Appointments Commission and a Malaysian Commission on Anti-Corruption? Why not a Commission on Illegal Immigrants?”
Roads are also a priority. In Sabah, less than 50% of the roads are tarred. It is worse in Sarawak where in semi-rural Julau, for instance, only about 30% of the population enjoy surfaced roads. Another 50% bump along laterite roads and 20% to 30% still resort to the rivers.
It is the same story with electricity and water. Only 65% of the towns have electricity. In the interior, 30% to 40% have to manage on their own generator sets.
In Sabah, only 60% to 65% have treated water; in Sarawak, the figure drops to 30%.
In towns, people get piped water the colour of “teh susu” (tea with milk), said Ghapur.
For this reason, Sabah and Sarawak MPs would have been satisfied with two crucial portfolios – “minister of JKR and Rural Development”, as Ghapur put it.
Sabahans are insulted at being “put in charge of museums and clouds”, he added, referring to Datuk Shafie Apdal and Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili respectively. Ideally, he wants four important ministerial portfolios so that the state can shape Cabinet thinking.
Ghapur gave an ultimatum for Abdullah to reshuffle his Cabinet within six months or, at the very latest, by the end of the year. “Without Sabah and Sarawak’s 54 seats, the Barisan would not have been able to form a simple majority.”
He pointed out that “one particular state has seven ministers; another state that had lost has four ministers”, referring elliptically to Johor and Selangor respectively. By comparison, Sabah has three and Sarawak has seven deputy ministers.
SAPP’s Yong took an even tougher stance – an August deadline.
RM3bil had been set aside for education under the 9MP, 18% of which is to go to Sabah, noted Kiandee. “But is that an allocation that can narrow the gap between peninsular and Sabah schools? You must look at the effect of the cumulative years, between well-equipped Selangor schools and schools in Sabah.”
“Quality is just as important as quantity,” said Deputy Minister of Energy, Water and Communications Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum. “To be fair to the Government, there are enough schools,” adding that his Julau constituency has 43 primary schools. “But I have yet to see the target of 20 students achieving 5As in UPSR per year. I know because I hand them RM500 each as an incentive.”
The figures tell stories of poverty. When Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department S.K. Devamany cited a national poverty index of 3.7%, Sabah MPs leapt up. Sabah suffers a poverty rate of 23% – or even worse in the interior.
All this might be resolved if Sabah earned more in oil royalties, suggested Ghapur. He proposed that the oil royalty be raised from 5% to 20%, one of the promises Anwar had made in his 2008 election manifesto.
But away from Parliament, Parti Rakyat Sarawak president Datuk Seri Dr James Masing said: “He (Anwar) can talk. Our oil reserves will finish in four years. Unless we find new oil fields, it’s gone.”
On the sidelines, Sarawak MPs maintained a more dignified reserve.
“It’s good that they voice it,” said Salang. “Sarawakians by nature are not so outspoken.”
On May 13, Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan sedately came out in support of the anti-hop law.
As president of the once-beleaguered Parti Bersatu Sabah, Pairin had been a prime victim of party hoppers who had defected to a cluster of smaller Sabah parties that exist today.
In 1992, the High Court had ruled that the law was unconstitutional as it contravened Article 10 of the Federal Constitution on freedom of association.
Amendments to that law require a two-thirds majority before it can be adopted by Parliament and, at present, neither side has the numbers.
The floor was awash with talk of money being dangled. But it is not Ringgit that will spur the jump – it will be deep frustrations.
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